After 50 years of drawing in dozens of historic and experimental aircraft into Gainesville, the Cracker Fly-in may be turning off its engines for good.
Run by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 611, the presumed last Cracker Fly-in will take place from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, July 6, at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville.
Shane Crider, the event’s coordinator, said the decision was made due to the declining number of Cracker Fly-in volunteers. He said the day takes around 75 people to operate safely.
“It’s getting very difficult to get volunteers,” Crider said. “Most of our members are aging, and it being in July, it’s brutal on everybody.”
If someone resurrected the event, Crider said it would most likely be smaller with fewer aircraft.
Some of the Gainesville EAA members, like John Pittman, have hopes that it will continue to go on.
“Some people say that, some people don’t,” Pittman said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Since this could be the last Cracker Fly-in, Crider decided to “go big and be done.”
Instead of the usual 120-150 aircraft, he’s expecting over 200 will fly into the airport.
“We will have the largest collection of military and historic aircraft at the airport in Gainesville’s history,” Crider said.
Pittman said people can expect to see some Douglas DC-3s, which served as cargo airplanes during the 1930s and 1940s. The event will also include World War II trainers and fighters.
Attendees will have the opportunity to ride in a Cessna 185 Seaplane, North American LT-6 Boeing Stearman, Vietnam War era Huey helicopter and other aircraft.
Crider encourages people to keep an eye out for a Douglas C-47, provided by The Liberty Foundation. He said it participated in D-Day and was used as a support aircraft in the 1942 rescue of the P-38 “Glacier Girl” at the North Pole.
Pittman, who has been a member of the EAA in Gainesville since 1982, said the original 1969 Cracker Fly-in started out with a few men and 10-15 airplanes.
He recounts the event having a lot of warbirds back then because of their availability.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s Pittman remembers two ladies pulling up in a Coca-Cola trailer. He said they would serve Coke, ice and hotdogs.
He said around 4,500 people came out to last year’s event.
“Things have grown and bloomed,” Pittman said. “We just try to provide a professional fly-in and a place where people can get together, have some food with airplanes and enjoy each other.”
Crider said the Cracker Fly-in allows the community to go beyond the fence of the airport and get a taste of the joys of aviation.
“We’re hoping that especially the youth will get excited about it,” he said. “It’s becoming less and less interesting for people.”
Pittman encourages people to arrive early for breakfast. He’ll prepare pancakes, alongside 20 other volunteers, from 7-10:30 a.m. Foodtrucks and Boy Scout Troop 203 will offer lunch at 11 a.m.
Similar to car shows, the aircraft will arrive and depart throughout the event.
Despite all the manpower and hours that go into putting on the Cracker Fly-in, Pittman said every bit is worth it.
“It’s a tradition, it’s what we do as EAA 611,” Pittman said. “We feel that we are promoting general aviation, and educating the public as to who we are and how we do things. We’re extremely lucky to have the Gainesville airport here.”
Admittance is $5 for adults and free for children 12 years and under. For more information and aircraft ride prices, visit crackerflyin.com.