Since 1971, the COPPERSTATE Fly-In & Aviation Expo has been a great place to see a diverse blend of aircraft in action, attend informative workshops and check out the latest, greatest aviation products. In its 39th year, this year’s fly-in — scheduled forThurs., Oct. 20, 2011 – Sat., Oct. 22, 2011 at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport in Casa Grande, Ariz. — promises to be no exception.
COPPERSTATE Fly-In, Inc. President Mike Still has been head of the corporation since 2008. He estimates the fly-in has grown by about 10 percent every year. In 2010, it attracted more than 500 aircraft and 7,129 attendees from 10 countries and 39 states. While he and other organizers expect this year’s turnout to be even more expansive, COPPERSTATE wasn’t always a world-renowned event.
In 1978, the COPPERSTATE Fly-In was held at what is now the Pinal County Airport. Bob Hasson — who has been involved with the fly-in for 30 years and counting, including 25 years as its president — met some local EAA members at a Tucson mall promoting the fly-in. Their enthusiasm prompted him to become a COPPERSTATE volunteer, and he was assigned to park airplanes at the event. “I think we only parked about 50 airplanes and had about 750 paying customers,” he recalls. “But, I met some fantastic people, and we had a great time!”
Aircraft Highlights: 2011
This year’s pilots and attendees are sure to have an equally great time, thanks in part to the return of the Arizona Wing of the Confederate Air Force(CAF) based in nearby Mesa. The CAF’s full complement of WWII aircraft is a definite crowd pleaser.
Its cache includes the B-17 Flying Fortress “Sentimental Journey,” which rolled off the Douglas assembly line in 1944 (shown, left); “Maid in the Shade,” a B-25 “Mitchell” twin-engine bomber; and the SNJ T-6 “Texan,” a two-person pilot-trainer aircraft. Paid flights on these three aircraft, along with a special rate of $55 on a vintage C-45, will be available to the public during the fly-in.
For Secretary David Kujawa, who was recruited as a COPPERSTATE volunteer in 2008, the wide diversity of aircraft is what differentiates it from the many fly-ins and air shows he has attended throughout the United States and Canada. “I can’t remember the last time I came home from a show and had to pull out aircraft spotter guides to look up some of the aircraft we had there,” he explains.
Kujawa says last year’s arrival of a Consolidated PB4Y-2 ‘Privateer’ patrol bomber/tanker at COPPERSTATE was particularly breathtaking. Although 739 Privateers were built between 1935 and 1962, only one remains airworthy; it will make its appearance again at the 2011 fly-in. “Seeing it arrive last year made pounding fence posts all day in the hot sun worthwhile,” he recalls.
And there’s plenty more where the PB4Y came from: A steady stream of fly-bys by participating aircraft and pilots should keep everyone’s attention all day long.
There’s Something for Everyone
Over the years, COPPERSTATE has earned a reputation for running smoothly and meeting the entertainment and educational expectations of pilots, spectators and exhibitors. “There’s nothing else in the southwest that even comes close,” Still says.
According to Kujawa, the event has long been regarded as a showcase for homebuilt aircraft in the Southwest. In recent years — especially 2010 —that reputation has expanded as a result of the ever-increasing aircraft diversity, from ultralights, to helicopters, to vintage WWII fighters and bombers. “As an enthusiast, that makes this show interesting,” he points out.
In fact, the homebuilt aircraft element was what drew Event Manager Jim McChesney, an eight-year volunteer, to the fly-in for the first time in 1992. That was the year his father began building a Kitfox homebuilt airplane. That exposure — coupled with a Popular Mechanics article McChesney read when he was 12 about a man who built his own Quickie Q2 — put the wheels in motion.
Around the same time, McChesney heard that Kitfox would be exhibiting at COPPERSTATE at the airport in Prescott, Arizona that year. “I wanted to see what my dad was building, so my family and I drove up and spent a couple days at the fly-in,” he says. “I was blown away by all the beautiful handmade airplanes: engines in front; engines in back; some twin engines; some sleek and fast; some slow-cruising, open cockpit biplanes — and even one made out of wood!” McChesney and his wife Kathy were so impressed that they signed on to be volunteers in 2003. Jim holds the title of event manager, and Kathy leads aircraft registration. (“She’s very supportive of all the time that COPPERSTATE requires,” Jim says.)
