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Fly-In showcases new features, draws increased attendance

ARLINGTON — After a bit of a down year last year, the five-day Arlington Fly-In seems to have bounced back in its 42nd year, according to Barbara Tolbert, executive director of the Fly-In.

“We’re heading toward the 1,400 mark this year,” Tolbert said July 11, on the Fly-In’s fourth day. “Last year, we had about 1,000 airplanes. There are a lot of airplanes this year, more than we’ve had in a number of years.”

A number of attendees were drawn to the Fly-In’s new features, including activities by NASCAR and NASA, as well as new exhibits in the military vehicles area. Several others were “stay-cationers” from the surrounding region.

“That’s been a tourism term for the past couple of years,” Tolbert said. “More people are looking for entertainment in their own backyards, but in our case we’ve also got aircraft registrations from all over the United States.”

For its first year at the Fly-In, NASCAR brought two racing simulators, one built from an actual full-sized NAPA race car, modified with computer screens, that people could sit in and “drive.”

Steve Katz, of Katz Racing Promotions, supervised “drivers” of all ages as they chose their racetracks and had their races broadcast on a TV screen outside of the simulator so that even spectators could enjoy the simulated races.

“We’re getting an average of about one person every three minutes,” said Katz, as he held the door door open for yet another “driver.” “We’ve seen about 400 people per day, at least. Not many people can pass up the opportunity to sit in a real race car that’s actually been driven in races.”

Katz emphasized the educational aspect of the experience, noting that it teaches would-be race car drivers, especially younger ones, that even a simulated race “is not nearly as easy as it looks on TV.” For his part, Katz found his time at the Fly-In to be very easy thanks to the hospitality he received from event sponsors and area residents alike.

“This Fly-In is just an amazing experience,” Katz said. “I’ve seen all the fly-ins and air shows, and this is the best I’ve ever seen. It ranks number one and we’ve been treated so well by everyone, especially the Tulalip Resort Hotel.”

NASA’s “Exploration Experience” trailer also put in its first appearance at the Fly-In this year, albeit offering a “trip” much less adrenaline-charged than that of NASCAR.

Kirk Pierce, outreach coordinator for the “Exploration Experience,” reported that their 120-foot-long traveling trailer was at capacity, serving 100 people an hour from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day.

“We’ve had people wait for 30 minutes to go through, and still be excited,” Pierce said. “They all give us positive feedback afterward.”

The trailer housed a two-part presentation, which “tour groups” of half a dozen people each filtered through. In the first section, tour groups got to touch a 3.5-billion-year-old moon rock, brought back by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972 and were able to build a lunar base on a touch-sensitive tabletop interactive computer display. A shorter video, reviewing man’s history with the Moon, led into the longer video in the second segment of the trailer, which was broadcast on all sides, including the floor, to make the tour groups feel like they were on the Moon.

“Our mission is to retire the space shuttle by 2010, finish the space station and return to the Moon by 2020,” Pierce said. “We try to remind people of the impact that space exploration has had on their daily lives. We love being here at the Fly-In and meeting new people.”

Over in the military vehicles area of the Fly-In, Vladimir Zalusky was reliving some history of his own. He’s now an Everett resident, but until 1991 he lived in Czechoslovakia where his gratitude to the United States was not encouraged by his government.

“I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1943 and we were liberated by the United States on May 6, 1945,” said Zalusky, wearing a U.S. Army master sergeant’s uniform as he showed off his M29C Weasel and Ford GPW, both from approximately 1944. “I was three years old so I don’t remember it, but my relatives talked about it. In 1969, I began my collection with a Jeep. When I fled to the United States in 1991, I had to start a new collection, with these two vehicles and a WC-52 Dodge.”

Zalusky’s collection of U.S. military vehicles serves as a reminder, to himself and others of their liberation of his people. His father began exchanging letters with the American soldiers that he met and as late as 1948 Zalusky recalls that several of them “were still asking him, ‘How’s your young boy?’” The communists in charge of Czechoslovakia were decidedly less enthusiastic about Zalusky’s fondness for the United States.

“A quarter of our country was liberated by the United States, but they just talked about what the Russians had done,” Zalusky said. “They would interrogate me and I would say, ‘Do you appreciate the Russians liberating you?’ Of course, they said yes, so I told them, ‘My liberators were the Americans.’”

A German friend risked five years in prison to supply Zalusky with the fake passport that he used to come to America, and now that he’s here, he wants native-born Americans to remember how much their country has done for the world.

Among the returning regulars at the Fly-In, Dan Ansbaugh, office coordinator for Out of the Blue Aviation at the Arlington Municipal Airport, personally witnessed “a great deal of interest” in light sport aircraft pilot’s licenses.

Ansbaugh touted the light sport category of pilot’s licenses as more convenient for older pilots, since it lacks the FAA annual medical examination required by other categories, and more cost-effective for younger and more budget-minded prospective pilots, since it only requires half the number of training hours as a private pilot’s license to obtain.

“That brings the cost down to 60 percent of what it would be otherwise,” said Ansbaugh, who touted Out of the Blue’s expansion into charter flights, to locations ranging from the San Juan Islands to Mount St. Helens and “wine country” in Walla Walla. Out of the Blue remains primarily a flight-training business, with instruction in light sport, private and commercial aviation, complete with a ground school classroom for pilots.

Ansbaugh echoed Tolbert’s assessments about the apparent resurgence of interest in the Fly-In, after last year’s decline in attendance and he hopes this will translate into seeing more faces in Out of the Blue’s pilot’s lounge at their biweekly barbecues and at their annual young aviators academy this summer.

“We’re so grateful to have this event in Arlington,” Tolbert said. “They get it, they embrace it, and we all work together. We have a beautiful airport and a beautiful city, and we love showcasing them to all of our visitors.”

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