Organizers of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association meet on St. Simons Island may still be shaking their heads over the record number of aircraft that participated in the event.
Those who heard the roar in the skies over St. Simons Island last weekend knew it had something to do with the 543 aircraft that arrived at McKinnon-St. Simons Island Airport for a meeting of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
More than 1,850 visitors from across the U.S. visited the Golden Isles, and hundreds of residents visited the airport to enjoy the aircraft, which ranged from vintage military planes to experimental models.
Members enjoyed meetings and seminars, including a keynote address by retired U.S. Navy Comdr. Kirk Lippold, commander of the USS Cole during the al-Qaeda suicide bombing in Yemen in 2000.
The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) sponsored a visit by the fully restored “Aluminum Overcast” B-17 bomber, which was open for rides and offered ground tours between flights.
Until this year, the AOPA held its annual fly-in near its headquarters in Frederick, Md., but the membership voted to hold six regional meetings instead which offer pilots the opportunity to meet closer to their home airports.
Leslie Faulkenberry of Faulkenberry-Certain, the public relations agency that represents the Glynn County Airport Commission, said that although the group will not return to the area next year because of its rotating schedule, its impression of the Golden Isles was excellent, and the commission anticipates their return in the not-too-distant future.
Only some 100 aircraft were initially expected to occupy the field. Because of the increased turnout, the local steering committee added a “barnstormer party” and welcomed campers on the airfield to stay for the weekend.
“In all respects, this fly-in broke the records,” said Robert Burr, executive director of the Glynn County Airport Commission. “We had more airplanes arrive on Friday than any other regional event.”
Burr explained that other areas had an average of 30 aircraft coming the day before the fly-in, but more than 200 were on St. Simons Island on the eve of the event. He also stated that 130 people stayed in hotels the first night and at the end of the event, on Sunday, 147 planes were still at McKinnon.
“We could only have had this outstanding result with the full cooperation and support of the community, especially the 260 volunteers – the highest number of any AOPA regional fly-in,” he said.