Denise Goolsby My Desert
Pilots Flock to Palm Springs for AOPA Summit
October 10, 2012
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  • By Denise Goolsby

    PALM SPRINGS — Pilot Kent Thomas, owner of Palm Springs Biplanes, squeezed a few flights in Tuesday morning while the skies were still relatively clear over Palm Springs International Airport. Within 24 hours, hundreds of private planes will have been cleared for landing at the airport, carrying pilots and other aviation enthusiasts to the 2012 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) summit at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

    “It’s going to be really busy here soon,” he said.

    The event — which is returning to the city after a six-year hiatus — kicks off at 10 a.m. today with a 70-plus parade of planes that will taxi through the streets of Palm Springs from the airport to the convention center.

    PARADE OF PLANES: Live stream of 10 a.m. event

    Seventy planes, however, is only a tiny fraction of the aircraft that will descend on the area over the next three days.

    “We are anticipating 1,000 aircraft at our airfield, and we’re excited and enthused to host this event,” said Atlantic Aviation general manager Karin Davidson. Thomas’ business is based at Atlantic, which sits on the east side of the airport, off Gene Autry Trail.

    Thomas’ yellow and blue 1940 Stearman PT-17 biplane is a familiar sight in the skies over the desert, with its open cockpit and double-wing design. It’s the type of plane pilots trained in during World War II.

    On Tuesday, Jeff Rerie and daughter Payton Rerie, 8, of Winnipeg, Canada, adjusted their caps and goggles before boarding the propeller-driven plane for a 15-minute flight above Palm Springs.

    “We have small local airports, and I always wanted to take her up in a small Cessna, but I didn’t want to take her up too early and scare her,” Jeff said.

    “It was fun,” she said, beaming after the plane’s flawless landing.