2023 Open House at Auburn Airport (S50)

Posted July 2023

Had an "open house" at my home airport this summer. Airport ran ads, put up reader boards, etc. to encourage locals to come.

About a month earlier, the airport manager asked if I'd set up my airplane as a photo background for folks to have their pictures taken. As of a couple of days ago, I thought this was just going to be an ad-hoc thing, but turns out they'd hired a professional, Kier Smith of Firstlight Photography.

The guy had a beautiful setup; SLR on a tripod, hooked to a computer, with a big ol' printer to print out folks photos in just a minute or so. He had me set up the plane so the camera was down-sun.
I commented on how that'd put the people with their faces shadowed. He replied, "I brought my own sun." He had a massive strobe for a fill-flash. He took a shot of me, and I was convinced.

He commented that the previous year, they'd had people standing in line for photos. I'd brought a whole lot of Fly Baby material, and we decided to set them up along the line so people had something to look at while they waited. I had the big signboard, a table with various stills from GoPro captures, and "Mini-Me," the big RC model of the Fly Baby.

Here's what's on the big sign board....

I brought a couple of my spare scarves, and a helmet and goggle set. Looked at one of the scarves, and realized it was my first one...had a "Banana Republic" label, from when my wife gave it to me long, long ago (back when Banana Republic carried a bunch of weird imports, not just trendy clothing.

Also had my gold Fly Baby wings to hand out to kids.

Talked to the photographer before it kicked off. He asked if I was going to put kids in the cockpit. I replied that, with the crowds we anticipated, EVERY kid would expect to sit in the cockpit and I figured that would slow things down too much. He was relieved.  But I did do it in quiet periods....

Started at 10 AM. Warm (low '70s), with a high overcast. We never got over-crowded; last year Young Eagles were taken on a first-come, first-served basis, and a ton of people showed up early. This year, people go reservations, witch spread the load nicely through the day. Sun finally broke through in the early afternoon.

It was way, WAY fun. The kids (and the parents) were absolutely wonderful. I'd ask "Who wants to wear the helmet" and it was either the little boys or the dads. The girls were usually far more reluctant, but I'd talk them into wrapping one of the scarves around their necks.

Often, I'd do a bit of cajoling.... "Hey, don't you want to look like a REAL pilot for your photo?" Often the kids would get their picture taken, and pressure their parent into joining them. The photographer would print out a photo for each person in the group. One group had an extended family of about ten people.

Heard a lot of accents yesterday. A lot of the folks were, I think, recent immigrants and this was an opportunity for a low-cost family outing. Many seemed cautious when we offered to take their picture, and were overjoyed when they found out it was free.

The wings were a HUGE hit. The kids loved them. Even some parents wanted a pair. They were a bit awkward to pin on, so the photographer's wife would help them. This delayed photos a bit, so toward the end of the day, we switched to giving them the wings after their picture was taken.

One amusing case? The airport manager came to see me at the end of the day. There was a US Army Chinook on display at the far end of the field (where the static displays were). The manager came by because the Chinook crew wanted Fly Baby wings. They'd seen all these kids coming by wearing them.

Anyway, was about six hours of intensive work. Ellie the airport intern had coordinated with me for the display, and her husband Chris (a charter pilot) doubled for me at the display so I could mosey away and look at other stuff.

Great day. Started with one set of helmet and goggles and two scarves, ended with the same. Started with 300 wings, gave away about 250 of them. Put about ten people through the cockpit, including both kids and adults. About halfway through, the airport manager gathered his staff. He put on the helmet and goggles and a scarf and sat in the cockpit, and the rest posed with him for a photo.

Oh, and did I mention...the green T-Shirts worn by the airport staff and volunteers had Pete's Fly Baby on the back....?

Oh, and one thing I tried... I set up my GoPro on the tail in the time-lapse mode, and caught a bunch of people getting their pictures taken.  The end of the video shows the airport staff getting their group shot...

Great fun....

Ron Wanttaja

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