The skies above the Kenai Peninsula will be buzzing with planes Saturday with the return of the 14th annual Kenai Peninsula Air Fair.
Pilots from all over Alaska have signed up to participate in the poker run with planes taking off and landing at eight participating airports within the borough for the chance to win prizes. The fair is not limited to pilots, Food, live music, vendors and five Alaska Wing Commemorative Air Force aircrafts will be on display and offer rides, said Kenai Municipal Airport Manager Mary Bondurant.
“It is an opportunity for people to show off their aircrafts and for Kenai and Soldotna to open their airports to the public for a fun event,” Bondurant said. “We are expecting sunshine so it will be a good day to fly. Rain or shine it will be so much fun.”
The air fair takes off with a breakfast and registration for the poker run from 8 - 11 a.m. at the Soldotna Airport Marc hanger. Registration for the poker run is $30 Friday or $40 Saturday. Pilots who sign up will receive a free T-shirt and breakfast. With June 14 also being Lemonade Day, a stand will be at both the Soldotna and Kenai airports, Bondurant said.
The festivities will shift to the Kenai Municipal Airport from 12 - 3 p.m. with lunch from Black Jaxx Barbecue, live music by Hobo Jim. The air fair will also honor the military with a proclamation from both Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson and Kenai Mayor Pat Porter to declare June 14 as Military Appreciation Day.
Bondurant said because of a sequestration from U.S. Congress, no military aircrafts would be on display like in previous years. Despite the absence, activities for kids will include a bouncy house and face painting.
Last year 56 people and about 30 planes took part in the poker run and about 20 prizes were awarded to people who had the best hand, Bondurant said. Some of the prizes this year include a round-trip for two on the Alaska Railroad to Denali, free airfare from Kenai to Anchorage from both Grant and Raven Aviation. Raft trips for two on the Nenana River or Six-Mile Creek are also up for grabs. Diamond M Ranch also offered a free night stay.
The air fair is an opportunity for pilots and others in the community to get together and share their interest in aviation, said Henry Knackstedt, chair of the Kenai Airport Commission. In his 20 years on the committee, Knackstedt has helped organize the air fair from the start. This year he is looking forward to participate in the poker run fly in for the 10th time.
Knackstedt said he is taking his daughter Carolyn up with him in his Piper Cherokee-180 low-wing plane and will fly in for breakfast at the Soldotna Airport. From there they will flying over the Harding Icefield and Exit Glacier and land at the Seward Airport to pick up one of seven cards in a 5-gallon bucket from each destination.
Then he will fly to Quartz Creek airstrip in Cooper Landing, Homer, Ninilchick, Kasilof, McGahan Industrial Park in Nikiski and complete the three hour trip in Kenai with a handful of cards, one from each stop.
Knackstedt said for the seven total cards he picks up he will discard two and turn in his best hand of five at the Kenai Airport. The deadline for participants to turn in playing cards is 2:30 p.m. He said it is exciting to watch all the pilots come in and turn in their best hands.
“It’s like counting your eggs before their hatched,” he said. “Like in poker sometimes you think you have a great hand other times you have nothing. With more prizes there are more chances for people to win.”
One year he said he had a full house and won a 12-yard load of fine gravel to spread on this property.
He said the views in the sky of the glaciers and blue water lakes and boats in the harbors of Seward and Homer are spectacular. Looking down on the hills he has seen mountain goats, sheep and bears.
“Pilots need an excuse to get in the air and go flying,” he said. “It is fun to visit all the airstrips and take people who don’t get to frequent these stops very often.”
Knackstedt said when he bought the Cherokee in 1998, it was probably the ugliest plane in the state. Since then he has cleaned it up, made modifications and is proud of the work he put into his plane.
The Experimental Aircraft Association chapter of Young Eagles led by Scott Sexton will fly an aerobatic aircraft discovery flight and give young people any opportunity to fly, Knackstedt said.
“We want to expose young people to aviation as much as we can,” he said.
Pilot Jackie Dolat from Anchorage has participated in the poker run since 2008. She said she looks forward to flying into Soldotna for breakfast in her PA-18 Super Cub and catching up with friends she hasn’t seen since the last air fair.
“I have met some great friends in Soldotna and Kenai,” she said. “It is a great community event where people from all over the state come together.”
Dolat said while she has flown commercially since 1996 doing pilot tours to Denali, she now enjoys flying recreationally. She said she loves landing on lakes in mountain areas and exploring.
“Flying in Alaska is a way of life,” she said. “With how large the state is and the proportion of highway to land, you need to fly to get to most places.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org