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RAF at AOPA, Regional MSO Fly-in

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The Big Sky around Missoula hummed more than usual with the sounds of GA aircraft over Father’s Day weekend, as hundreds of visiting aircraft arrived for the AOPA regional Fly-in.

Many stopped to visit at the RAF display, anchored by Jon and Berkley Hudson’s glistening Cessna 180.

More than a dozen backcountry seekers joined the organized fly-out over the Bob Marshall Wilderness to view its iconic Chinese Wall.

Montana’s US Senator Steve Daines greeted the Friday evening dinner crowd with a big shout out to John McKenna “for all the work you and the RAF do to create access to the backcountry.”

“I was beginning to get a little embarrassed,” John said later.” “He gave as much credit to the RAF as he did to AOPA!” But the Senator knew his audience, and that many were there specifically to enjoy AOPA’s hospitality among the beauty and recreational opportunities that access by air offers.

AOPA organized a terrific array of seminars, displays, food, friendly staff and volunteers. Montana native Katie Pribyl, a senior VP at AOPA, turned her visit into a family reunion.

Friday’s rains held off until after the STOL demonstration, in part sponsored by Polson’s Stene Aviation. Pilots in Huskys, Cubs, Cessna 180s and 185s and Bob Hoff in his beautiful red Beech Staggerwing wowed the crowd with short takeoffs and landings. Friday’s grand finale was Neptune’s demonstration by a four-turbine BAe146 retardant/water bomber, one of their fleet that is replacing the Korean War-era P2Vs.

“It’s no tent city like Oshkosh,” one visitor said, as Saturday’s rains thinned the crowd. The unofficial tally was 300 aircraft and 4,000 visitors. 

The event continued until some departed for the Seeley Lake (23S) gathering. Two aircraft — both on straight floats — managed to get in under the ceilings and splash in at Lindy’s Landing (M35) including Don and Natala Goodman’s C182 from Bellingham, and the Backcountry Flying Experience C195, piloted by Perry Brown. 

The RAF and Seeley Aviation Foundation co-hosted Saturday night’s steak sandwich and baked potato dinner, catered by local pilot and restaurateur Mike Lindemer of Lindy’s Steakhouse. AOPA’s CEO Mark Baker addressed the crowd, and Jeff Vercoe from the Helena FSDO awarded Jeff Morrison the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to hearty applause. Many folks camped in tents and campers. 

Sunday morning Mike prepared an ample breakfast and Mark Baker and AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman flew a beautifully restored 1943 Howard in. The main topics were (naturally) airplanes, the weather, and Seeley Lake’s beautiful setting between the Swan and Mission Mountain ranges.

The RAF thanks each and every volunteer who helped staff the Missoula display, and those who worked hard to host the group at Seeley Lake, captained by RAF Montana Liaison Scott Newpower. 

Weather Delay has Mutual Benefit 

“Today I greeted six airplanes at Lincoln Airport as they couldn’t get over the Continental Divide passes,” RAF Co-Founder and Director Emeritus Jerry Cain emailed on June 18. He and his wife Liz have a ranch and airstrip near Lincoln, Montana. They opened their home to weathered-in AOPA Fly-In visitors, even lending their car to folks who needed to get to Great Falls. 

Jerry continued, “Great time visiting at the airport, during lunch and dinner in town. Sure is fun being a part of the aviation community.”

RAF Chairman John McKenna replied:

“Over the years Jerry became one of our best Ambassadors and it is pretty clear he is still doing that 15+ years later. For sure the folks who are staying at his home, the people who are borrowing his car to drive 100 miles for an appointment, and using his hangar all think they are the big winners; however Jerry clearly feels he is the one who has come out on top. 

“I too feel just the same. My private pilot certificate should be stamped with smiles and friendships as opposed to ratings and endorsements. I have gotten so much out of this org and love the opportunities that it continues to provide.

Thank you, Jerry, for continuing to live the RAF life.”