“There are always lots of cool-looking airplanes,” McChesney continues. “Even people who are familiar with the airplanes you routinely see at the local airport will be surprised and impressed with the variety at this event, especially the quality of the homebuilt aircraft.”
A Pilot-Friendly Prospect
Looking back on his three-plus decades of involvement with COPPERSTATE, Bob Hasson says he has received thousands of compliments — and, of course, a few criticisms — about the fly-in. “We always took those seriously and tried our best to correct any area that didn’t meet our customers’ expectations,” he says. “As a result, our brand is that we’re the best aviation event in the Southwest, and maybe in the entire United States.”
In fact, according to McChesney, the biggest change in the COPPERSTATE Fly-In over the past several years is how things have stopped changing. “We’ve been [at the Casa Grande airport] for five years and have been able to perfect what we do tweak by tweak,” he explains. “Most of the folks who come back year after year tell us that it’s just a really nice fly-in —relaxed and friendly, with enough activity and exhibitors to keep a pilot interested for a couple of days.”
To this end, one of the elements pilots reportedly appreciate most is the constant flying activity — and freedom — COPPERSTATE affords. Although an air show was added to the fly-in schedule in the early 1990s, it was poorly received by aircraft owners and builders in attendance. “They complained that the air show required that the airport be shut down for three hours of the day, which reduced flying time for them and restricted when they arrived and departed,” Kujawa recalls.
Since there would be no fly-in without these core constituents (and because FAA air show regulations grew increasingly stringent), the air show portion of the event was dropped in 2006. The decision was met with enthusiasm from the pilots and very few complaints from the non-flying public. “Now, airplanes can takeoff or land in between or even during a Showcase and there are airplanes over the runway virtually all day long,” McChesney says. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive from all but a few disappointed spectators who came to see upside-down smoking airplanes.”
This translates to more flying opportunities for participating pilots. Instead of an air show, fly-in visitors can be featured alone, or with other aircraft, in a showcase fly-by pattern —a racetrack traffic pattern designed to give the crowd a good view of the aircraft. Fly-by periods last up to 15 minutes, and pilots can choose to have information about their airplanes and/or themselves announced to the crowd.
“Participation in the showcase flights has increased in the past few years,” Kujawa says. “It has afforded attendees an opportunity to not only see the airplanes up close, but also in action.”
Pilots can also compete in the Fuelventure 400, which is open to all participating fly-in pilots. This competitiondetermines fuel efficiency by weighing each aircraft and its passengers prior to running a 400-mile triangular course. Afterward, the weight is taken again to determine the amount of fuel burned. Cash prizes of at least $1,000 are awarded to the top finishers in each weight class.
A broad range of available forums and workshops, as well as a recognition banquet, are also big draws for participating pilots.
Attractions for Aviation Enthusiasts — of All Ages
By design, there’s something at COPPERSTATE for everyone, regardless of age or aviation expertise.
“Casual attendees are always interested in seeing new and unusual aircraft, as well as classic aircraft that have been meticulously restored,” says Still.And, there will be plenty of both on hand at this year’s fly-in.
Still believes the innovation and quality of newly built experimental aircraft at the fly-in is a compelling attraction for attendees. “We’ve seen aircraft here that don’t make it to Oshkosh,” he says, referring to EAA AirVenture, one of the world’s largest aviation events held every summer in Wisconsin.
In the exhibitors’ tents, attendees can check out new items and technology from aviation vendors.
A multitude of forums and workshops are also available to the public, as is anonsite food court, plenty of transportation and improved parking capacity.
For kids: Every year, the COPPERSTATE planning committee strives to make the fly-in kid-friendly and engaging. One of the biggest attractions —an interactive rib-building workshop —will be offered again this year.
“Last year, more than 100 kids built wing ribs they’ll cherish for many years,” Still says. Even local elementary schools got in the game; classes of young students visited the event and had the unique opportunity to tour the mighty B-17 Flying Fortress and see all the aircraft from a seat on the ‘people movers’.
For sponsors and exhibitors:When they’re not working, Kujawa says vendors can (and do) enjoy the many aircraft static displays, workshops and fly-bys the fly-in offers. “Our show is at the end of the season,” he points out. “By then, most exhibitors are probably ready for the grind to be over.”
Bob Hasson points out that the number of COPPERSTATE exhibitors, as well as the quality of the forums and workshops, has steadily increased over the years. “Most exhibitors report that they’re treated better at COPPERSTATE than any other show.”
