After a year off due to the COVID-19 shutdown, pilots attending the 28th annual Abilene Aviation Association Fly-In Saturday had a lot of catching up to do.
Spirits were high as friends — old and new — greeted each other.
Pilot Mike Olsen arrived in his Piper Arrow from Ellsworth to attend the annual event. He was visiting with Russ Canter, a pilot and member of the Abilene AAA who was volunteering at the event, when pilots Kevin McKeeman of rural Dickinson County, his son Trevor McKeeman and grandson Wyatt McKeeman arrived by air.
Kevin McKeeman lives in Dickinson County east of Abilene, while Trevor now lives in Manhattan.
Olsen said he has attended the Abilene event every year since he began flying eight years ago.
“We love coming over, sharing breakfast with people and interacting with people who are aviation enthusiasts. Whether you fly or not you can still be a fan of aviation or be part of the next generation of pilots,” Olsen said, nodding toward seven-year-old Wyatt.
Wyatt talked enthusiastically about the planes parked at the Abilene Municipal Airport to his father and grandpa.
“We go to air shows and sometimes he (Wyatt) can listen to the sounds of engines and identify the planes,” Trevor said about his son.
All the pilots were enthusiastic about the Abilene event.
“I remember when I was a kid I came to the Abilene Fly-In and a pilot took me flying. I’ll never forget that and I love the opportunity to be able to do that for other people too,” Trevor said.
Besides pilots and passengers, a large crowd also attended. Abilene resident Lynn Dejmal said he comes out ever year to look at the planes. He originally got his pilot’s license while in high school and flew during college for awhile.
“I’d enjoy flying again someday,” he said.
Besides young Wyatt, other youth interested in aviation also were in attendance.
2nd Lt. David Pope, 16, with the Junction City Composite of the United States Air Patrol was one of five cadets who volunteered to help out with taxiing. The task was something he has done before at several other airports, he said.
Capt. Donald Mansker, deputy commander for the cadets, said the Civil Air Patrol — an auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force — has three main missions: search and rescue, disaster relief and emergency services.
The cadet program — which Saturday’s young volunteers are a part of — teaches youth how to become effective adults and leaders and better themselves, as they grow older.
“The cadets I have here today range in age from 14 to 17, but the program allows kids to start at age 12 and stay until they are 18,” Mansker said.
The program uses a curriculum that focuses on leadership, aerospace, fitness and character. The organization also has senior members, who range in age from 18 to 21 all the way up to 80.
It is a 501c3, comprised of all volunteers, Mansker said. The youth and adult members help out at events at the various airports in the area. The organization is based out of the Junction City airport and meets Tuesday nights from 7 to 9 p.m.
Abilene Area Aviation President Sidney Hammond said 31 aircraft flew in to the airport and more than 600 pancake breakfasts were prepared and served by the Abilene High School German Club.
About 65 of those meals were served to pilots and their passengers who ate free, Hammond said.
“We are very pleased with the citizens, the general public of Abilene, who have supported us very well,” Hammond said. “The Abilene area has definitely supported us over the years.”
Money collected from the breakfast goes toward scholarships awarded to qualifying Dickinson County high school students.
Hammond said this year no one applied for the scholarship so it will not be awarded.
Abilene AAA members were glad Saturday’s weather was clear and warm and the wind — which seemed pretty strong to non-pilots — “wasn’t too bad” because it was out of the south and not a crosswind.
“What we’ve got now is just a typical Kansas wind,” Hammond said.