30th Annual Simsbury Fly-In and Car Show
An entertaining and educational day spent at the Fly-In, but are storm clouds on the horizon?
The Simsbury Flying Club presented its 30th Annual Fly-In and Car Show on the third Sunday of September, 2015. Three decades of fly-ins and automobile exhibitions at the Simsbury Airport (4B9) were marked this year; about 75 airplanes and close to 500 cars and trucks (and their owners, families, friends, etc.) took part in the festivities. Last year’s event surpassed 10,000 spectators, and this year seemed equally successful.
The civilian-operated Simsbury Airport will have been open for 75 years next year, and has survived some difficult times: enduring wartime repurposing during World War II, Federal flight restrictions during the PATCO strike and after 9/11, financial crunches and waning general aviation interest over time, and a nearby tornado too.
The airport is now run by the Simsbury Flying Club, which is a non-profit organization that offers memberships to pilots and plane owners, sells avgas at the field, and contracts for services for the airport. It has been touted that this is the only airport in the country that operates in this manner. No state or federal money is received to fund airport operations, and this show is the major annual fundraiser each year, contributing necessary capital toward the airport’s operating budget.
Unfortunately for the aviation side of things, a cool front passed through the area during the early morning this year and some gusty winds and low clouds east of the airport may have kept flying attendance a bit lower than anticipated.
Additionally, possible misfortune was foretold on the first page of the event’s magazine-style program. An article entitled “Saving Simsbury Airport” stated that: “This airport, and this great event, may not exist beyond the year 2017. The lease on this property expires in two years. Unless it is renewed, or the airport is acquired by the town or state governments, Simsbury Airport’s long history of service to this community will end”.
The article went on to state that several smaller airports in Connecticut have closed recently, and that mirrored a worrying national trend. Having the land pulled out from underneath the airfield would force a final chapter to the airport’s three quarters of a century existence. Serious discussions are underway to allow the facility to remain open, but no outcome, either positive or negative, has been announced.
While the airport’s future may be shrouded in a fog of uncertainty, by mid-morning of the Fly-In , the Simsbury skies had cleared and the wind subsided, leading to plenty of aircraft entering the downwind leg to land. The Fly-In is the Northeast’s largest annual aviation gathering. The event was well attended by spectators, based upon the auto parking lots that filled to near capacity.
Weather and lease concerns aside, the one day show was lots of fun. Air traffic landed to the north, affording the spectators a great up-close view of general aviation aircraft as they operated on the narrow runway. Civil Air Patrol squadrons were tasked with aircraft ground movement and safety.
Locally based Yankee Clipper pilot John Doran noted that the organizers searched out opportunities to show some fun things not usually seen at fly-ins, like the radio control planes from the Central Connecticut Radio Control Club, and the Lifestar helicopter (which unfortunately had to depart 10 minutes after arriving on an actual medical emergency mission). The Yankee Clippers, usually four Van’s RV aircraft – but a pair on this Sunday, flew formation maneuvers twice during the day. And Banner Tow USA operated a pair of banner towing operations right from the airport, snatching an aerial banner twice from the grounds right in front of the spectators.
The assembled vendors and exhibitors drew curious onlookers in between their viewing of the planes and cars. Aviation organizations including several EAA Chapters, the 99s, and flight training companies were represented. Billed as a “dog friendly” event, there were plenty of canines on the field, with at least a couple of rescue organizations present and even a dog watering station set up for the four legged companions. Local artisans and businesspeople from Simsbury and the Farmington Valley area displayed their wares too.
The car show was located on the south end of the grounds, while the aircraft were arrayed to the north. Foreign and domestic vehicles, ranging from 25 years old to more than 80 were parked in neat rows. Some were pristine restorations, others were “rats”, but from an aviator’s point of view, all were an interesting accompaniment to the aircraft “up the street”.
As for participating aircraft, there was a wide assortment of singles, and even a few twins in attendance. A Piper Geronimo (a modified Apache twin and forerunner to the Aztec) was the largest aircraft to use the 2205 foot runway during the fly-in. A Cessna 175 Skylark on floats was the tallest aircraft on the field. Light Sport Aircraft, homebuilts, and production aircraft from the 1940s to present were all represented. Old Rhinebeck Airdrome displayed its SPAD VII replica World War I fighter. Robinson helicopters ruled the vertical flight realm, with an R22 and R44s in attendance too.
This year’s Simsbury Fly-In and Car Show drew close to 75 planes, 500 cars and 10,000 spectators. Some exciting aerial activity, including a banner tow pickup, the Lifestar helicopter arrival and formation flights overhead added to the steady stream of arriving and departing airplanes. Support for the airport, and for those who are connected to it, seems strong. While the airport’s future is uncertain past next year’s event, this year proved that there’s a lot of backing for the Simsbury Flying Club’s airport and its continued operation.
Special words of thanks go to Brad Griswold, PJ, John Doran and the other volunteers who allowed the Photorecon Team to cover this event and “talk planes” during the Fly-In.