All eyes to the sky this weekend for the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering

The Alaska Airmen’s Association is celebrating its 25th year bringing Alaska aviators together
All eyes to the sky this weekend for the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 8:25 PM AKDT|Updated: May. 5, 2023 at 10:36 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska State Fairgrounds was abuzz Friday as planes from all across the state flew in for the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. Pilots landed their small aircraft on a 1,700-foot-long temporary gravel strip, known by fairgoers as the purple parking lot.

This is the third year the gathering — hosted by the Alaska Airmen’s Association — has been held at the state fairgrounds. Executive Director Abby Austin said the association tries to bring new and bigger ideas to the event every year.

“We’re doing a little STOL (short takeoff and landing) demo out at the airport this year, we are bringing in drones in a special new way,” Austin said. “We know drones are the future, so we’re going to feature some drones.”

The Alaska Division of Forestry and Fire Protection will also be at the Palmer Airport demonstrating aerial fire suppression techniques at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and again at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Austin said shuttles provided by Anchorage Trolly Tours will be available every 15 minutes to transport individuals between the airport and the fairgrounds.

The gathering boasts over 150 aviation vendors, youth activities, food trucks, aircraft static displays, as well as a career fair and swap meet for over 20,000 attendees.

Chris Palmer, owner of Angle Of Attack Flight School in Homer, flew his fairly recognizable Cessna 172 to the fairgrounds Friday morning. The flight instructor has a cult following of aviation enthusiasts on his YouTube channel which has 141,000 subscribers.

“My favorite part about aviation, honestly, is just getting to meet new people, to see people that have seen my stuff online, to hear people’s stories — flying stories,” Palmer said. “I come here just to be part of all that and to be part of the community.”

Palmer has been attending the event since 2015.

The Great Alaska Aviation Gathering also serves as an opportunity for members of the public to speak with state aviators and promote the industry that remains a crucial lifeline in Alaska.

“We are very focused on workforce development,” Austin said. “The industry as a whole, but especially in Alaska, is suffering from a shortage of pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, ramp handlers — the whole industry is desperate for people. So we’re trying to make some young people fall in love with aviation and understand the opportunities that are here for them.”

The Alaska Airmen’s Association awards scholarships every year. This year will total over $100,000.

The Great Alaska Aviation Gathering will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Parking is $5 and the event itself is free to the public.