Fair takes fans to new heights

Posted: Sunday, May 23, 2004

When more than 200 people gathered for a pancake breakfast Saturday morning at the Samaritan's Purse Hanger at Soldotna Municipal Airport, their heads were in the clouds.

The Soldotna and Kenai airports, in conjunction with Alaska Airmen's Association and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), hosted the fourth annual Kenai Peninsula Air Fair and Military Appreciation Day festivities.

"The turnout is great," said David Goode, past president of EAA. "Aviation is a big part of the community here, but this event has really grown each year as more people find out about it."

In addition to his duties flipping pancakes, Goode also was there to inform people about experimental aircrafts a subject he is passionate about.

"It's good to share what we know with the community and (the air fair) gives us an opportunity to show people some different designs, different engines and, basically, a different way of doing things," said Goode.

After the breakfast, pilots registered for a "fun run" that entailed flying to different airports around the peninsula to collect cards that were turned in at Kenai Municipal Airport for prizes later in the day.

"More than 60 pilots signed up for the fun run, nearly double the amount of last year's air fair," Goode said.

Bob and Jayne Hempstead were two of those pilots who participated in the fun run in their Cessna 120.

"I just got my pilot's license yesterday, so this was really great," Bob Hempstead said. "We split up the flights. Jayne took the ones with shorter dirt runways, and I took the longer paved runways."

"It was nice," said Jayne Hempstead. "The weather's been great with very little wind. It's been a perfect day for flying, and this year I got to look out the window while Bob did some flying."

Although many pilots took to the skies, many other people with and without wings stayed at the airport to tour the dozens of aircrafts and military vehicles on display.

"This is really fun," said Andrea Newgren of Kasilof, who was at the Air Fair with her husband, Steven. "Steve's a pilot and likes planes, so this is a good way for him to meet people with the same interests. Also, even though we have a plane, it's always nice to look at fancier models."

Steve Scales, a helitack foreman with the Alaska Division of Forestry, fielded numerous questions about their helicopter, Evergreen, that's used for fighting wildfires, while people got to sit in the cockpit and feel firsthand what it's like inside the bird.

"People see us fly over, but don't know exactly, so this gives us a chance to explain our job and the equipment we use to do that job," Scales said.

Dillan Hawkins, an 8-year-old from Soldotna, was there with his mother, Erin Gahringer, and he found sitting in the pilot's seat exciting.

"It was cool," he said. "The controls were just like they are on TV and in the movies."

His mother said neither her, nor her son, had much experience with aircrafts, but that was why they came to learn.

"A friend of mine from work let me fly his Supercub on Monday. That was the first time I've ever done anything like that, but it got me interested, so I came out to see some different aircrafts and learn about flying," Gahringer said.

As the morning events wrapped up, the Air Fair moved to Kenai, where there were more aircrafts. From an ultralight plane small enough to throw in the back of a pickup, to the C130H Hercules with a 132-feet 7-inch wingspan, 38-feet 5-inch height and load capacity of 175,000 pounds, there were planes of various sizes, shapes, colors and designs.

The afternoon festivities also focused heavily on military appreciation and following a barbecue and music by Dixie Express, Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey and Kenai Mayor John Williams spoke and presented awards in honor of the cities' military personnel as well as the families of military personnel both past and present.

Many veterans in attendance found the words heart warming.

"I think the mayors were very generous in their opinions and did well in their recognition and the credibility they gave the military," said Herb Stettler of VFW Post No. 10046.

"I thought it was good (Carey) recognized the families of vets current and past," said Al Parker, also a member of the post. "I haven't heard that said very much, and it sounded good to me."

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