06/07/09 — Grantham fly-in helps keep pilots in touch, in air

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Grantham fly-in helps keep pilots in touch, in air

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on June 7, 2009 2:00 AM

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An ultralight pilot prepares his aircraft at Saturday's fly-in at the airstrip in Grantham, where pilots and enthusiasts gathered to celebrate their hobby.

GRANTHAM -- True to eastern North Carolina character, half of the attraction to a fly-in at Cox-Grantham Airfield on Saturday was the barbecue.

A few attendees said the flame-roasted pork was a good part of their reasoning for showing up at the fly-in, a meeting for pilots who arrive by air.

In fact, organizers advertised the event on FlyInCalendar.com with this message: "Fly in for good BBQ, lots of lies and lots of fun."

While no one attested to the quantity of fibs being told, a few did say the barbecue was excellent.

The event featured pilots of so-called "ultralight" aircraft, plus larger certified craft like the popular-for-recreation Cessna models.

But barbecue wasn't the only reason for the event, said longtime pilot Shane Kilpatrick, who flies a 1967-model Cessna 150 packed with a higher-horsepower Cessna 170 engine that can propel a much larger plane.

Kilpatrick said the reason for scheduling the fly-in was to kindle interest in private aviation -- a goal he felt was met on Saturday.

"Today was just to generate some interest in the neighborhood community in general aviation. We'll do this maybe once a year, sometimes it's more.

"It's just to keep interest going. It's just like any other hobby, it's easy for a lot of people to push it aside. Next thing you know it's been a couple of years since you've been flying."

But even if some formerly frequent flyers have gone by the wayside, Kilpatrick said he saw plenty of fresh faces, young and old.

For some, it may be another 10 years before they're old enough to qualify for a pilot's license, but there were many others old enough to begin immediately.

"A lot of people were here that we haven't seen before, a lot of very young kids, a lot of people that are old enough to start now -- and a couple of them that I'm convinced probably will," Kilpatrick said.

Rob Dant certainly isn't an amateur pilot, but he did come quite some way for the Grantham fly-in, taking off from his home in the Valley Forge area of Pennsylvania.

His father, who has passed away, was Dant's inspiration for flying, first taking him up in craft similar to his current Cessna 172 when he was 5 years old.

One of Dant's biggest reasons for continuing his flying career, though, is the view from above, he said.

"I guess when I say perspective. It's just that the world looks a lot different from up there -- from a photo or satellite, or even on an airliner with the little windows, you just don't get the sense of how things are laid out and what they look like."

Another longtime area pilot, Ron Allen, built his ultralight by going online and finding bits and pieces to make up his kit-built craft, which runs on a two-stroke engine.

"I just found pieces that were wrecked, tore up or smashed or whatever, and took the good parts off of them," Allen said.

Despite the ultralight craft's Frankenstein-ish roots, it's a high performer, said Allen, who's been a pilot for about seven years.

"They'll loop, roll and spin, do all that sort of stuff," Allen said. "Of course, they won't do that with me in it. But it's just a fun little plane to fly."

Having a two-stroke engine means that Allen's aircraft can run on regular gas mixed with oil at a 50:1 ratio. Some units are equipped with "oilers," that perform the mixing for the ultralight pilots, Allen said.

Allen, an Ohioan retired from the U.S. Air Force, said he also thought the fly-in had served its purpose.

"It's been several years since we had a fly-in, and it's turned out pretty good for the weather we had today," the pilot said.