GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gainesville Regional Airport (GNV) and its FBO, the University Air Center (UAC) will once again host the Gator Fly-In and Armed Services Appreciation Day Saturday, March 23, 2024.

A fly-in is a gathering for pilots who arrive by air. The event takes place from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (pre-event pancake breakfast at 8:30 a.m.) at University Air Center, 4701 N.E. 40th Terrace, Gainesville, Fla. (Enter at General Aviation Entrance, Waldo Road) and is open to the public. Admission and parking are free, and a complimentary shuttle will be provided.

“Our annual Gator Fly-In and Armed Services Appreciation Day is our way of honoring all branches of the military, including some great dignitaries, military and civil aviators who will be flying in many different types of aircraft to the UAC for the event,” says Allan Penksa, CEO, Gainesville Regional Airport. “It’s an exciting day for our community — especially anyone who is curious about flight — to learn more about aviation.

“We are honored to dedicate this year’s event to our dear friend and Gator Aviator Commander Lt. Col. Richard “Spad” McSpadden with a fitting and poignant ‘Flown West’ ceremony with a squadron of beautiful T-6 Texan and T-34 Mentors. This year we are especially focused on celebrating Women in Aviation. And as always, we look forward to sharing this very special celebration at our airport with the community.”

Celebrating Women in Aviation and our Military

Planned events include opening ceremonies with a color guard and flyovers, most notably the “Flown West” ceremony for the late Commander Lt. Col. Richard “Spad” McSpadden, USAF (ret.), Friend of the Gator Fly-In, who served as commander and flight leader of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flight demonstration team, flying the lead aircraft in over 100 flight demonstrations.

Most recently, Spad served as Senior Vice President of Aircraft Owner and Pilots’ Association’s (AOPA’s) Flight Safety Institute. Tragically, Spad lost his life in a plane crash in October 2023. Spad enjoyed the Gator Fly-In and was excited to attend this year’s event.

The pre-event fun begins with a continuation of our celebration of the late Col. Joe Kittinger, with the second annual “Col. Joe ‘Pamcake’ Breakfast” at 8:30 a.m., with donations going to Col. Joe’s favorite charity, the International Sky Diving Museum & Hall of Fame (www.skydivingmuseum.org). In addition, Col. Joe’s autobiography, “Come Up and Get Me,” will be available for purchase at the event for $25.

At 10 a.m., the gates will open to the public, with all participating aircraft in place. Opening ceremonies begin promptly at 11 a.m., with a color guard from Bucholz High School and drill team from the University of Florida (UF) Gator Guard, followed by the National Anthem, sung by “Big Jim” Adam (USMC, ret.).

At 11:15 a.m. the “Flown West” ceremony honoring Commander Lt. Col. McSpadden will commence with participation by the Civil Air Patrol. In addition, invited dignitaries will make speeches. (Distinguished Aviators include renowned American Aviator and U.S. National Aerobatic Champion Patty Wagstaff, and Elizabeth Gray.) Veterans’ groups from the North Central Florida region have been invited to participate.

Static Display

All branches of the military have been invited to fly in and participate in the event’s static display. We also expect aircraft manufacturers, privately owned aircraft and law enforcement aircraft to be on display. 

Best Aircraft Contest and People’s Choice Awards

A “Best Civilian Aircraft” and “People’s Choice: Best Aircraft” contest will be held, allowing event attendees to vote for their favorite aircraft at the Gator Fly-In. The two winners will be announced and presented with awards at 1 p.m.

Live Music, Classic Cars, Kids’ Activities and All-Day Food Trucks

Activities include touring static aircraft and Porsche Club car displays, military trucks, a kid’s corner with face painting, toy airplanes and coloring, arts and crafts vendors, and food trucks. Live Music by The Treetop Flyers will take place throughout the event. In addition to the “Col. Joe ‘Pamcake’ Breakfast” from 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m., food trucks and a variety of food vendors will operate throughout the event.

Aircraft Rides for purchase – North American T-34B Mentor,

Robinson 44 Helicopter and Cessna 172; “Swamp Tours”

For a fee, attendees can purchase rides in three different aircraft. Commemorative Air Force, Dixie Wing will provide Beechcraft T-34B Mentor flights for purchase. The Beechcraft T-34B Mentor is an American propeller-driven, single-engined, military  trainer aircraft derived from the  Beechcraft Model 35 Bonanza.  Interested parties may purchase T-34B Mentor rides in advance of the event at  https://airbasegeorgia.org/warbird-rides/ or walk-up tickets can be purchased at the UAC booth in the Mustang Hangar ($250 for 20 minutes; $320 for 40 minutes; $380 for 60 minutes.) Walk-up tickets can also be purchased at the event. In addition, UAC is offering “Swamp Tours” lasting about 15 minutes, in which passengers can fly over the UF Football Stadium in a Cessna 172 ($50) or a Bell 47-G or Robinson R-44 helicopter ($50).

A wide variety of general aviation, corporate, aerobatic, glider and homebuilt aircraft are expected at the Gator Fly-In. All branches of the military have been invited to fly in and participate in the event’s static display. As of this news release, confirmed military aircraft include CH-47 Chinook, C-130 Hercules, UH-60 Blackhawk, T-34B Mentor, Shandscair Helicopter and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Helicopter as well as Life South Bloodplane aircraft. Confirmed military aircraft will be updated as they are scheduled. We also expect aircraft manufacturers, privately owned aircraft and law enforcement aircraft to be on display.  All aircraft are subject to change due to weather, mechanicals and availability.

Schedule for the Day:

7 a.m. Vendors arrive for set up

Pre-Event: 8:30 a.m. – 11 a.m. First Annual Col. Joe “Pamcake” Breakfast

9 a.m. – aircraft arrive and park; all aircraft parked by 9:45 a.m.

10 a.m. – Public Arrive; helicopter and airplane rides begin

11 a.m. Opening Ceremony

11:15 a.m. Flown West Ceremony for Commander Lt. Col. Richard “Spad” McSpadden

11:20 a.m. Speakers begin

12 noon Live Music, food trucks

1 p.m. People’s choice and Best of Show Airplane Contest Announced

3 p.m. Final thank you and prep for departures

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