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Buckeye’s biggest year yet

AOPA continues 85th anniversary celebrations

The Buckeye Air Fair in Arizona saw over 30,000 attendees and 340 total fly-in aircraft, over the event’s three-day weekend, but it wasn’t just the numbers that made the overall event, including the AOPA Fly-in at the Buckeye Air Fair, a rousing success.

Community members, aviators, aviation enthusiasts, and families from across Arizona and beyond gathered at the Buckeye Municipal Airport February 16 through 18 for a weekend of aviation centered around entertainment and education.

The brainchild of Buckeye Mayor and pilot Eric Orsborn, the Buckeye Air Fair has the unique atmosphere of a big airshow while simultaneously maintaining that small community fly-in vibe; the surrounding desert landscape in February made for spectacular flying and aviation spectating weather.

Of the 340 general aviation aircraft that flew in, 60 chose to spend the weekend in Buckeye, setting up tent camping sites nestled cozily under or nearby their wings.

James Williams, proud owner of a 1957 Cessna 182, first-time volunteer, and second-time AOPA fly-in attendee, was one of those campers.

“I’m doing aircraft marshalling and it’s been wonderful,” Williams said. “There’s lots of things to see and I’m really happy to be here.”

“I received some emails from AOPA,” Williams continued. “I thought, you know, I’d really like to volunteer, and it’s just been wonderful…actually what kind of piqued my interest was that it said ‘free meals’ and I thought, I’m gonna sign up, cause I’m camping and it’s just been great.”

Emma Barber, pilot and first-time Buckeye volunteer, enjoyed her time at the Buckeye Air Fair learning about the industry and meeting people.

“I have had absolutely the best time,” Barber said. “I’ve made so many connections, I have learned more in less than 24 hours about the industry, different planes, about what people do out here, how the control tower works, than I have in my last couple years of flying. It’s just such a great experience, you get to make so many connections and the hospitality has been amazing. There’s so many different events and you should absolutely go if you ever get the chance to.”

Attendees gather to watch the Saturday afternoon airshow during the Buckeye Air Fair in Buckeye, Arizona, February 17. Photo by David Tulis.

On Friday the event welcomed over 1,000 students from local schools for the Air Fair’s famous Field Trip Friday, which gave kids the opportunity to learn about aviation; science, technology, engineering, and math subjects; ROTC, and more. The students also enjoyed being able to see, touch, and learn about the variety of aircraft on display, which included warbirds, helicopters, and GA aircraft, including two AOPA Sweepstakes aircraft, one of which was presented to its new owner at the show.  

AOPA Sweepstakes took center stage over the weekend with the introduction of AOPA’s newest sweepstakes aircraft, the 1958 Cessna 182. The event also featured the long-awaited giveaway of AOPA’s backcountry beast, the Cessna 170B. The winner, Cliff Gurske, a Phoenix area native, 30-year AOPA member, and Southwest Airlines pilot, got the surprise of a lifetime during AOPA’s Town Hall with Mark Baker.

Click images to expand and view captions.

Attendees visit the static display area. Photo by David Tulis. Youth watch the afternoon airshow. Photo by David Tulis. Vendors congregate at the static display area. Photo by David Tulis. The Desert Rats perform a formation routine in front of the AOPA Flightline Chalet. Photo by David Tulis. Attendees are framed by the V-tail of a Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet as they watch aerial performances from the AOPA Flightline Chalet. Photo by David Tulis. The setting sun frames Kyle Franklin performing a routine in front of the AOPA Flightline Chalet. Photo by David Tulis. J.W. White explains science, technology, engineering, and math concepts and aviation to students Pierce Cottingham and Christopher Lopez. Photo by David Tulis. Airshow attendees gather near the AOPA Sweepstakes Cessna 182A to watch aerobatic performers. Photo by David Tulis.

On Friday evening, AOPA members enjoyed a private show as aerobatic performers practiced for their big debut on Saturday, when AOPA hosted its private, members-only eighty-fifth anniversary party at the VIP tent on the south side of the field. Members enjoyed delicious food, libations, a celebratory birthday cake, and swag courtesy of AOPA.

Attendees were dazzled with adrenaline-inducing spectacles that included flybys and demonstrations from a local Lockeed Martin F–35, a duo of Stearmans, a heritage flight by a Fairchild Republic A–10 Thunderbolt and a North American P–51 Mustang, Jon Melby’s FearBoss Pitts, Red Thunder Airshows’ Yak-50 team, NextGen Eagles Aerobatic Team, Desert Rat’s Nanchang CJ–6s, and night skydivers.

AOPA and California Aeronautical University joined the fun flying their unleaded-fueled twin Beechcraft Barons in the show, followed by crowd favorites Kyle Franklin’s Flying Circus with his Super Cub comedy routine, and GhostWriter Airshows’ “Frankenchipmunk” (a modified de Havilland Super Chipmunk) pyrotechnic marvel. The Saturday night fireworks show rivaled some of the best airshow firework spectacles around with a display that entertained guests of all ages for more than 20 minutes.

On Sunday, guests were entertained by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Band and Luke Air Force Base band, followed by a daytime airshow.

From the GA education and exhibition to the aerial entertainment, there truly was something for everyone at the Buckeye Air Fair.

Niki Britton
eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.
Topics: AOPA Events, Fly-in

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