Friday, April 8, 2011

A little muddy, but SnF roared back on Friday

Describing the atmosphere at Sun 'n Fun on Friday morning is difficult. I think pensive is the most accurate way to put it. There definitely wasn't a galloping celebration, but nor was anyone showing overtly the signs of distress that might have been expected following the previous day's devastating storm. Instead, the majority of the visiting public appeared contemplative, not quite somber. The volunteers, reps, crews and other workers just looked dog-tired, as you'd think they might after a long, arduous night.

The public got in, one way or another

No doubt uppermost in people's minds were the damaged planes, the shattered dreams and the lost livelihoods of the many who suffered on Thursday. Spending an hour or more in the stationary traffic waiting to get into Lakeland Linder, followed by the virtual chess game (for those not wanting to spend further time waiting for a tractor-trailer ride) that arose out of having to pick a careful path through the mud and waterlogged grass from the parking area, would have added a bit to the general malaise. But I didn't hear much serious complaint, just a bit of steam-letting here and there. Not enough to ruin anyone's day, particularly in light of the prior day's events. I heard that several people opted to park where they got stuck in traffic and walked in, one guy I met walking 4 miles. That's dedication if you ask me. It's the attraction of the event, the indomitable EAA spirit. You do what you need to do to make the objective.

Inside the regenerating show

Walking the exhibits was a mixed bag. Some commercial vendors' displays looked just as they had 48 hours previously, barely an aileron out of place. But the awnings and tents that had guided visitors along orderly corridors on Wednesday were pock-marked with gaps and an occasional pile of metal that used to be a tent frame of some sort, or part of an aeroplane. Several planes that had shown well in Wednesday's breezy sunshine had been removed for repairs or, like the poor Air Cams, were now mere scrap heaps. The show went on around them as dozens of stoic people continued the clean-up and salvage operations.

My dad and I went looking for specific planes that had captured our attention two days before, in the commercial, warbird and light plane exhibits in particular. The Great Lakes was unscathed, as was the Maverick flying car which managed to pass a simultaneous road and flight test on Thursday, as captured in the first minute of this video. But a Flight Design CTLS on floats - real eye candy - had disappeared, presumably retired wounded, it's wheeled brethren attempting to plug a hole that couldn't be fully eradicated.

In one of the reports on Thursday evening I'd heard of a Kitfox being destroyed. I only recalled seeing one Kitfox on our Wednesday visit, the one that was being built and raffled off by Aviation Explorer Post 491, from Birmingham, AL. On Wednesday I'd peered into its cockpit, checked out the avionics and asked one of the young construction team, Jeffrey Mannien about its flaperons. (I've never flown a plane with them.) Did Jeff plan to fly the Kitfox when it was finished? Oh yeah! They even had a test pilot ready to go as soon as Sun 'n Fun was over; no less than air show pilot and fellow Alabaman Jeff Koontz.

It was really tragic to see what now comprised the AE491 exhibit on Friday morning; just some photos of the destroyed plane, a collection jar, and a sign:

In the photo Jeff Mannien is holding a piece of the wooden prop that had just been balanced and perfected for the test flight. Such is life.

By 11 am on Friday, every person on the AE491 stand was smiling, ready to move on to the next project. The harder they fall, the harder they get back up!  I'm sure they, along with so many others on the field, had managed to work through their grief and frustration overnight. Thursday was done, Friday was a brand new chapter. Onward and upward! The AE491 reps simply redoubled their fund-raising efforts. The raffle prize had gone, so out came the B plan. At some point on Friday or Saturday someone had the bright idea of getting donors to autograph the Kitfox's buckled wings, and they brought the wreckage over to the stand. Here's a video courtesy of AVWeb:

It will make a really good memento, one for the Sun 'n Fun museum.

Want to help them get their next project off the ground, figuratively as well as literally? Just go to their website, and donate! They are talking about going for a 3/4 scale T-51 Mustang. Top choice if you ask me! It seems AE491 has become the poster child for the storm's destruction and the subsequent rejuvenation of this year's event. With their spirit and courage that is no bad thing at all.

Whoosh! Bang!

If the atmosphere was understandably tempered on Friday morning, the air show that afternoon was unexpectedly good. The immense physical jobs of cleaning up the site, getting cars parked in a bog, reestablishing trade displays and so on was matched every bit by the planning tenacity of the air show organization. Nobody missed a beat. The ATC landed three or four planes a minute before lunch time, then the runways were converted to a non-stop, pulsating air show that managed to include every single one of the big names scheduled to appear, plus a few more practice sessions including one by the Blue Angels. (I count that as two Angels displays in a single afternoon!) We were treated to Chambliss, Goulian, the Blue Angels, the F-22, an F-22/P-51 Heritage Flight, Patty Wagstaff, Sean Tucker and more! At dusk, the roaring P&W radials combined with the twinkling lights and thick smoke trails from the AeroShell Aerobatic Team's four T-6s won my vote for most audio-visually appealing flight of the day. 

I shot this video from the bar of the aptly named Sunset Grill, having gone there for "a quick one" before Mr Tucker started his routine. I didn't realize that at Sun 'n Fun a large Fosters would put a stein at Oktoberfest to shame, requiring two hands to hold to my mouth! So where you see the video go out of focus it was the cameraman, not the camera.

Once it was properly dark Manfred Radius gave a stellar (sic) performance in his glider, his wing tips generating helical tracks in the night sky. Matt Younkin tore about the clear night sky in his Beech 18, another poignant moment as the crowd remembered Matt's sister and brother-in-law, still in hospital after their accident a couple of weeks prior.

And then we were treated to a bonus. The finale was a firework spectacular that was part psychedelia, part brute force and power. It's a good job the residents of central Florida are used to gigantic explosions with the amount of lightning they get. If I had one complaint it's that it could have been a little louder next year, please. The napalm explosions added to the sensual effects with some warmth across the cooling grass of the Home Built Corner

All in all, not a bad day's entertainment for $30 (with your EAA or AOPA membership discount). Definitely one of the more memorable air shows I'm likely to experience. Congratulations and many, many thanks to all the volunteers, organizers, exhibitors, air show pilots, ATC, local law enforcement and anyone else who conspired to make Friday such a success. Impressive.

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