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After a successful 50th year, Cracker Fly-in may soar again
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Attendees check out a Kodiak 100 airplane during the 50th Cracker Fly-In at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on Saturday, July 6, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

With the number of people that showed up to this year’s Cracker Fly-in, the possibility of it being the last one may have been removed.

The event celebrated its 50th year Saturday, July 6, at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville, and ever since coordinator Shane Crider said it may be the last due to a lack of volunteers, he’s been getting more phone calls and emails than he can handle.

“People don’t want to see it die,” Crider said. “It’s the heat, so maybe we should move it to spring or fall and see what happens there … It may just get moved, it might get scaled down a little bit so it’s not as much work, but yeah, we’ll see what happens.”

The Cracker Fly-in, hosted by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 611, brought in hundreds of planes, all making their way from the sky to the runway throughout the day, for guests to look at, sit in and learn about. And that's what it’s been about from the beginning. 

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Mason McGraw, 5, of Gainesville pushes his brother Hudson, 1, in a cart outfitted with wings during the 50th Cracker Fly-In at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on Saturday, July 6, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

“Most people who pass the airport, they don’t see anything except a fence and maybe a few airplanes tied down,” Crider said. “We’re just trying to reach out to everybody and show them what aviation is about.”

That’s exactly why Pete Hynninen was out at the airport Saturday. He said he’s been to the Cracker Fly-in for the past few years just to watch the aircraft that fly in.

“They’re fun to watch,” Hynninen said. “I’ve enjoyed it very, very much — talking to people, seeing what they like flying. You hear a lot of different stories and get to see a lot of different aircraft.”

Although he’s never flown a plane himself, Hynninen said he’s always been interested in it and enjoys learning about it every chance he gets.

“It just keeps getting more and more sophisticated, especially with the big jets and stuff like that,” Hynninen said.

But one of the smaller aircraft at the Cracker Fly-in was Jeff Gilbert’s light sport trike. As soon as it landed at the airport, people flocked to it. It’s an open-air plane that Gilbert said some people compare to “a motorcycle with wings.”

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Larry McIntire, 71, left, from Marietta, and his grandson Hudson Toledo, 9, make their way to a parking spot in McIntire's Piper Cub airplane during the 50th Cracker Fly-In at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport on Saturday, July 6, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele

“It is a blast,” Gilbert said. “You’re right out there in the breeze. You don’t really want to fly when it’s raining, but when it’s nice out it’s perfect.”

He can make it about 350 miles on 17 gallons of fuel in the P&M Quik GT450, but doesn’t fly nearly that far very often. He said he wanted to fly all his life, and once his children were out of the house, he decided to pick it up.

“This is not one you go places on purpose with, this is one you fly for fun,” Gilbert said. “You have the experience, you have the feel of flying, especially with the clouds, just soaring around them. It’s really fun.”

He’s only had the plane for a couple years. He didn’t bring it to the Cracker Fly-in last year, but decided to this year now that’s he’s more experienced with it.

“We’re always interested in hanging out with pilots,” Gilbert said of himself and his wife, Cynthia, who flew in with him. “Once you get your pilot’s license, you’re like, ‘Yeah, I got my pilot’s license. Now what do I do?’ So, flying around is great fun, but going to events like this is also a lot of fun because we get to talk to people and see other people’s planes.”

One of those people he talked to at the Cracker Fly-in was Jimmy Deaton. Deaton’s father, Hugh, was a pilot and actually learned from Lee Gilmer, the Gainesville airport’s namesake.

By the time Deaton was born, though, his father had stopped flying.

“We used to come up here and hang out and catch rides with people,” Deaton said.

He was at the event for the first time this year to see the P-51 Mustang. He said he remembers seeing — and especially hearing — one in Michigan when he was young and has always held it as a fond memory.

“My dad and I had gone to the airport and one flew over and I can remember that sound,” Deaton said.

Crider is hoping that sound and the sound of all the other aircraft that have flown into the event  and drawn thousands of people to it over the years will continue for years to come.

“I’m hopeful for this event in the future,” Crider said. “I’m thankful that everybody showed up today and I hope they all enjoyed it and had a good time. We work really hard at just trying to put on a mix of stuff.”

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