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Arlington's Fly-In sees slightly less traffic, attracts interest in fuel-efficient aviation

An airplane prepares to take to the air at the Arlington Fly-In July 13. - KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times
An airplane prepares to take to the air at the Arlington Fly-In July 13.
— image credit: KIRK BOXLEITNER The Arlington Times

ARLINGTON Harry DeLong has attended Fly-Ins since the mid-1990s as part of Glasair Aviation's sales and flight demonstrations, and he believes that rising gas prices haven't affected aviation as much as they have the automobile industry.

"Air fuel prices haven't risen as much as auto fuel prices," DeLong said. "Our booth is still getting a lot of good traffic at the Fly-In."

Far from seeing a shrinking field, DeLong cited Glasair's "two weeks to taxi" program as one way that aviation is expanding its consumer base, by enabling customers to assemble kit planes in two weeks that could take them years to build on their own.

"We're not trying to compete with other companies," DeLong said. "Rather, we're looking to make the pie bigger."

DeLong explained that the "two weeks to taxi" program complies with the "51 percent rule" for non-certified aircraft, which requires that builders of such aircraft do 51 percent of the assembly work themselves, by making their work time as efficient as possible.

"We find the tools, fixtures and instructions, and lay all the parts out on the table," DeLong said. "They drill the holes, assemble the parts, and gain the knowledge and experience. We do the front and back ends of the work, by setting up the tasks and sweeping up afterward. It's a 10-to-1 ratio of productive to non-productive time."

DeLong went on to cite the versatility of the Sportsman, with its convertible gear and folding wings, characterizing it as capable of a wide range of configurations.

While local companies such as MPS and Glasair touted their wares, aviation enthusiasts from across the country descended upon the Fly-In to camp out and celebrate their shared pursuit.

Although Glasair has been a regular fixture at the Fly-In for decades, they and Maxwell Propulsion Systems managed to pass along buyers to one another, thanks to MPS housing their engine package in a Sportsman built through Glasair's "two weeks to taxi" kit assembly program.

MPS made their debut appearance at the Fly-In this year, and have already learned a lot about the market.

MPS CEO Gwen Maxwell reported a great deal of interest in their Subaru engine package at their consumer forums, and was pleased to be able to educate customers about alternate engine conversion as a whole.

"It's been around for years, but it's still not totally accepted," Gwen Maxwell said. "It's an easier sell than it used to be, but it's still a sell."

Husband John Maxwell credited the rising price of gas with making customers more interested in fuel efficient systems, and described the MPS engine package as equally attractive to consumers due to its relatively affordable maintenance.

"The boating and automobile industries have already been affected, so there's no reason aviation should be immune," John Maxwell said. "The freeways aren't as busy and there's nobody on the water. Pilots are going to have the same concerns. Our engine package uses fuel that costs $2 a gallon less, and uses at least one gallon per hour less of it. The arithmetic adds up. Plus, you can get spare parts for it at an auto store."

The Maxwells received positive feedback on the engine package's "plug and play" installation, which they estimated could take as little as an hour, as well as the vibrational analysis data that they supplied.

"We're not aware of any such gear-reduction unit offering the results of such tests to their consumers," Gwen Maxwell said. "I was proud to be able to pull up our spreadsheets and see the customers' surprised reactions."

Snohomish resident Dave Weber has been attending the Fly-In since 1984, back when he was in high school, and he now brings both his 12-year-old son Andrew and his RV with him. For the past four years, Weber's RV has hosted get-togethers at the Fly-In for fellow fans of the Sonex aircraft.

"Our first year here, we had five guys," Weber said, as he barbecued sausage links for his guests. "We must have 20 here now. We've gotten folks from California, Oregon and Idaho. Here at the Fly-In, we have camaraderie. You can be with friends and talk about airplanes. What more could you want out of life?"

Weber got bitten by the flying bug earlier than he can remember. World War II-era aircraft rate among his favorites, because of their speed and noise. Since 1984, the only three Arlington Fly-Ins he's missed were the ones that took place when he was living in Arizona. And if you plan on staging your own Fly-In cookout, he has one tip for you.

"Always bring double the amount you think you'll need," said Weber, who made a refill trip for groceries in the middle of his July 9-13 stay.

Although Weber hasn't finished building his own Sonex yet, gas prices were one of the factors in his choosing to build a Sonex. He believes the aircraft's fuel efficiency offers "more bang for your buck," and observed that attendance numbers were down compared to previous years.

"This place is normally packed with planes," Weber said. "They're really scarce this year."

Fly-In Executive Director Barb Tolbert didn't have access to exact attendance numbers as of press time, but she estimated that aircraft numbers were close to those of last year. At the same time, she admitted that the numbers of campers might have been slightly down from previous years.

"We had at least 100 aircraft that cleared customs from Canada," Tolbert said. "There was a lot of interest in fuel-efficient products, including gliders, since they consume zero gallons per mile."

In addition to thanking the staffs of the airport, city and Fly-In, Tolbert praised members of The Point Church for offering volunteer support services to campers, and noted that Vikki Paxton handled a number of other guest services, including shuttles to Smokey Point and downtown Arlington.

"They were running continuously from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.," Tolbert said. "We had local people working shifts, who knew where to take our visitors. Restaurants were very popular. The Bluebird, La Hacienda and even Haggen's saw a lot of traffic from us."

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