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Virginia Festival of Flight Presses On Through Weather Challenges


Virginia Festival of Flight
Two men pull a Great Lakes biplane onto the Suffolk Airport taxiway at the Virginia Festival of Flight.

Virginia Festival of Flight
Seeing the heavy coats on volunteers would make one think this photo was taken at a fall fly-in, not the Virginia Festival of Flight in May 2013.

May 9, 2013 - The 16th Virginia Regional Festival of Flight did its level best last weekend to conduct the 2013 fly-in event despite unfavorable weather along the East Coast.

Dozens of excited volunteers were on hand, including a large contingent of CAP cadets, and several pilots from as far as Massachusetts did brave the low ceilings and constant chilly wind. Other pilots drove in from hundreds of miles away.

Especially notable were the two youth activity tents, which were ably staffed by Youth Activities Chairman Janie Fowler and her volunteers. They made sure kids and parents got their fill of hands-on, educational projects including building paper airplanes and tube rockets, and other aviation-related activities. Outside the tents, even with the wind, the kids had a great time with stomp rockets and compressed air/water rockets.

The festival was proud to welcome a special forum presenter, Bill Harrelson, who recently flew his Lancair IV nonstop from Guam to Jacksonville, Florida. Bill explained the years of extensive planning and preparation needed for such a flight, which resulted in an as-yet-unofficial 7,051 nautical miles. That would be a world record.

The Virginia Festival of Flight welcomed Grant Williams, 92, a Tuskegee Airman from Newport News. Grant related his experiences and struggles as a black man prior to World War II before becoming part of the staff of the now famous Red Tails fighter group.

A barnstormer-style air show was flown under the low ceilings by Kirk Wicker with wing walker Jane Wicker. Her performance was a crowd pleaser.

For the first time the fly-in featured a motorcycle and car show on Sunday, drawing 27 vehicles on Saturday. Also the event experienced a record number of RV and airplane campers. The Rally Adventure triangular course timed flight and Young Eagles rally had to be canceled due to the weather.

The 16th year for the Virginia Festival of Flight had been widely advertised in the Greater Hampton Roads area through radio, newspaper, and billboards. For the first time a radio station broadcast from the field on Saturday. The aviation world was invited through multiple aviation magazine ads and widespread web listings. But none of this could counter the unfavorable weather. There is no doubt that a change of date for the 2014 Festival of Flight will be a hot topic of discussion at the fly-in review meeting June 1, but it is likely the date will remain at the published April 26-27, 2014.

Unfortunately, a tragic crash occurred just west of the airport on Saturday afternoon involving an arriving LSA with two individuals on board. Council President Ray Batton said, "Our hearts and prayers go out to the family that lost loved ones on their way to our event." The Associated Press reported that Raymond Newgent, 73, and his passenger and son, Thomas Barry Newgent, 51, perished in the crash.


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