Bill Harrelson sat in his blue-and-white lawn chair in the grass just off the runway at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.
Next to him was his plane, a white Lancair IV with a baby blue and gray stripe down the side. That plane has taken him all over the world: Alaska, Brazil, Curacao Australia and over the North and South Poles to name a few.
Harrelson, a retired American Airlines pilot, was at the airport with several other pilots for the annual Cracker Fly In on Saturday, July 7, to show off the plane he said he began building himself, with a little help from his wife, in 2004.
It was Harrelson’s first time at the event where hundreds gathered to look at planes flown in for the show. Children were able to climb inside the planes, and there was food, helicopter and plane rides and games for the kids.
“I think it’s great for kids,” Harrelson said. “It used to be, you could go out to the local airport, stand at the airport fence or walk in and talk to people with airplanes. Now, most airports have all this security. Kids don’t get to see it, so something like this, they get to see it ... so it’s wonderful.”
Shane Crider, Cracker Fly In coordinator, said he starts getting things organized for the event in January. It’s important to him because the fences around the airport keep people out, but he likes to bring people, especially kids, in. He said there’s a shortage of pilots in aviation, so getting as many young people interested is essential.
“It invites everybody outside, the public, inside to see the airport to see what we see,” Crider said. “And we just love sharing our passion for aviation. That’s the biggest thing.”
Anna Hall was one such young visitor. She said she had only been in a plane once, but didn’t remember it. So she took a ride at the Cracker Fly In and was smiling as she stepped out of the Cessna 185. After coming back from the flight around Lake Lanier, she joined her father, Joey, again as they continued to look at planes.
“It was a lot of fun,” Anna Hall said. “It was different than I expected ... kind of like Google Maps in high definition.”
Joey Hall served in the Army for four years, so he said he’s been around helicopters quite a bit. He loves aviation in general, but now “loves from afar.” At the Fly In, he got to love it up close again.
Bill and Melanie Haley, who have attended the Fly In since the early 1970s, walked around with their two young grandsons, Latham and John Murray from Charlotte, Virginia. They could hardly contain themselves as they meandered through the planes on display.
Latham Murray said he was really interested in planes, but likes jets more.
Bill Haley used to work for the city of Gainesville and helped build some of the hangars and extend the runway when the airport expanded. He’s seen the Cracker Fly In grow over the years and his wife said it’s changed a lot since they first attended.
“It used to just be people would fly in with their plane and you’d look at them and nobody charged anything,” Melanie Haley said. “But it’s much more organized now. They’ve done a super job with it.”