ARLINGTON — While the skies might have turned slightly gray and rainy over the Arlington Municipal Airport by the next day, the first day of this year’s Arlington Fly-In treated thousands of children to aviation-themed fun in the hot summer sun.
The traditional opening day Wednesday “Kids Day” on July 6 drew even more attendees than Arlington Fly-In Executive Director Barbara Tolbert could keep track of exactly.
“We had 1,800 reservations for Kids Day, but we surpassed that number,” Tolbert said. “The airplane simulators and the Arlington High School Robotics Club were our biggest hits that first day. The first day’s attendance overall looks like it was up from last year, which makes sense with the stellar weather we had that day.”
Glenn Frable, a mentor for the Robotics Club, helped younger aspiring pilots climb into the sized-down cockpits of the simulators, which the Fly-In had originally acquired from the Museum of Flight.
“When they grab hold of the controls, and we teach them about the pitch and yaw of real planes, it can be a defining moment in these kids’ lives,” Frable said. “Who knows? One of these kids might be the first person to land on Mars,” he laughed.
AHS Robotics Club seniors Kelly Roberts and Justin Haynes alternated between helping out with the simulators and guiding kids through the operation of the club’s entry into this year’s FIRST Robotics Competition, which was designed to hang inflatable shapes on a series of hooks.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Roberts said. “The kids have been really happy, and it’s fun to see the smiles on their faces.”
“If they get interested enough, maybe they’ll remember it and come back,” Haynes said. “Maybe they’ll still want to go flying when they’re in high school.”
Monty Stone has been bringing his granddaughter Mandy, aged 6, to the Fly-In since she was 3 years old, and while she was familiar with robotics thanks to an older cousin, the aircraft simulators were new to her.
“It was kind of scary going up,” Mandy Stone said, before laughing, “Granddad wanted me to go all the way up.”
Arlington’s Abigail Palmer, 11, was likewise introduced to the Robotics Club before the Fly-In, when they’d visited her former school of Presidents Elementary. While the simulator was a bit cramped for her, she still enjoyed coming out to the Arlington Airport to watch pilots fly their maneuvers.
Smokey Point residents Michael and Rose Noonan got a chance to take to the skies for real that afternoon, as soon as Mike Carpentiero arrived in his 1929 biplane. Neither 9-year-old Rose nor her dad had ever flown in a plane with an open-air cockpit before, but they responded very differently to the experience.
“It’s definitely not my last time,” said Michael Noonan, after he and his daughter flew over Arlington for 15 minutes. “She saw her house from the sky. I loved those negative-Gs he put us into, like riding a roller coaster, but I think she was a little scared of the whoop-de-doos,” he laughed.
“It was kind of good,” said Rose Noonan, who had previously been interested enough in flying to try out online flight simulators. When asked if her biplane flight had increased or decreased that interest in becoming a pilot, she said, “Decreased,” before adding, “I’m just kidding.”
Rose Noonan did express enthusiasm for the view that she enjoyed, and thanked her pilot for the experience.
“There’s a lot to like about coming back to the Fly-In each year to do these flights,” said Carpentiero, who quit a high-paying commercial piloting job to fly his biplane. “There are so many kids and grown-ups who have never flown in a plane before, so it’s extra-special to take them up in a vintage machine like this. It’s keeping it real, old-school style.”
As of July 7, Tolbert was anxiously awaiting the debut of the Fly-In’s first-ever carnival that evening, as well as the arrival of the B-25 Mitchell “Maid in the Shade” World War II bomber on July 8.
“It takes the support of so many organizations for an event like the Fly-In to come together, from the city, police and fire departments to the FAA,” Tolbert said. “I love working with them all.”