What to do and where to go with your plane when you're tired of boring holes and have already visited all the interesting destinations within an hour or two of home plate? Why not expand your horizons a bit? Each weekend near you there are fly-ins, races and other events that offer good reasons to launch for a nearby airport. If that's not enough, why not start your own event? AVweb's Rick Durden shows you how.
August 19, 2000
|About the Author ...
Rick Durden is a
practicing aviation attorney who holds an ATP Certificate, with a type rating
in the Cessna Citation, and Commercial privileges for gliders, free balloons
and single-engine seaplanes. He is also an instrument and multi-engine flight
instructor. Rick started flying when he was fifteen and became a flight
instructor during his freshman year of college.
He did a little of everything
in aviation to help pay for college and law school including flight
instruction, aerial application, and hauling freight. In the process of trying
to fly every old and interesting airplane he could, Rick has accumulated over
5,400 hours of flying time. In his law practice, Rick regularly represents
pilots, fixed base operators, overhaulers, and manufacturers. Prior to
starting his private practice, he was an attorney for Cessna in Wichita for
He is a regular contributor to Aviation Consumer and AOPA Pilot
and teaches aerobatics in a 7KCAB Citabria in his spare time. Rick makes it
clear he is part owner of a corporation which owns a Piper Aztec because,
having flown virtually every type of piston-engine airplane Cessna
manufactured from 1933 on, as well as all the turboprops and some of the jets,
he cannot bring himself to admit to actually owning a Piper.
Flight Breakfasts, Air Races and Roll Your Own Fly-Ins
It's August in the Pilot's Lounge. The
heat shimmers off the asphalt, the trainers seem to sag into the air and the
regulars in the big, easy chairs are out of sorts. Hack is complaining that he
wants to go somewhere in the Super Cruiser but that he's hit every airport
restaurant in a 150-mile radius, Sandy wants to travel in the Citabria but
can't figure out anyplace new and Dave has his Husky all shined up but is out
of ideas as to where to fly. I am suddenly reminded of August days as a kid
when I'd wander into the house whining, "Mommy, what can I do?"
state's aeronautics department publishes a newsletter that lists the fly-in
breakfasts, suppers and other aeronautical get-togethers, so I dragged it out
and discovered that there were two fly-in breakfasts the very next morning.
Neither was very far away. The rumblings died off as the pilots looked at the
publication and started to make plans to attend one or the other, or both. I
had to leave about that time, so I didn't get in on the details of the
next day I was at the airport about noon as several of the local airplanes
started landing and taxiing to the gas pumps. Hack showed up in the Super
Cruiser, shut down, crawled out and smiled. At least, I think that's what he
did. It's so rare to see that expression on Hack that I had to look a second
time. He was all excited about the flight breakfast he had just attended. He
told me he had seen several classic Pipers, met the pilots who had restored
them and gotten some ideas for what he wanted to do with his. The other pilots
wandered up and began talking about how much they had enjoyed themselves by
doing something other than simply going for the usual $100 hamburger. Dave had
a trophy for winning a short-takeoff competition at the breakfast he attended
and Sandy was smiling about the Extra 300 akro machine she'd drooled over
while at the same breakfast.
A few weeks ago my wife, her father and I went to a fly-in breakfast at
Lost Creek Airport (5Y4) near Luzerne, Mich. I never know what to expect at
little fly-ins. They have varied from super-organized productions including a
car that picked up my riders and me at the airplane and delivered us to the
hangar where a high school band serenaded our arrival, through confused events
where I helped cook my own breakfast. However, I admit I have yet to attend
one I didn't enjoy.
Creek Airport turned out to be two nicely manicured grass runways cut out of
the forests of rural Michigan. Luzerne, the nearest town, is quite small, so
there isn't much of a population base to keep the airport alive, yet on that
morning the place was vibrant. A helicopter was busy giving rides to a long
line of eager passengers, while a two-horse hitch pulled a wagon for visitors
who wanted a sedate way to see the area. Vendors were selling a variety of
items, some interesting and some junk. On top of that, the pancakes turned out
to be some of the best I'd ever had. While we were eating, a buddy I hadn't
seen in a while joined us and we talked about his most recent flight to
After the trip, I sat in one of the chairs here in the Lounge and thought
about the little fly-ins I'd attended over the past 30 years or so. They
nearly died out in the '80s as general aviation had its troubles, but the
flight breakfast (and supper) fortunately made a comeback. They are delightful
excuses to go flying and, while certainly not Oshkosh, provide a chance to see
some interesting airplanes, talk with old friends and make new ones. For the
pilot who has been renting and renting and renting, more than one aircraft
purchase has occurred because of a chance observation of a for-sale sign at a
small fly-in breakfast.
In my experience it's wise to keep in mind that pattern traffic gets heavy
enough at fly-ins that I'm always a little concerned about a midair collision.