This year, a special area of the exhibit building will be designated for avionics vendors, and sponsors and exhibitors will enjoy permanent and upgraded electrical facilities in the exhibit area.
You Don’t Have to Be a “Wing Nut” to Have a Good Time
As McChesney explains, only about half of the attendees of the fly-in every year are serious aviation enthusiasts. “If a person has even a passing interest in airplanes or aviation, then they’ll enjoy themselves at COPPERSTATE,” he says. “I compare this event to a custom car show. There are lots of airplanes in the pattern, lots of activity on the ramp, and plenty of friendly aviators to answer questions.”
Kujawa agrees that a simple interest in aviation is reason enough to attend COPPERSTATE. “Certainly, there are a number of people passionate about aviation at our event,” he says. “But, there’s living history here in the form of antique, vintage and warbird aircraft.”
Still concurs with McChesney and Kujawa: “The opportunity to be out on an airport ramp with airplanes and flight activity is a big draw in itself, let alone being able to touch and inspect historic WWII aircraft.”
Volunteering at the Fly-In: A Labor of Love
COPPERSTATE is run entirely by volunteers;there is no paid staff. According to McChesney, it is the largest all-volunteer fly-in in the country “and probably the largest on the planet.”
Given the volunteer-driven format, COPPERSTATE organizers are always in the market for new recruits. And, there are plenty of reasons to get involved.
No one is more familiar with all of the benefits of volunteering than 30-year veteran Bob Hasson. “The reason I’ve done it for so long,and will continue to be involved into the foreseeable future, is the other volunteers,” he says.
In particular, Hasson recalls the 2002 fly-in, for which he and a few dozen other volunteers spent four months building a volunteer kitchen and shower house. “We were working in a barren cotton field in daytime temperatures exceeding 100 degrees,” he recalls. “We slept in motorhomes, travel trailers and tents, with only generators for electricity. I became as close to those guys and gals as my own family.”
Although Hasson admits he and his cohorts asked themselves more than once if they’d bitten off more than they could chew with the project, their herculean effort paid off: The building was completed the day the fly-in opened its gates.
“The loyalty, effort and sacrifices made by those individuals will remain with me forever,” he says. “Once you work with these people, you’ll realize you’re a member of a very large family who’d do anything for each other.”
It was the volunteers themselves — Bob Hasson, in particular — who prompted Event Manager Jim McChesney to get involved with the fly-in. About 10 years ago, when he decided to build an all-metal RV-7A, he “talked to everybody” at COPPERSTATE about his project: “That included all the pilots who’d flown in, all the vendors, and other looky-loos like me.”
McChesney soon met Hasson, who’d built an RV-6A. He invited McChesney to his home to see the aircraft. They spent hours talking about their mutual airplane-building projects and interest in aviation. After the “kinks” in McChesney’s RV-7A project were ironed out, Hasson taught McChesney and his wife how to rivet the aircraft back together.
“I realized then that I needed to find some way to give back a little bit to the people in homebuilt aviation — the [Experimental Aircraft Association] crowd who so selflessly give away their time, knowledge and experience so that newbies like me can be successful,” McChesney explains. “It’s about airplanes; but, it’s really about the people who love airplanes enough to give their time and sweat to make COPPERSTATE happen.”
Currently, COPPERSTATE organizers have the most need for aircraft and automobile parking volunteers, as well as event transportation drivers. For information, contact Aircraft Parking Chairman Ken Schanke at (520) 982-5871 or Transportation Chairman Mark Weiss at (480) 528-7177.
Other volunteer positions are available by contacting the area chairman listed at the COPPERSTATE website or COPPERSTATE President Mike Still at (602) 690-3181.
Pilots: Complete pilot information for the fly-in is available on the COPPERSTATE website,including arrival procedures, aircraft parking, departure procedures and more. (Click the “Flying In” tab.)
Spectators/walk-in attendees: A three-day pass for the event is available for $30. Daily admission is $15 per person. Military personnel and Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) members will be admitted for $13 a day or $25 for an all all-event pass. Kids 12 and under receive free admission, and parking is provided at no charge.
Campers:Tent and RV camping is available for $10 per night. (Pilots may camp with their planes.) Shower facilities and portable restrooms are available. For complete camping details, visit the COPPERSTATE website.
COPPERSTATE News Media Chairman