The skies will brighten next weekend when the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association holds one of its 2019 national fly-ins next Friday and Saturday at the Livermore Municipal Airport.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for Livermore -- airports all over the country bid to host the AOPA fly-ins," said Pete Sandhu of 5 Rivers Aviation, which runs private terminal and hangar operations at the airport. "There are going to be thousands and thousands of pilots -- we're going to be saturated with aircraft and automobiles."
Some of the pilots set up camp right next to their airplanes.
"We've been grooming the airfield over the last few weeks to make new parking spaces," Sandhu said, "and a lot of undeveloped land near the airport has been graded so we can bring aircraft across it."
"There has been a large-scale battle with the gophers to try to make it flat enough," he added with a laugh.
The event is open to the public next Friday and Saturday (June 21-22).
"Both days have free exhibits and seminars, with premium seminars more geared toward aviators," Sandhu said. "Most of the stuff the public is interested in is free and family friendly."
Both days kick off with a pancake breakfast from 8-9 a.m., then free seminars take place and the exhibit hall opens. Lunch trucks will be on site from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"There will be a big barbecue Friday night and live music, and an airplane short-takeoff-and-landing demonstration that's really fun to watch," Sandhu said. "We set up grandstands really close to the landing."
A Drone Aerial Light Show produced by the Great Lakes Drone Co. is scheduled for 9-9:30 p.m.
"They make all kinds of cool designs in the sky," Sandhu said. "Not many people ever have the opportunity to see a drone show. Only two companies in the United States are allowed to do drone shows."
The airport's annual open house last October drew huge crowds, and Sandhu thinks this event will draw more.
"We had 11,000 people come to our open house, and that weekend we competed with the Blue Angels and it was just our own aircraft and a local neighborhood airshow," he said. "This is a huge nationally marketed aviation event."
He said they learned in October about handling traffic for such large events, and organizers are working with Caltrans to manage the flow on Interstate 580, including signage.
"It will be much smoother coming in and out. We're opening up a lot of airport property for additional parking, and we will have shuttles to help everybody parking in the more distant lots," Sandhu said.
AOPA fly-ins are also a chance for pilots to explore different areas of the country, which is why it takes place next Friday and Saturday -- to leave Sunday for enjoying the area.
"We always promote the location as a destination," Sandhu said. "There was one in Missoula last year on Father's Day, and I brought my son and we booked a fly fishing excursion on the river."
Visitors to Livermore can partake in the wineries, the shopping outlets and everything else the Tri-Valley offers. Sandhu said pilots make good guests for the wineries, noting that they don't have to ship home any wine they purchase.
This year's fly-ins are special because the AOPA is celebrating the 80th year since its founding in 1939 to connect pilots across the country. The first 2019 fly-in and 80th anniversary celebration was May 10-11 at Frederick Municipal Airport in Md., and the next one is Sept. 13 in Tullahoma, Tenn.
A U.S. Senate resolution was passed last month to commemorate the anniversary.
"For eight decades, AOPA has been a leading advocate in the aviation community, educating the public and members of congress about the many important issues facing our nation's general aviation pilots," said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who led the resolution with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
The Livermore Fly-In is free, but attendees are asked to register in advance for planning purposes on the AOPA website, via https://bit.ly/2Xz5u7o. The site also has a schedule of events, and meals can be purchased in advance with discounts.
Like electric candles on the birthday cake to celebrate the 80th year for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a fleet of no fewer than 80 drones will put on a spectacular show at the Livermore Fly-In.
The Great Lakes Drone Co., producers using customized drones and specialized software to control the aerial display, will provide this festive aeronautical alternative to fireworks. The Michigan company was among the first to earn FAA waivers to create light shows with dozens of drones flying in digitally choreographed formations.
"Drones are ever-evolving and really becoming a valuable piece of our aviation ecosystem with technology to help advance several industries," AOPA senior director Kat Swain said. "It's an exciting time to partner with Great Lakes Drone Co. and have them bring the latest in drone entertainment and light shows to our events."