Special Report: Copperstate Regional EAA Fly-In

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The big fly-ins like Sun 'n Fun and AirVenture may have an abundance of fast airplanes, teeming crowds, and more of everything, but the charm of regional shows is exactly that they have less of all that, and lots more down-home, good-time, easygoing character. AVweb's Senior News Editor Mary Grady visited Copperstate 2002, and filed this report

After moving to six different locations over 30 years, EAA's Copperstate Regional Fly-In, the largest event of its kind in the Southwest, has found a home. A few months ago, the place was just a big, flat, cotton field with a dirt strip across it. Now Phoenix Regional Airport, about 25 miles south of the city, has a 4,500-foot paved runway, a 1,350-foot grass strip, a little artificial pond where floatplanes can splash in, and 25 acres of grass for aircraft parking and camping.

All that grass has warmed the hearts of local Arizona folks.

Copperstate Regional Logo"The grass is the most impressive thing about this place," says Stan Ruskow, of Glendale, who flew here, "27 miles, nonstop," in his pretty Cherokee 140. "There was nothing here, this was desert. This is great."

"Unless you are from a desert area," fly-in chairman Bob Hasson writes in the show's official program, "it is hard to imagine the effort and expense necessary to plant grass .... and for the grass to survive and prosper." The effort seems worthwhile, though, considering what you get where there isn't any grass: dirt, dust, and desolation. The visitors appreciate pitching their tents and parking their airplanes and lawn chairs on acres of fresh, green, grit-free grass.

Home at Last

(click photos for larger versions)
Camping under the wing (40 Kb)

For the past eight years, the fly-in was held at Williams Gateway Airport, in Mesa, Ariz., but the show outgrew the facilities there. "We're excited about breaking ground at our new location," said Hasson. "This is just the first step in creating a first-class venue for the largest EAA fly-in in the Southwest, and we're working diligently with the airport developer to make it happen." Hasson adds that the developers of the privately owned, public-use airport are dedicated to creating a "Mecca for general and sport aviation activity."

The airshow organizers have already built their first permanent structure at the Copperstate Campus, a steel building that features a kitchen and meeting room for volunteers, and hot showers for campers. Hasson says the new airport offers "unlimited growth potential." A 100LL self-service fuel system was recently installed, along with additional pavement for aircraft parking. Fly-in guests can camp under the wings of their airplanes ... on the grass.

Jack Merritt, an Arizonan, flew in here after making a detour to pick up his son Dennis, in California. They sit in the shade of a Stinson wing, enjoying the show. Says Jack: "I've been to Gateway. I like it better here." Why? "I like the grass," he says. "It's colorful. It's cool."

More than 700 aircraft are here to be seen up close, everything from a big black Antonov AN-2 biplane, to antiques, classics, warbirds, helicopters, homebuilts, and ultralights. The ultralights took over the grass strip for the weekend, and hosted their own tents and fairway, just off the main show area. Powered parachutes, trikes, and sport aircraft of all sorts buzzed in and out in a steady stream.

Sport Pilot Update

Ultrialight flyby (23 Kb)

The show also offered forums for pilots: how to buy the right airplane, how to convert auto engines for aircraft use, propeller care, and maintenance. Ron Wagner, from EAA headquarters in Oshkosh, was there to convey the latest about the ever-on-the-horizon Sport Pilot proposal. He said the FAA is sticking with its projection that the final rule will be published sometime in the first quarter of next year. "My own speculation," said Wagner, "knowing the way the FAA likes to do things, is that there will be an announcement at Sun 'n Fun."

Wagner also reported that, just in the last week or so, the FAA has made it known that the final rule may include provisions to implement changes in staggered phases. The easiest parts to put into practice such as allowing pilots to fly with a driver's license instead of a medical certificate could take effect right away. More complex changes, such as those dealing with repairman certification and consensus standards for light-sport-aircraft manufacturing, might be phased in over a period of time. What period of time that might entail, Wagner couldn't say.

Wagner also predicted that the max. weight limit for light sport aircraft, set at 1,232 pounds in the NPRM, may go up by 70 to 100 pounds in the final rule. However, that's also just speculation at this point, he said. But he said the argument for the change is strong, in that it would create opportunities for more different kinds of engines to compete for the market.

Local Guy Makes Good

Kirby Chambliss (33 Kb)
More photos of Kirby and his plane are at the Zivko website
A highlight of the airshow was the performance by Kirby Chambliss, flying his agile Zivko Edge 540. This was the first show for Chambliss since winning the U.S. National Aerobatics Championship just a couple of weeks ago, and it's only five minutes' flight from his home base. He takes off fast, then seems to suspend the airplane vertically, hanging it on the prop while still moving forward, in an eye-catching move he calls "The Cobra." The powerful Edge 540 can fly at 240 mph, climb at 3,700 fpm, and roll at 420 degrees per second.

His airplane is one of about 25 of that type in the world, Chambliss said, but his has been modified somewhat. "It has a cantilevered tail," he said, "and extended tail surfaces." He said his sponsors want him to fly more airshows next year, and spend less time on competitions. But first, he'll concentrate on preparing for the 2003 World Aerobatic Championships, to be held in Lakeland, Fla., June 25 through July 4. Chambliss flies for Southwest Airlines out of Phoenix, and is also a test pilot for Zivko.

The Grass Is Always Greener

A Grassy Field Full of Planes (28 Kb)
The low-key, laid-back show runs for four days over Columbus Day weekend in October. Admission prices are low, parking is plentiful, traffic is nonexistent. Weather is cool by Arizona standards, barely squeaking into the 90s under a cloudy sky. Low, lumpy mountains are scattered across the horizon. A few rows of tents offer browsing for airplane parts, books, and T-shirts; vendors sell fresh lemonade, jumbo hot dogs, and barbecue.

Local fly-ins like this one may not have the flash and dash of the bigger shows, but they attract loyal followings. The planes and the people are the whole show here. And one other thing, as the announcer booms across the field: "There was nothing here three months ago. Now, look at all this GRASS!"

Copperstate 2002 Image Gallery