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Hundreds stop by Cracker Fly-In to check out airplanes of all varieties

POSTED: July 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
TOM REED/The Times

Bob Hedgecock sits in the co-pilot's seat of a Lockheed Electra 12A owned by Joe Shepherd after arriving at Saturday's Cracker Fly-In at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

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If you looked to the sky between 7 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, you most likely saw unusual airplanes coming in and out of the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport

The craft were in Gainesville for the 40th Annual Cracker Fly-In.

Winn Fletcher, president of the EAA 611 Chapter and organizer of the fly-in, said there were around 150 planes coming from a 150-mile radius. Fletcher also said the event was an opportunity to gather the community together to provide an experience unlike any other.

"It’s a car show for airplanes," Fletcher said.

Many spectators came to the fly-in to experience the planes first hand.

Cindy Mallett of Gainesville said she wanted to see the variety of aircraft presented and to see how the community responds to an event such as this.

"It’s a good way to get up close and personal with the planes," Mallett said.

The big attraction at the fly-in was the Lockheed Electra 12A, a replica of the plane Amelia Earhart was flying when she disappeared. Joe Shepherd, a former commercial pilot from Fayetteville, owns the plane and spent 20 years restoring it.

He said he enjoys flying antique airplanes and coming to shows and events such as the fly-in, and preparing it for the 2009 movie about Earhart, starring Hilary Swank.

The plane itself weighs 9,200 pounds, has a 50-foot wingspan and can hold eight people. Shepherd said it is known as "the Learjet of the ’30s."

Jere Rosser of Cartersville owns a homemade RV8 named Tweety Bird 3. Rosser became fascinated with planes at age 8, and then spent 29 years in the Air Force. He said he has restored several planes over the course of his life, including a World War II bomber plane, and has built three himself.

Gainesville resident Glynn Frets said he has loved airplanes since he was a little boy.

"I remember looking up at the sky every time I heard an airplane," he said.

He also said he enjoys flying because it "gives you the freedom to go wherever you want."

Frets was taught the basics in aerobatics and now has an aerobatics plane which he spent seven years restoring. It is capable of flying loops, rolls and upside down.

Richard Strickland, the owner of a 1975 Piper Warrior, said that what keeps older planes in the air is the price.

His airplane today would cost somewhere between $275,000 to $300,000. Although planes like his may be older, they are still in top-notch condition.

They must be thoroughly inspected every year by a certified air craft mechanic and must receive an airworthiness certificate, he said.

Also, before every flight, the pilot does a thorough inspection of the plane, including the engine, oil and every control to ensure a safe flight.

"You can’t understand what goes on until you experience the flight yourself," Strickland said.



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