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Suffolk 2009: The Virginia Regional Festival of Flight

Story and photos by Kent Misegades, EAA 520919

June 4, 2009 — Fewer things cause more buzz in the recreational aviation community than the emergence of a major new fly-in. The Virginia Regional Festival of Flight - “Suffolk” as it’s already being called here on the mid-Atlantic coast - has in its two years of existence evolved into an “AirVenture–Light” for this part of the country.

The second Festival of Flight was held last weekend (May 30-31) at the Suffolk Executive Airport (SFQ), just a few miles southwest of Norfolk. Its roots lie in the Virginia Regional EAA Fly-Ins held from 1997-2007 at Dinwiddie County Airport (PTB) in Petersburg.

Suffolk is in the so-called Tidewater region of eastern Virginia, an area of rich historical significance, countless rivers, sounds and estuaries, as well as the vast expanse of the Great Dismal Swamp. Rising out of the lowlands is the bustling metropolis of Norfolk/Newport News/Hampton Roads with its military shipyards, NASA Langley Research Center, numerous civilian and military airfields, several impressive aviation museums, and the warm sands of Virginia Beach. Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown are only a short airplane hop away, as is the spectacular island- and airfield-rich southern end of the Delmarva Peninsula.

One of those Delmarva airstrips, Campbell Field Airport (9VG) in Weirwood, VA, is owned by Gordon Campbell, president of the Virginia Aviation Council, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization established to further aviation education through its hosting of the Festival in Suffolk. Taking a break from broadcasting a steady stream of information to every corner of the fly-in, Campbell explained the recent history of the event and his involvement in it.

“In 2005 my wife and I moved to the area from Connecticut when we bought 9VG, the oldest operating airfield on the Virginia coast and the last public-use grass airport in the state. While attending the fly-in at Petersburg that year, I offered my help - that’s basically how I became president of the Council.”

The EAA Regional Fly-In in Petersburg was successful, but it had run out of parking space and organizers needed to find another location. Suffolk, led by airport manager Kent Marshall, recruited the fly in to move to SFQ. “The community also wanted us here,” Campbell added. “Moving an event like this, though, meant that we had to start over  - with the construction of facilities and establishment of a local support network.”

In the inaugural year of 2008, smoke from wildfires in the nearby Great Dismal Swamp unfortunately prevented many from attending. This year however brought two superb weather days.

SFQ is in many ways an ideal location for the fly-in: a simple, safe arrival procedure far from restricted airspace and mostly over undeveloped land; a good runway and taxiways; a separate grass strip for ultralights; excellent in-ground water and electrical connections (thanks to the annual Suffolk Peanut Festival held on the site each October); and vast, flat, well-drained fields perfect for parking and underwing camping.

“I would love to have more camping, but we are still weak on facilities,” Campbell explained. “My goal for next year is to have showers on the field, but we need to find the sponsors to fund them and volunteers to construct them.”

Campbell and his core group of experienced fly-in organizers, such as DeWitt (Dee) Whittington, the fly-in’s public relations and forums chairman (and Sportsman builder), are realistic about their “niche” and prospects for growth. “There is a lot of competition in our area for air shows with major events annually at Langley Air Force Base and Oceana NAS, and they are expensive to run. That’s why we have chosen to focus on aviation education through forums, workshops and youth activities,” Dee explained. “We have about 200 volunteers working on their own time, so we are very conscious of the costs to run the fly-in.” Admission is set at $5 for those flying in, knowing that times are tight. Children 13 and under get in for free.

Following an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast on the field, an impressive array of some 40 workshops and forums were offered, with many to standing-room-only in a tent city that rivaled Sun ‘n Fun’s forum area. A separate series of youth forums for teens was sponsored by scientists from Langley, focusing on the basic principles of aircraft and space flight. With help from the local Colonial Trail District of the Boy Scouts, kids had a chance to construct hand-launched gliders and compressed-air rockets. The Scouts themselves made a weekend “camporee” out of the event, working on the requirements for the aviation merit badge.

Some 50 commercial exhibitors offered everything from modern LSA aircraft, ultralights, and powered parachutes, aircraft and helicopter kits, books, aviator apparel, and even the zesty Mile High Hot Sauce created by a highly decorated Vietnam fighter pilot, Colonel M.P. Cooper of Goldsboro, North Carolina.

