As summer comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on all of the amazing fly-ins we were able to go to this year. Our fly-in season began with the National Waco Club Reunion, peaked with a week at Oshkosh, and ended with a laidback gathering in Delphi, IN. There were several smaller fly-ins and hangar parties peppered in the mix, and we were thrilled to attend a personal record number of events this year. Next year we plan to go to even more, and perhaps host our own hangar party for our flying and non-flying friends. Aviation is all about community, and fly-ins are the most amazing expression of that.
I would like to share what I believe are all essential elements of a successful fly-in. Of course all events are different, but keeping these common themes in mind when planning a fly-in will help elevate the event from good to great. A personal goal of mine has been to host a fly-in for a long time, so let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for elements that you believe to be important!
At almost every single fly-in we attended this summer, the first thing on our minds when we landed was where the food was. This was especially true for the fly-in breakfasts, where we had woken up extremely early and avoided food so we could gorge ourselves on the pancakes and bacon being served at the airport. At events that aren’t centered around breakfast, having food trucks options on-site is a great idea as well. Pilots are hungry people!
Something that really helps get people excited at fly-ins is if there is actual flying going on. You would be surprised at the number of fly-ins where planes stay parked and become static displays for the entire fly-in. It’s so much more exciting to hear the engines running, watch the planes do low passes, and really feel that general aviation is alive and well. Consider having an EAA chapter host Young Eagle flights, or planning an airshow during the fly-in.
Some of the coolest fly-ins have a diverse group of attendees. You have young pilots, old pilots, professional pilots, recreational pilots, UAS pilots, military pilots, skydivers… The list goes on and on! At one fly-in there was a whole display of RC aircraft that I had never seen before. Celebrating diversity in aviation is a win for everyone, and opens up new opportunities to learn about a different aspect of the general aviation world. Beyond that, having vintage cars are great to have as well to admire their craftsmanship and history!
There’s nothing more adorable than seeing little kids totally in awe at fly-ins. They have no filter so the way they express their feelings of pure joy or excitement when they see a plane zoom by is so wholesome. I especially love it when little ones have toy airplanes and imitate the movements of the planes in the air. This is the kind of excitement that we need to encourage the next generation of pilots. Everyone screams "pilot shortage!" but that won’t change in the future if we don’t instill a love of aviation into youth right now.
Inviting the general public to a fly-in adds a whole new dimension of fun. I spoke to people who came to the local fly-in every year, and others who were driving by and wanted to see what the commotion was. There are so many misconceptions about general aviation, and a lot of people don’t understand how fun and safe it actually is. Having a "fly-in or drive-in" type of event encourages those who normally stay away from the airport to give it a try and see some cool sights.
Safety should always be the number 1 priority in aviation, and fly-ins are no exception. Having clearly defined areas where planes are allowed to move around and ways to control the crowd are a must. Consider having members of the local Civil Air Patrol group assist with enforcing rules and educating attendees on when it is not safe to be near an airplane.
7. A Game Plan
Having a little structure for the event helps things run much smoother. Dinners or awards ceremonies with specific start times break up the action in an appropriate way. Some fly-ins even have scheduled fly-outs to other airports for breakfast or lunch. This keeps it interesting and fun, and a published plan helps everyone stay in the loop on what to expect during the event. Organization and communication are key!
What do you think of this list? Did I cover everything you think is important for a successful fly-in? Let me know in the comments, and let’s do our part to keep general aviation thriving!