PILOTS FROM Tahlequah and beyond soared above the city Saturday, as the Red Fern Festival launched a Vintage Airplane Fly-In for the first time in its 12-year history.
The Tahlequah Municipal Airport was lined with old planes, and visitors from all around northeast Oklahoma crowded around the tarmac to watch as they touched down on the runway. Most of the pilots were also from the Green Country area, including Greg Magnuson, who flew in from Tulsa.
“I don’t go to these very often, but this one sounded really neat, because of all the food and stuff to see,” said Magnuson. “These are fun; sometimes they’re just pilots getting together and kind of looking at each other’s airplanes and chatting.”
Many of the festival goers were content with keeping both feet on the ground, but for those who wanted to experience flying for themselves, Tulsa County Helicopters was on hand to give them a lift. In five-minute rides, pilot Chuck Dixon would take guests over the thousands of pedestrians who strolled through downtown, while also buzzing them over their houses if they were local.
It’s natural for many people to be leery of getting into aircrafts, but once they land, they rarely regret it, said Becky Woodward, manager at Tulsa County Helicopters.
“Some of the reactions before they get on – they’re kind of nervous and some of them are really excited,” said Woodward. “By the time they get off, they have a smile on their face; everybody leaves with a smile.”
Many airplane enthusiasts and pilots contend that flying is safer than driving. Magnuson said it’s at least more relaxing.
“I’m calmer, actually, when I’m flying, than I would be driving in traffic,” he said. “There’s usually no one around for what seems like hundreds of miles. Occasionally, you’ll see another airplane, but for the most part, you’re just up there alone. So there’s really not anything to bump into.”
But just because someone is interested in airplanes does not mean he is willing to fly in one. Janet Compton traveled from Bentonville, Arkansas, to check out some of the planes, but said she wouldn’t be leaving the earth’s surface anytime soon.
“I’ve always been very interested in aerospace engineering, but I’ve never actually flown on a plane,” said Compton. “I’ve always been into the development of spacecrafts, but they’re not usually designed the same, because there’s no wind or air in space. I somehow started getting interested in airplanes, because I wanted to learn how they manipulate the air, versus how a spacecraft engineer wouldn’t think about it as much.”
Still, Compton said she is “deathly afraid” of heights and doesn’t intend to board a plane. But according to many pilots, she may be missing something special.
“I just enjoy looking at the beautiful landscapes,” said Magnuson. “It’s amazing what you can see from the air that you can’t see from the road. You can see farms and lakes that you didn’t know existed. I’m not from here originally, but Oklahoma is beautiful once you get up in the air and you see it. It really changes a lot about 20 miles from here at the lake. Before that, you can tell there’s a lot of open fields where you could land, and as a pilot, you’ve got to keep that in mind. But once you get on this side of the lake, it’s just a lot of woods and it’s really pretty.”
There was also a static display of military, police and fire vehicles at the airport. A tactical vehicle was there, and kids climbed on it, while the medical helicopter also made an appearance.
“They did have a whole bunch of other things for the kids to ride in – the fire truck and they let them honk the horn,” said Woodward. “I think they scared some people half to death when the kids would pull the horn. It was funny, though, and everybody seemed to be happy and having a good time, which is really the whole point of these festivals.”