ELIZABETHTON — The skies above the Tri-Cities will be different over the next few days. Residents are likely to see as many as 60 brightly colored airplanes in the bright blue sky, puttering along at amazingly slow speeds.
The vintage planes are Piper Super Cubs and they are in town for the Fifth Annual Super Cub East Tennessee Fall Fly-In. Local pilot Steve Lewis organizes and promotes the annual event that has drawn pilots from as far away as California.
This year, Lewis said pilots will be coming from as far away as Texas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Florida and Minnesota. He said one pilot is coming from Washington, but will only be flying a Super Cub from Chicago.
Several of the pilots got a head start and were already camping out next to their planes on Thursday. These pilots gave several reasons why the event has become so popular. One of the main reasons given was the hospitality of Lewis and the friendliness and helpfulness of the airport staff.
Several commented on how clean and well maintained the airport’s grounds were. “It looks like a golf course,” said David Childs of Amber, Okla.
“The people on this field are so nice,” said Donald Jacks of Ringgold, Ga. Jacks has been to four of the five fly-ins and he even brings his wife Susan and adult daughter, Becky.
“My wife doesn’t go to many of these, but she said ‘I am going to Elizabethton,’ ” Jacks said.
Other pilots say Jacks is one of the attractions. He is a renowned storyteller who always comes prepared with a new batch of humorous tales for the traditional campfires on the edge of the runway. In addition to storytelling, Lewis said the out-of-town pilots will be treated to some bluegrass music from the Corklickers.
To add even more local flavor to the event, Lewis has invited famed local re-enactor Grant Hardin to portray any of the frontier giants he has mastered and feels like portraying.
But these are pilots and they have brought their planes, so the group won’t be staying in one place for long. They will be flying to various grass landing strips in the area. The major excursion will take place on Saturday and it is the same trip Lewis took the group on last year.
The group will fly out of Elizabethton Municipal Airport Saturday morning, heading for Erwin. The long line of planes will then fly single file through the Nolichucky Gorge into North Carolina.
Lewis said they will fly south to Shiflet Field at Marion, N.C., where they will land for a short break. They will then take off again and fly over the Blue Ridge Parkway at Grandfather Mountain, heading north to Chilhowie, Va., where they will land and have a picnic lunch.
From there, they will fly back over South Holston Lake and Holston Mountain to Elizabethton.
Lewis said the leaves at the higher elevations are beginning to turn, adding color to what should be perfect days for flying.
For more on the Fly-In from a pilot’s perspective, visit http://blog.aopa.org/blog/?p=2463.