Thousands brave windburn, icy air at Aviation Day

VERO BEACH – A few thousand airplane enthusiasts braved the chilly wind dressed in winter coats, knit caps and gloves to examine up close numerous experimental aircraft, military planes and helicopter, and new additions to the Piper Aircraft lineup.

“We’re enjoying it a lot,” said Cortney Havens, who sat bundled up next to her 3-year-old daughter, Rachael, while 6-year-old son, Thomas, took to the air in a helicopter. The Havens explored the Navy’s MH-53E Sea Dragon Helicopter, which they thought was the highlight of the event.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Wright rattled off the bird’s stats – Weight, 36,745 pounds empty, four fuel tanks, three engines, seven blades, in service 28 years, still in operation and stationed in Norfolk, Va.

He said hundreds had already taken a trip through the helicopter just a couple hours into Aviation Day – hundreds more were expected to pass through before the event wraps up at 4 p.m.

The petty officer said the trip from Virginia to Florida was like a mini-vacation after he finished training.

“I thought it was going to be a little warmer,” he said. It has been snowing nearly every weekend in Norfolk, the officer said.

While the focus of Aviation Day was on the various aircraft, conversations heard around the event centered more on the weather.

“Apart from the wind, it’s wonderful,” said England native-now Vero Beach resident Graham Bell. He and his wife moved to the area from Detroit, Mich., because of the nice weather.

“It’s better than Michigan, I’ll tell you that,” Bell said.

After walking the area and taking in the sights, Bell said the one plane that really got his attention was the newest Piper addition – the Piper Light Sport.

“If only I could convince my wife,” Bell said wishfully. He doesn’t own a plane but said he wished he did. His wife isn’t keen on small aircraft, Bell explained.

Aviation Day is going on now until 4 p.m. at the Vero Beach Municipal Airport. The cost to see all the planes is $5 for individuals and $10 for families. Inside the airport lobby, visitors can try their hand at flight simulators, hear speakers talking about their flight experiences and learn about various aviation groups.

Visitors can also take helicopter and plane rides for an additional fee.

The event is sponsored and organized by Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 99, which hosts monthly fly-ins at the Vero Beach airport and promotes aviation.

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