by Royson Parsons N9YX

The Clinton FBO, under classic Midwest Blue SkiesClinton 2002 was certainly a unique experience in my life, and quite different than 2001. Last year I experienced the fly-in largely from the outside, Rex Brandt and crew did the planning and most of the work, I showed up just a couple of days prior to the actual event having had the time of my life flying out with six friends from the Western states. I did get a taste of the tremendous amount of preparation involved, enough to realize If I were going to be responsible for the outcome I would need to allow myself lots of time to get ready for 2002.

While we had a ball in 2001, I knew things would need to be different this year, costs were just too high. We would need to provide more support, better food and transportation, and somehow spend less money. The only way I could see to pull it off was to be extremely organized. From a personal stand point I felt it was important to give attendees more time to get to know each other, hang out and talk flying. This meant fewer scheduled events away from the airport.

 Back in May I spent most of week in Clinton, laying the basic groundwork, and enjoying hanging out with Steve Mayotte, though the weather certainly could have been better for flying. We spent much of our time watching overcast skies, waiting for a break so we could go up and plan the contest flying, which we ultimate did under minimally acceptable conditions.

Me and the Missus on the flightlineLori and I arrived in Clinton a full two weeks early on July 5. We dove right into the preparations, revising earlier decisions about food, transportation, and
 lodging. We had been impressed last year by hardworking Sara Ferguson. Though Sara no longer worked at the airport we managed to hire her as our transportation coordinator. As the days melted away I began to realize that this fly-in was indeed a massive undertaking with every day bringing new
An ATC member who had volunteered to act as airboss had a work conflict and had to cancel just a few days before the fly-in. We were relying heavily on Steve Mayotte for the contest planning and parking, and then got the awful news that Steve had come down with some kind of vertigo from an ear virus, and might not be able to make it.

For ten days prior to the fly-in the weather in Clinton was absolutely perfect, CAVU skies, not to hot or humid. Though it’s not sensible, I felt like a poker player who had been dealt too good of a hand early on, I knew it couldn’t last, as if there is a limited serving of good weather out there, and we were wasting it on the wrong part of the month. Worse, the extended weather reports for the fly-in weekend were increasing ominous. It didn’t look good.

Superwoman: Sara Ferguson and daughter ChristineAbout this time I began to question the logic of having the fly-in at all. The amount of work and expense began to seem excessive for a three day event that was at the mercy of the weather. Most annoying of all was the cost of liability insurance which had more than doubled since 2001 to $3,350. Never mind the cost of temporary employees, transportation vehicles, and supplies, We would have to attract 110 airplanes just to pay for the insurance! With the weather looking questionable, the whole thing began to feel like a long shot at Las Vegas.

As the fly-in got closer the news got better. Steve Mayotte recovered from vertigo and arrived in Clinton with his son Tom on Saturday prior. The Mayottes immediately jumped in with a gusto, putting in long hours and providing a motivational boost to Lori and I. Sara Ferguson proved absolutely amazing, wheeling and dealing us a terrific deal on vehicles and even obtaining free cell phones for our drivers. Everything was looking up, except the weather.

Yes, I was enjoying the process of getting ready for this thing but I also began to feel a sense of foolhardiness, as if I was a teenager again, about to throw a very expensive private party in my folks house while they were out of town. I had that, “this is going to be fun, but boy will I regret it later.” Feeling.

A Beautiful Thursday Morning SunriseOn Wednesday we got a boost when Gordon, Joel, Bruce and Ted showed up. Real airplanes, all the way from the Western states, here for the fly-in! Late in the day Ken and Jared Yates arrived as well. Things were looking up. We soon had the new arrivals hard at work setting up for the fly-in. I was reminded how everyone pitched in last year, and how lucky the club is to have such a gung ho group of supporters.

Just what we were afraid of, Saturday Night

By Thursday two things were apparent;One: all of our efforts at organization were paying off, everything was running smoothly with the minimum of hassle.

Two: The weather was looking awful. We began to get cancellations, and word that pilots near enough to drive were planning to come in on four wheels. Rich Stowell and Jim Taylor called to say they were waiting out the weather and wouldn’t be able to make it in time for the Friday EMT clinics. Even our photographer’s airline flight was delayed for several hours by the weather.

There was nothing left to do but relax and enjoy whatever happened next. As comedian George Carlin puts it, “Dig the unexpected, life is more exciting when it’s a wild roller coaster ride.”

 And then, to my relief, everything went extremely well. I saw my wish for more social connections realized.

Thursday evening Rex held a barbeque at his place, and everyone had a terrific time talking and getting to know each other. This set the tone for the rest of the fly-in. All weekend I saw members hanging out under their planes, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. Sara’s transportation system ran like a well oiled machine, and Steve’s parking plan gave campers more of sense of community. Lori and I actually were able to circulate, meet people, and enjoy relaxed conversation, with the confidence that things would continue to run smoothly without our constant attention.

Time to talk and do some hanger (or ramp) flyingIt reminded me of my first long cross country flight. It’s a funny thing, you plan and arrange and do your best to think of everything that can go wrong and then to your surprise everything goes pretty much according to plan.

As the weekend rolled on, I honestly enjoyed myself the entire time. Saturday was an absolute blast, from flying in the contests straight through till 11 pm when we finally wound the banquet down.

In the end we had 79 airplanes and more than 100 people at the fly-in, not enough to cover our costs, but more than enough to convince us it was worthwhile, and well worth doing again. When it was over, instead of being exhausted as I had anticipated, I felt invigorated, anxious to do it even better next year.

 Royson Parsons aka Kojack N9YX

Read about my 24 hour flight home to California in  part 2 of this story.

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