LIVE OAK — With clear blue skies, thousands flocked to the Wings over Suwannee fly-in festival at the Suwannee County Airport on Saturday.
Dave Holmes, one of the festival’s organizers, said there was an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 visitors at the airport for the event.
“We’re counting it as a great success,” Holmes said. “Yeah, we’re counting it as a success until somebody tells us different.”
That successful year, which benefited from ideal weather after battling cloud cover in previous years, could lead to an even larger festival in the future. Holmes said organizers have had discussions about expanding the festival, perhaps adding an additional day of festivities.
“It seemed to go off well this year, so we’re thinking about expanding it next year,” Holmes added. “I think (the vendors) seemed to have more activity. They all seemed happy.”
Alex Melia, another one of the event’s organizers, said in addition to the great weather, the event’s schedule also boosted attendance with pilots stopping off at Wings over Suwannee on their way to the Sun ’n’ Fun International Fly-in and Expo in Lakeland this week.
One popular area at the festival was the Young Eagles program, a staple of Wings over Suwannee. The program allows children, ages 8-17, to receive a free flight from the Live Oak Chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association as a way to engage children into aviation.
This year, 142 children were taken up for a flight through the program, according to Melia, a record number for the event.
“That’s a benchmark for us,” Holmes said.
That program is one of the ways the Live Oak EAA Chapter 797 tries to accomplish its goal of spreading interest in aviation through the Wings over Suwannee festival.
Another method was the aviation education day Friday. Holmes said 45 children attended that portion of the festival, each listing nine different teaching stations where they learned about different areas of aviation.
“It was a big success,” Holmes said, adding some schools brought students as well as some home-schooled students attending the Friday event.
In addition to the education day Friday and the Young Eagles program Saturday, the festival included vintage and military airplanes on display as well as classic cars and motorcycles. Helicopter rides were also available and younger children were able to go on a kiddie ride, where they were flown across the airport in their own “plane” – barrels painted to resemble aircrafts.
The fly-in also included seminars for pilots and information for those wanting to meet with local flight instructors and learn more about a career in aviation.
Friday included a corn roast and twilight bonfire.