Payson Aero Fair Features Sexy Airplanes, $25 Flights

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Wanna oogle the tail section of “the sexiest airplane ever?”

Soar over spectacular scenery with a former spy plane pilot at the controls?

Chow down and look up?

Then you’d best leave Saturday free for a visit to the Payson Aero Fair, the annual chance for the Payson Airport to reintroduce itself to the community.

The day starts with breakfast at 7:30 and continues until 2 in the afternoon, with an unpredictable treasure trove of vintage airplanes dropping in from all over the state, said Beth Myers, the airport supervisor.

In past years, the drop-in planes have included World War II Mustang fighters, vintage bombers and the latest, homemade heart stoppers.

Myers said organizers never know who will show up.

“It’s just a guess: But oh my God — we clap when they land. They know people will be there to appreciate them,” said Myers, a former pilot and air traffic controller.

But she has her favorite — it sounds almost like true love: a hand-built experimental airplane.

“On display we’ll have an Arion Lightning,” Myers said. “That is the sexiest home-built airplane that I have ever seen: The lines, the curvature, the precision. It just has a phenomenal amount of charm. So we’ll have experimental airplanes here —built by people themselves. Some for display, some for sale. We’ll even have experimental kits that you order and they send it to you and you build it yourself.”

Other attractions include the $7 pancake breakfast by the Payson Pilots Association, served from 7:30 to 10 a.m., a classic car show with 12 to 30 beautifully restored cars and a full range of vendors.

One of the most popular attractions remains the $25 airplane rides. Pilots volunteer their time, their planes and even the gasoline so that all the money can go to a scholarship fund to teach young people how to fly.

Last year, nearly 2,000 people attended the event, which offers the airport a chance to strut its stuff and lure day-tripping pilots from all over the state.

Among the pilots for the sightseeing jaunts this year will be a two-star general who flew the Cold War U2 spy planes that once enabled the United States to keep tabs on the Soviet Union. Jim Hunt retired to Payson recently and now serves as an alternate on the airport’s board of directors and also builds and flies his own planes.

The event “allows Payson to come and experience their airport,” said Myers, “and find out why it matters. Every single one of us that has anything to do with a bank is affected by the airport — since they fly all the checks in every day. UPS flies into the airport every day.”

The airport is in the midst of a $10 million overhaul of its master plan, gearing up to cope with growth that will likely increase the number of takeoffs and landings from maybe 44,000 to some 60,000 in the coming years.

Hoping to save money, the Payson Town Council turned over the airport to a volunteer board, which now operates the airport at no cost to the town.

A 2002 study by the Arizona Department of Transportation estimated that the airport injects $20 million annually into the local economy and supports 62 jobs directly and another 68 jobs indirectly.

Myers said she spent the week in a frenzy of preparation, putting up fencing for visitor safety, moving all the planes based at the airport out of the way, putting up 82 different signs and arranging the flurry of details.

“Right now I’m on the verge of insanity, but I know on Friday everyone will show up to put the airport together for Saturday,” she said.

But it’s all worth it if the event can connect the airport to the community it serves, she added.

“To me the greatest feature of the Aero Fair is to invite the public here to see it — free, no charge, happy to see you there. We get to introduce aviation to our youth and help them to see it as a possibility for their career. I love to incite kids to be interested in aviation.”

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