A centrally located food court provided refreshment, best taken while enjoying the the radio-controlled aircraft flown during the entire event. A tractor-drawn trolley provided transportation for those who needed it. Despite the lack of showers, quite a few attendees camped out next to their aircraft on Saturday, the clear, cool air of the evening providing for a good night’s sleep.

It was an easy hour’s flight in my C-170 up to Suffolk from Raleigh, North Carolina. All the important details were easily obtained in advance at www.virginiaflyin.org. Even though some 250 airplanes flew in Saturday morning, getting to and landing at SFQ went very smoothly. On the ground, well-trained volunteers wearing bright orange vests and armed with large foam batons were everywhere; parking was a snap and I was quickly greeted by a courteous fellow offering registration information and details on getting fuel.

Fuel – that was another pleasant surprise! Not only was 100LL offered at the special fly-in price of $2.98, but within 30 minutes of hanging the red fuel card on my prop, my plane was topped off. (87 octane autogas was also offered on the field for only $2.40.) So much fuel was sold on opening day that the airport’s tanks had to be refilled overnight.

An impressive array of aircraft was on display, most coming from Virginia and North Carolina. Along with the ubiquitous RVs (and there were some real pretty ones) came classic homebuilt designs such as a Pazmany PL-2, Thorp T-18, KR2, COZY, and VariEze. Antique and classic aircraft included Stearmans, WACOs, Fairchild, Ryan, round-tail Cessna 120/140/170/195, Navion Rangemaster, and a very rare Emigh A-2 Trojan. Ultralight fans were treated to continuous flying demos of bright, billowy powered parachutes and a gaggle of colorful Challengers that kept the manicured grass strip busy. Judging Chairman Al Sparks and his team had a difficult time choosing award winners from among the 300+ aircraft that flew in during the two days. (Winners listed below.)

Air shows and fly-ins come and go. With its family-friendly location, experienced leadership, large cadre of volunteers, a format similar to AirVenture, and plenty of room to grow, “Suffolk” has real potential to become a major east coast event for recreational aviation. Congratulations to organizers Gordon Campbell, Dee Whittington, and their many supporters for a job well done!

The 2010 Virginia Regional Festival of Flight will be held on May 22-23.

About the author:  A pilot since age 15, Kent Misegades (EAA 520919) is owner of AeroSouth (aerosouth.net). He is president of EAA chapter 1114 and is a member of EAA 506, IAC 19 and VAA 3 chapters in North Carolina. He flies a 1952 Cessna 170 based at Cox Field, Apex, North Carolina.

Awards – 2009 Virginia Regional Festival of Flight, Suffolk Executive Airport

Homebuilt, Custom

  1. Carruthers Supercat, N70096, Steve Carruthers, Charlotte Hall, Maryland
  2. Barracuda, N289DH, Bob Clabaugh, Hendersonville, North Carolina
  3. Cozy Mk IV, N171ML, Drew Swenson, Lakehurst, New Jersey

Homebuilt, Kit

  1. F1-Rocket, N251RG, Rick Gray, Vincent, Ohio
  2. Lancair IV-P, N9JE, Ed Smith, Chesapeake, Virginia
  3. F1-Rocket, N106BH, Bob Hester, Bladenboro, North Carolina

Antique

  1. Fairchild 22, N14768, Steve Roth, Madison, Virginia
  2. Aeronca Chief 65-CA, N36572, Kent Marshall, Suffolk, Virginia
  3. Aeronca Chief 65-CA, N36649, Scott Hinton, Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Classic

  1. Cessna 195A, N1571D, Stan Sweikar, Dameron, Maryland
  2. Ercoupe 415C, N3794H, Jack Stanton, Chester, Virginia
  3. Globe Swift GC-1B, N3272K, Ray Bossola, Virginia Beach, Virginia

Warbird

  1. Waco UPF-7, NC32071, Jack Hill, Washington, North Carolina
  2. Aeronca 7BCM L-16, N2709A, Brice Casey, Hampton, Virginia

Ultralight

  1. Challenger CH II, N6870, Avis Sutherland, Providence, North Carolina
  2. Challenger II, N1905, Larry Collie, Ringgold, Virginia
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