For the last 15 years, members of the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter 1122 have been encouraging people of all ages to discover the joys of flight at the annual Polson Fly-In.
Aviation enthusiasts will want to mark Oct. 12 on their calendars; that’s the date of this year’s fly-in.
“It was initially started to let people know the airport was there and what was going on with it,” Association Chapter President Mauri Morin said. “There was no fly-in at all; it was just started to be a community informational gathering.”
Over the years, the event has grown to include a pancake breakfast, fly-in, educational presentations on a wide variety of aviation topics, raffles and vendors. According to Morin, the event averages between 60 and 70 planes that fly in each year, but some years have been more successful than others.
“At one point six or seven years ago, we were the largest fly-in in the state, with as many as 100 and some odd pilots,” Morin said. “Of course, that was the year the Great Falls airport was closed, so that may have had something to do with it, but we always get a respectable turn out.”
The amount of smoke in the air also plays a part in turnout, and Morin hopes this year will be fairly clear.
“If the smoke is as bad as it was three or four years ago, we get a lot less people who show up [because of] lower visibility,” Morin said. “Also, depending on local fire activity, we quite often have people from the area fire departments come out and do demonstrations, so you could see people like smokejumpers while you're there.”
In addition to the possibility of smokejumpers, Morin said the pilots who fly in bring a wide variety of aircraft with them, from a 1928 Travel Air to a modern ultra light helicopters and everything in between. Morin himself said he is likely to take his Piper Arrow to the show.
“This is my 11th or 12th year involved with the fly-in, and it's always a good time,” he said. “I fly out of Ronan and I try to make all of these things that I can. We get people from all over the Northwest at this show. We usually have people from Washington, Idaho and even Oregon occasionally, and we get some really unique guests. We may have one this year, but who knows.”
Letting the community know what's going on at their local airport is now only part of the focus of the event. Getting people interested in aviation is the other component, and thanks to programs like Young Eagles and Eagles, visitors can get a real hands-on experience.
“The Young Eagles program is put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association, and is a worldwide program,” Morin said. “Our chapter does Young Eagle Flights throughout Lake County. It is free and open to any kid from 8 to 17 years old and it's a hands-on program designed to encourage kids who are interested in aviation. We give them flights and let them handle the controls, so they can see if it's something they want to do.”
If you're older than 17, Morin said the Eagles program is available. Similar to the Young Eagles program, this is designed for the older enthusiast and will be highlighted at the Polson Fly-In.
“This is a new program which was just started and is a continuation of the Young Eagles program,” Morin said. “It's aimed at people 18 years old and older and is another free service that we provide. We noticed that kids who were interested in flying sort of got shut out when they turned 17, and we wanted to change that.”
Morin said that while the free rides will not be offered at this Fly-In, sign-ups will be available at the event Oct. 12, and several people will be offering flights at the event for a fee.
“We used to do the free flights at the event, but there were concerns with safety about the increased traffic, so we've decided to do the sign-ups at the event and the flight at a later date,” Morin said. “But there will likely be several people offering rides for a fee, in a variety of aircraft. I'm hoping we'll have helicopter rides this year, too.”
Receiving his pilot's license in 1964, Morin recently earned the Lindbergh Award for his more than 50 years in aviation, and credits a childhood flight for inspiring him to follow his dream.
“I've been enthusiastic about flying ever since a crop-duster landed in my father's field in 1939 and I got a free ride,” Morin said. “I soloed for the first time in 1952 and good Lord willing, I'll be flying for many years to come. It lets you see things from a different perspective, and slip the surly bonds of Earth. It's just great, and to inspire someone else to discover its joys is pretty great, too.”
Reporter Melissa Walther may be reached at 758-4474 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.