There are a certain number of pilots who either won't use the radio to
announce their position, as well as some who get on the radio and won't shut
up. When you go, I strongly recommend that you brief your passengers so they
can help you look for traffic. Also, resolve to fly a reasonable pattern
(without extending your downwind into the middle of next week). You don't have
to enter on a 45 to the downwind; however, busy fly-ins are not the place to
do a long, straight-in approach, either. You might want to read John
Deakin's excellent piece on the 45-degree zealots before you launch.
the weather is less than wonderful VFR, an IFR arrival at a flight breakfast
can give a person enough excitement to last an aeronautical lifetime. One of
our regulars, Armando, shot the instrument approach to a flight breakfast when
the ceiling was 1,200 feet and visibility six miles. Before he broke out of
the clouds, ATC told him there were numerous targets in the area. That rather
impersonal advice did not emotionally prepare him for slipping out of the clag
and seeing about a dozen airplanes swarming around because they were
sandwiched into the airspace below the clouds. You may want to consider going
VFR on such a day, or shooting the approach into a less crowded airport nearby
and then proceeding VFR toward your destination so that you don't suddenly pop
out amongst a flock of airplanes.
talked to the folks who had just returned from their breakfast flights I heard
some other outstanding ideas. One of our group had spaced himself well behind
another airplane but had to make a go-around because the airplane ahead slowed
to a crawl on the runway, and then passed up a taxiway. From the standpoint of
etiquette and safety, clear the runway as expeditiously as possible after
landing. There is no time to dawdle while making the mental transition from
flight to ground. It is likely there is an airplane on short final behind you.
On takeoff you taxi out in a line of airplanes and then get pressured to keep
moving and take off without doing a runup or getting your collective act
together. Resist that pressure. Make sure you don't skip the checklist. Find a
spot where you can do a runup without blowing dirt all over people and
airplanes, and do what you need to do to get ready for flight. Some of the
takeoffs that I've hurried at flight breakfasts have resulted in my forgetting
to set takeoff flaps, turn on the strobes (no, I don't run strobes on the
ground when other airplanes are around) or activate the transponder. Looking
back, I was simply lucky I didn't forget something more important as I went
through the phase of allowing myself to be hurried on departure.
Air Races And Rallies
we were talking in the Lounge we were joined by some of the pilots who compete
in the various air races and rallies held around the country during the year.
They started talking about those events and got the attention of the rest of
us. I had had the good fortune to get to know the very impressive Marion Jayne
a few years before her death. In those days she was entering and regularly
winning various general aviation races. In 1989, she used the Cardinal my wife
and I owned to win the Great
Southern Air Race and finish fourth in the Air
Race Classic. She spoke highly of such events and talked about the process
of running full throttle, getting very accurate weather and wind information
and choosing the airplane that had the best chance of exceeding its assigned
Races such as the Air Race Classic, the Great Southern, the
race now named for Marion Jayne, and other, smaller ones are usually
publicized in the aviation press. The rules are often fairly complex as there
is a desire to make the chances of victory dependent on the pilot rather than
the airplane. Airplanes are allowed only very minor modifications and are
inspected by a technical committee prior to the race, then secured in some
fashion to prevent changes being after the inspection and before the start of
the race. Each airplane is assigned a basic or handicap speed based on the
manufacturer's prediction of cruise speed. This worked pretty well for Cessnas.
Unfortunately experience with some other manufacturers showed that they tended
to be way too optimistic in publishing cruise speeds in handbooks. Over time
the organizers of the races have done test flying and come up with some pretty
realistic cruise speeds so they can set baseline or handicap speeds for the
airplanes. The idea is to beat your handicap speed by the greatest margin
during the race. Thus you don't have to have the bucks to run a P-51 Mustang
as sheer speed is not rewarded in these events. In fact, Cessna 172s have done
observed that most pilots who compete in these races enjoy themselves
immensely. I've also heard some rather interesting stories as to how to cheat
when you are flying with a judge to set the baseline speed for your airplane.
The idea is to fly level at full power with the cowl flaps closed. Naturally,
those who want to sandbag sneak the cowl flaps open, or don't quite have full
power in, or climb two or three hundred feet during the course of the speed
run. I like to think those folks will get their just rewards.
While I happen to think the races are great, I am very uncomfortable with
two specific facts of current race life. The rules for many of the races
encourage extremely low flying. Face it, climbing after takeoff costs time.
There have been complaints by landowners. Some pilots are stupid enough not
only to run at tree-top height, but brag about it. The FAA is aware of this
and, I suspect, will start violating pilots. Just a word to the wise. One good
tree or tower strike and we may find the races shut down. In addition, the
races are supposed to be run under VFR weather conditions and pilots are
supposed to comply with FARs on visibility and cloud separation. As with
everything else, compliance is up to the integrity of the individual pilots.
There are a number of overzealous types who have been known to punch into
clouds during races. That is intolerable. The shortsighted desire to win at
any cost could very well ruin this wonderful part of recreational GA flying in
a big hurry. I think race organizers need to take a stronger stance against
low flying and flying in clouds rather than the nudge-nudge, wink-wink
approach that has prevailed at some locations.
