A mellow fly-in is a great intro for new pilots
With a brand-new pilot certificate in your pocket, your first inclination might be to start planning your pilgrimage to Mecca—a flight to one of the major airshows, such as EAA AirVenture in Wisconsin or Sun ’n Fun in Florida.
Hold on there, ace! Why not start smaller and get some experience first? From a friendly pancake breakfast 40 nautical miles away to a weekend blowout for owners and pilots of a specific aircraft model, fly-in events come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each yields experience dividends against the year when you do head out to one of the really big shows
Take, for example, the yearly Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In. During this four-day celebration of all things Piper, about 500 airplanes and more than 4,000 visitors will flock to William T. Piper Memorial Airport in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. Sound like a lot? It is—but consider that AirVenture draws more than 700,000 people (100,000 a day), and Sun ’n Fun attendance can exceed 130,000 over six days.
Each year in June the event celebrates Piper Aircraft Corporation in the central Pennsylvania town where the factory was located from 1937 until 1984. Former Piper employees belong to the ranks of the more than 200 volunteers who help to put on the event. The fly-in marks its twenty-fifth anniversary June 16 to 19, 2010.
Each year, Sentimental Journey chooses one or two models to showcase. In 2009, PA-11 Cub Specials and PA-38 Tomahawks were the stars. Piper Cub yellow is the ubiquitous color scheme. That’s not to say other makes and models aren’t welcome—they are, and the more the merrier. Last year’s event drew a Kitfox on floats and a biplane.
Sentimental Journey’s organizers say visitors appreciate the intimate nature of the event, which seems more like old-home week or a high school reunion than a fly-in. Pilots return year after year to see familiar faces, including a San Diego pilot who flies a J-3 Cub. It takes him two weeks to get to Sentimental Journey and two weeks to fly back to the West Coast. Now that’s dedication.
Watch or join in
The Sentimental Journey experience can be as relaxing or as busy as you choose. It’s definitely a laid-back destination as visitors park folding chairs along the flight line to watch a parade of antique and classic taildraggers land and take off. But, unlike some of the larger venues where you’re strictly a spectator, Sentimental Journey holds spot landing contests, poker runs, and fly-outs to nearby airports. Other daytime activities include forums and guided tours of the nearby Piper Aviation Museum. Things don’t end when the sun goes down; there are evening movie screenings, live music, and “corn boils”—cookouts featuring fresh sweet corn. An announcement over the public address system lets you know when it’s ready, and nobody waits for a second invitation.
Piper Memorial is a nontowered airport, but during the four days in June when visitors are arriving from all directions, air operations chairman Lee Gilbert and his crew oversee flight operations while keeping a sharp ear tuned to hand-held transceivers for incoming traffic. Pilots are urged to review the guidelines posted on the Web site. Cub Haven it may be, but aircraft without any type of radio are discouraged from attending because of the high volume of traffic.
As soon as you touch down on the 2,200-foot turf runway, the flight ops crew is ready to direct you to a parking space. Volunteers in golf carts shuttle pilots and their passengers back and forth from the north and south ramps.
Lock Haven has a 3,800-foot paved runway that parallels the grass strip, but it gets mighty lonely as taildragger after taildragger eschews the hard surface for the joys of grass. There are no parallel operations permitted during the fly-in, which helps to keep everyone safe. “We may have 600 to 700 pilots in a good year,” says flight ops volunteer Dave Rodgers. He adds, “We’ve never been close to having an incident. That’s kudos to the GA pilots.”
A camper’s haven
On-the-field camping is the norm at Sentimental Journey, where for $14 per night you can pitch your tent under the wing or beside it. A spacious shower facility is available, but unless you get there well in advance, don’t plan to park too close to it. The choice spots likely will have been taken by Brian and Ruth-Ann Bell and their five children, who come to Sentimental Journey from New Jersey each year. One Bell flies their 1946 Taylorcraft, while the other drives a 12-passenger van towing a camper (see “Why We Fly,” October 2009 Flight Training).
If sleeping under the stars isn’t your preference, don’t worry. Lock Haven is a college town (home of Lock Haven University), so there are loads of housing options, ranging from a Best Western to a selection of bed and breakfast establishments; many of these have shuttle service on request. In 2009 I stayed at The Avenue B&B on Susquehanna Avenue. There, for about $75 per night, not only did I have a spacious room with my own bath, but I also enjoyed cooked-to-order breakfasts prepared by Sue Stover, the manager.
Last year’s fly-in was a soggy affair, owing to a persistent low pressure system that draped a patchy overcast over the ridge lines surrounding Lock Haven. But those who had arrived before the rains were exuberant to be there, mud and all. “It’s a great experience,” said Brandi Terkeurst, then a 50-hour student pilot who flew to the event with her husband, Bill, in their cream-and-burgundy Cessna 170. Residents of Huntsville, Alabama, the Terkeursts had heard all about Sentimental Journey from friends Dan Gable and George Wade. “They’ve been bugging us for a long time” to make the trip, said Terkeurst, pausing a few moments in the midst of pulling the 170 out of its parking spot. Then Brandi and Bill, an 11,000-hour airline transport pilot who flies helicopters in Africa, hurried back to their airplane so as not to miss a moment of the fun.