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Chapter 105 to Host Eclipse Fly-In

By David Leiting Jr., EAA Lifetime 579157, Chapter Outreach Specialist

April 2017 - While reading the March newsletters that are sent into EAA headquarters from chapters all over the country, I found myself intrigued by a column in the Chapter 495 newsletter. The article was titled “Eclipse Fly-In Planned,” with a photo of a grass strip nestled down in a valley. I thought to myself, “Hmm, that sure is an interesting location to host a fly-in of multimillion-dollar jets that cruise at 375 knots indicated airspeed.”

It wasn’t until I read the article that I realized this event had absolutely nothing to do with the high-performance twin-engine Eclipse 550 jet. In fact, this was a weekend fly-in to celebrate the first total solar eclipse in the United States since 1979! On August 21, a large swath of the United States from the Pacific Northwest to the Carolinas will be treated to a total solar eclipse, a true once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Cities such as Kansas City, St. Louis, Nashville, and Charleston lie right in the path of the moon’s shadow.

Event organizer Bruce Eicher of Chapter 105 had originally planned to watch the eclipse with his wife while camping in an Oregon state park. On the night the booking window for state park sites opened, Bruce and his wife each hopped online to claim their site. Even with both laptops running, they were unable to claim their preferred spot.

Because Idaho is known for its first-rate airport campsites, Bruce decided to trace the eclipse’s path across his Salt Lake City sectional and found the Garden Valley Airport (U88). A quick e-mail to Idaho airport manager Todd Glass revealed there were no fly-ins planned, so Bruce reserved 35 of the 40 sites on the airfield. His idea: host a weekend fly-in that would allow pilots to gather in one beautiful location and watch the eclipse together.

Shortly after announcing the event, the RSVPs began to roll in. As of March 24, 32 of the 35 spots had been claimed, with even the famous aircraft designer Dick “Van” VanGrunsven planning to attend!

In addition to camping beneath the wings of their aircraft, visitors will have the opportunity to take part in the numerous recreational activities the region has to offer. The South Fork Payette River is located adjacent to the airport, which allows for plenty of fishing, swimming, hot springs soaking, and river rafting. Additionally, there are opportunities for horseback riding and mountain biking in the area.

However, the event isn’t without its challenges. The field elevation at Garden Valley is 3,177 feet MSL, and with the average high temperature during mid-August at 90° F, density altitude becomes an aggravated issue. In addition to the high altitude and hot temperatures, each aircraft will be carrying camping gear and at least two hours’ worth of fuel while operating out of a grass strip, albeit 3,850 feet long.

To help pilots navigate in and out of this tricky situation, Chapter 105 has assigned its safety coordinator to hold a special safety meeting prior to the event. All attendees will be briefed on the scenario and given aide when planning for the trip. Multiple attendees have already committed to staying over Monday night and leaving early Tuesday morning when the air will be much cooler.

This event is sure to be a memorable one for all those in attendance. There is just something special about a fly-in camp-out, which cannot be matched by even the finest of pancakes breakfasts. Add on the challenge of modest backcountry flying, and this is a pilot’s dream getaway. Of course, the full solar eclipse taking place on August 21 will surely keep pilots remembering this special occasion!

To learn more about the Chapter 105 Eclipse Fly-In, check out its events page! Does your chapter have any events in place to help celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event? 

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