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Prepare to join the crowd

Tips for pilots flying in this season

Pancake breakfasts, open houses, wings and wheels events, and airshows are popping up across the country and will be in full swing throughout the spring and summer, into early fall. Whether you plan to fly to a major fly-in or a small one, prepare in advance to ensure a safe arrival and departure with hundreds or even thousands of your fellow aviators.

Photo by David Tulis.

Fly-ins bring high volumes of traffic to an airport for a short period of time. Pilot skill level and aircraft performance vary vastly, leading aviators through arrival and departure experiences that range from adrenaline-pumping fun to nerve-racking chaos.

Doing your homework and brushing up on some basic skills can increase your confidence and safety heading to the event. Here are some helpful tips to get you ready for the fly-in season.

Research the fly-in. Gather all the information you can about the event, the airport, any published arrival/departure procedures, and airport closure times if an airshow will be part of the festivities. Chart supplements, electronic flight bags, notices to air missions, and AOPA’s Airport Directory are helpful resources. The airport or event website or social media page should have details including procedures that you can download. For large-scale events such as the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo coming up April 9 through 14 in Lakeland, Florida, or EAA AirVenture Oshkosh July 22 through 28 in Wisconsin, organizers provide videos of the arrival procedures to help you see the visual checkpoints from the air. In some cases, you can find the procedures and their waypoints in your EFB.

Bring someone along. If this will be your first time flying to a fly-in, particularly a large one, bring another pilot or aviation enthusiast with you who has flown to that event before. This person can help you navigate arrival/departure procedures and serve as another set of eyes to spot traffic.

Knock off the rust by getting out of your comfort zone. Chances are you might be rusty in a few areas, particularly if you fly similar operations to familiar airports on each flight. If you mainly operate at nontowered airports and the event will be at a towered airport or have a temporary tower in place, practice flying to airports with control towers to help you get accustomed to talking to air traffic control. On the flip side, if you operate exclusively at towered airports and file instrument flight plans or get flight following, practice flying to a nontowered airport where you need to join the flow of traffic, announce your position, and watch for other aircraft that may or may not be communicating on the common traffic advisory frequency. Visit some busy airports to get used to flying with a lot of traffic as well.

Practice scenarios likely to occur at the event. Flying to large events such as Sun ‘n Fun or AirVenture, you’ll be assigned a dot to land on, so brush up on your spot landings. Pick different spots at an airport with a longer runway so that you can try touching down on the numbers or different thousand-foot markers. During an event, controllers or fellow pilots might ask you to keep your speed up or slow down on final approach, depending on the traffic around you, so practice these different types of approaches. Make sure your go-around procedures are spot on so that you can execute one immediately, with confidence, if needed to maintain safety.

Prepare mentally. Your adrenaline will be pumping for sure. Remember to aviate, navigate, communicate. Don’t feel obligated to comply with requests from other pilots or even ATC (just say ,"Unable") that you aren’t comfortable with or don’t feel that you can execute safely. Keep your aircraft under control at all times to prevent a serious situation. And, don’t let the pressure of an audience get the best of you—pilots often watch and informally judge landings at fly-ins, but if you worry about performing for an audience, that distraction could lead to a bumbled landing or worse.

Stack the deck in your favor. Whether you need to fly 25 nautical miles or 1,000 nm to get to the event, plan your flight so that you don’t get caught with hundreds of other pilots sandwiched between weather systems or arrive during peak operations. If it is a one-day event and the weather is cooperative, plan to arrive early, ahead of the rush. For multiday events, find the best weather window and least busiest arrival times and plan to hit one of those.

Flying to an event adds another layer of camaraderie and sense of satisfaction to your overall experience. Prepare in advance to help ensure your arrival and departure are safe and fun-filled.


Alyssa J. Miller
Alyssa J. Cobb
The former senior director of digital media, Alyssa J. Cobb was on the AOPA staff from 2004 until 2023. She is a flight instructor, and loves flying her Cessna 170B with her husband and two children. Alyssa also hosts the weekly Fly with AOPA show on the AOPA Pilot Video YouTube channel.
Topics: Technique

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