Fly-In wows crowds; things are looking up

ARLINGTON – Aviation fans and families got their wings and more at the annual Arlington Fly-In last weekend.

From gravity-defying aerial stunt performances and military and vintage aircraft to zippy drones and hot-air balloons lighting up the night sky, there were plenty of attractions to leave necks sore from all the looking up.

Mayor Barb Tolbert, Fly-In’s executive director, deemed the 51st annual event a success.

She said while the attendance at the three-day event that routinely draws over 40,000 spectators may have been down after moving the show from mid-July to August, volunteer organizers for Fly-In were able to bring a wider variety of performers whose schedules were wide open.

A new attraction this year featured the Northwest’s largest display of giant remote-controlled flying jets and scale RC aircraft, large-scale aircraft static displays, Turbine Jet and helicopter demonstrations featuring some of the best aircraft and pilots on the West Coast.

She said the Fly-In is all about developing in families and children an appreciation for the legacy of flight – commercial, recreational and military – in Arlington, while connecting the community with a thriving municipal airport that too often isn’t on their radar.

Kids had a chance to enter a giant jet propeller plane, sit in plane cockpits, climb in military vehicles, and put on virtual reality glasses to simulate sitting behind the controls of a helicopter. They were able to try their hand at controlling drones in the drone cage. They were also able to play inside a semi-inflated balloon filled with soccer balls and beach balls.

A highlight came during a 70th anniversary recreation of the Berlin Airlift in Germany by a Douglas DC-3. Instead of food supplies for blockaded Berliners in the Soviet sector, pilots on Saturday made four passes and dropped Jelly Bellies on the last pass, to the delight of children.

The weekend overall featured air shows on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, vintage airplanes and warbirds in the air and on display, military vehicle processions, a Hot Air Balloon Night Glow, a synchronized drone light show, outdoor movies at Runway Theater, live music and more.

Among several aerobatic displays, Will Allen, the “Rock n’ Roll Airshow Man” delivered a payload of music to go with his rolls, spins and loops.

“My specialty, my act, is a combination of my music background and my flying put together into one big rock-and-roll show,” Allen said.

“I sang from the airplane – live – and announced live to the crowd, getting them pumped up,” he said. “My show is timed to music we’ve recorded in my studio. It’s a twelve-minute, very choreographed program with the maneuvers I do. It gets everyone up and cheering.”

While all the performers at the Fly-In served as goodwill ambassadors sharing for their love of aviation, some got their start in flying as children and were still young enough to be role models for the visiting kids they met.

Nineteen-year-old McKenna Secrist got her commercial pilot’s license before she got her driver’s license.

Secrist and her co-pilot, Tianna Teal, were at the Fly-In with other hot-air balloon enthusiasts who participated in Saturday’s balloon night glow.

She saved up and bought her own hot-air balloon when she was 15, the traditional round style, with 90,000 cubic feet and a basket that can hold three people. She flies out of Enumclaw with Seattle Ballooning, taking customers up and training young people how to fly.

Secrist said ballooning was meant to be.

“I’ve loved hot-air balloons my whole life, and it was my life’s dream to be a pilot,” she said.

During the day, she and Teal helped with the walk-in balloon for kids, then she operated the pretty red balloon as one of seven in the balloon night glow that included three shaped balloons – Speedy, a large bird-head balloon, and a large clock named Tic Toc, both owned by Scott and Laurie Spencer of Boise, Idaho; and a butterfly balloon owned and operated by Bob Romaneschi with Snohomish Balloon Rides.

Teal is mostly along for the ride to support her best friend, and less about the balloons.

“Being up there in a balloon is peaceful; I’m not a big heights person, but she likes it, so I like it,” she said.

Secrist said she has been coming to the Fly-In since 2016. She said it’s fun and unique because most of the focus is on planes with the added attention on balloons, rather than other events she participates in that are just about balloons.

At 21, Ben Rose is one of the youngest airshow stunt pilots in the country. Like Secrist, he got his pilot’s license before his driver’s license.

Based out of Wilsonville, Ore., the Fly-In was a near-last performance before the business student returns to Oregon State University in Corvallis for his senior year.

Rose said flying is in his family. He grew up around it, watching from the backseat on cross-country trips, waiting for his turn to pilot someday.

He started flying gliders solo at 14, and a year after getting his license at 16, he started aerobatic flying.

“Coming to airshows like this is what really made me want to fly aerobatics,” Rose said.

“I started on flight simulators, hung out at the airport, finally went along on aerobatic ride in an airplane, and I was instantly hooked,” he said. His favorite maneuver is the snap roll.

He started doing competitions three year ago through the International Aerobatic Club, and started flying in airshows like the Fly-In last year.

“The Fly-In is exactly what I was hoping for; it’s an absolute blast,” he said.

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