Don't Want To Race? Then Rally
very good way to spend a weekend with airplanes and those who fly them is to
enter one of the rallies that are scheduled around the country. Rather than
being speed events they are proficiency competitions. The idea is to fly a
given course, hitting the turn points exactly on a time based on your
airplane's speed. Usually, navigation other than pilotage is prohibited. In
most rallies, the navigation instruments on the airplane are covered with
tamper-evident seals. (They can be removed if the team gets into a jam and
needs the equipment.) The winner is the pilot/navigator team that has the
minimum deviation from predicted times at turn points.
Because the rules are fairly flexible, when there are no "secret"
checkpoints as there are in more sophisticated events, the winners often hit
their turn points with zero error. To make things more challenging, some
competitions add a fuel burn calculation to the rally to make things more
interesting or, if possible, a "secret" checkpoint or two along the
route so the teams have to be on time and on course throughout the event
rather than just at the turn points. Some of the more challenging competitions
add a spot or barrier landing for the pilot to perform after flying the task.
Races and rallies are run by volunteers. People who volunteer to do such
things should be given sainthood now, not later, as they accomplish a lot and
put up with even more. Some of the rallies and races are in danger of folding
because of perceived lack of interest due to pilots who don't sign up until
the last minute and because competitors can be so inconsiderate of the
volunteers. If you want to compete, please sign up for these events as early
as you can to let the organizers do some planning. If you want a weekend with
good people but aren't able to fly, volunteer to help out. You'll enjoy it.
Wanna Play Some Cards?
of the classic aviation events is the poker run. For some reason, the 99s are
the most common sponsors. (Must be some sort of gambling streak in those
pilots.) A poker run can take place over one weekend or may be set up so that
those interested have a period of a few weeks to visit the required airports.
The whole idea is to have an excuse to do some flying. Participants sign up
and are given a list of airports to visit. On arrival the pilot goes to the
FBO, announces he or she is a poker run participant and is given a sealed
envelope containing a playing card. After visiting from five to nine airports
the pilot takes the cards and puts together the best possible poker hand, then
turns it in at an organized function or party. The winning hand results in
some sort of prize. The event takes some serious volunteer work, but it does
mean pilots get to do some flying and then get to go to a party with other
pilots. I think it is a pretty good deal all around. (Stop me before I pun
again.) And, if you need some proficiency flying, why not do the thing IFR and
shoot instrument approaches at all of the airports?
Do It Yourself
not enough to do? Roll your own fly-in. Here at the Lounge we generally throw
two homegrown fly-ins each year. In the winter, the regulars are invited to an
airport where the FBO rents a Cub and a Super Cub on skis. We reserve a block
of rooms at a resort that has winter sports. Families descend on the place on
Friday afternoon and start flying or cross-country skiing or sledding or
whatever looks like fun. Those of us who are instructors generally donate our
time to either check out interested pilots or give rides.
The idea all started because I invited Lounge regular, Doc Walt, to come
north from Louisiana and see what it was like to fly a Cub on skis. He had so
much fun he agreed to come back when the Cubs were on floats and promised he
would bring his wife. We decided to invite others that we thought might enjoy
themselves. We worked with the FBO well ahead of time, reserved the airplanes
and enough instructors and lined up examiners for those who wanted to get
ratings and hoped for the best. We reserved a block of rooms in a motel that
had a beach so we could operate the seaplanes with minimum hassle and gave it
a try. It worked well, so we have made it an annual event.
summer a few folks get seaplane ratings and others get a chance to see what
it's like to fly a seaplane. Winter or summer, we find that a lot of nonpilot
spouses and children want a ride in a seaplane or a skiplane simply because it
is different. Most all enjoy a 15-minute ride and a landing or two. There has
proven to be a side-effect: the non-flying family members who are around for
these weekends and who take a brief ride seem to be drawn closer to flying in
general. One is planning to start flying lessons as soon as the kitchen
remodeling is done.
Depending on personal budgets some of the pilots and families who come
don't even fly, they just want to be around friends who have the same
If more folks at the Lounge were into hot air balloons or gliders or
aerobatics, we might organize a weekend around such a theme. What we have
found is that the key seems to be to arrange to tie in the airplanes with
other activities for the non-pilots so families can be together as much of the
time as possible. In the summer some of the folks who come have boats, so they
provide some water skiing and just zipping around the lake. The boats and the
airplanes operate from the same set of docks and beach, so everyone is
together. In the winter we make sure there is a car or two to run between the
resort and the airport so that families can fly a little or ski a little as
the weekend progresses.
usually organize a dinner with everyone together on Saturday evening. We've
found that it's best to keep it simple and modest as family budgets vary.
Finally, we are aware that we cannot get insurance beyond whatever the FBO
has and individual renter's policies usually only cover land planes. As a
result, we have learned to be very careful in inviting pilots that we feel
won't do anything dumb and those of us who instruct fly extremely
What we get is a weekend with people we enjoy, doing some flying most of us
would never otherwise get to do.
Ok, there you have it. You are now officially out of excuses for being
bored because you don't have anything to do. Get involved, go to a fly-in
breakfast or supper, compete in a race or rally, volunteer at one of those
events, or invite some friends to do some flying that is a little out of the
See you next month.