Anchorage, Alaska – An estimated 25,000 people packed into the FedEx maintenance hangar at the Ted Stevens International Airport this past weekend for the annual Great Alaska Aviation Gathering. With the greatest number of pilots and aircraft per capita, Alaska is considered the nation’s “flyingest” state in the country. A full weekend of pleasantly warm and clear conditions contributed to the event’s success.

Photo: L-R Alaska Airmen Association Board of Director Members, Kevin Campbell, Dennis Bedford, John Dahlen, Governor Michael J. Dunleavy, Airmen Executive Director Corey Hester, Board President Sven Lincke, and Board Member Doug Bradbury. Photo by Rob Stapleton/Alaskafoto

Alaska Governor Michael J. Dunleavy joined thousands of aviation enthusiasts to read and sign a proclamation declaring May to be Aviation Appreciation Month. Aviation was instrumental in Alaska’s development and is still a vital economic driver in the state. Aviation contributes $3.8 billion annually to Alaska’s economy and generates over 35,000 jobs, accounting for 10% of all jobs in Alaska.

“We thank Governor Dunleavy for this proclamation emphasizing the importance of aviation to our state,” said John Binder, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF). “Alaska has the largest aviation system in North America, with the state owning and operating 239 airports.”

Dr. Gleim at the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering

Gleim Aviation exhibited at the gathering with Dr. Irvin Gleim, Paul Duty (Chief Instructor and Product Manager), and Christopher Hanlon (Aviation Developer). Although the majority of attendees were from Alaska, aspiring student pilots from all over the United States visited with the Gleim team to learn more about how to begin their flight training. Each guest received a welcome bag filled with resources, such as the popular Learn To Fly booklet and other training materials, designed to help pilots get their aviation pursuits off the ground. Since 1980, Gleim has distributed more than one million booklets introducing people to the exciting world of aviation.

Mike Lucas, CFI and Gleim Aviation Alaska Ambassador also assisted the Gleim team at the event said, “It is interesting to interview people and find out how they are engaged with aviation; student pilot, private pilot? Many times I heard ‘I used your stuff for IA refresher’ or ‘I did my ATP with you.’ I would be talking to a person about their experience with Gleim and then offer a chance to meet Dr. Gleim. ‘You see that guy in the red shirt talking to that mom and kid? Let’s go meet him.’ Then I walked back to my station as he invariably interrogates the individual; ‘How can we make Gleim materials better?’”

Aspiring pilot Taylor C. flies the Gleim Virtual Cockpit for the first time.

Attendees also got to try their hand at the Gleim Virtual Cockpit. Spectators of all ages watched as an unofficial landing contest ensued between attendees claiming to have no aviation experience. “Sometimes they would crash on takeoff and others would grease the landing. With some luck (and a little guidance), most successfully landed. Everyone who test-flew the sim had a blast,” said Paul Duty. “One of the best parts was seeing the smiles and helping others build their confidence to take that first step into aviation.”

Paul Duty and Christopher Hanlon ascending Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park, Alaska.

After attendees experienced the Gleim Virtual Cockpit, members of our aviation team got to experience Alaska. “As this was my first visit to Alaska, I wanted to take in the sights and enjoy some local food and flare,” said Duty. “I highly recommend anything with reindeer sausage. I had it in an omelet, on a pizza, and even in a salad. It was all delicious.” The sun sets late this time of year, providing enough light until nearly 11 p.m. to enjoy the outdoors every day. After the event on Saturday, Christopher Hanlon introduced his favorite hobby to Duty as the two trekked up the north face of Flattop Mountain.

A Sunday evening flight with Land and Sea Aviation Chief Pilot Brandon Avola at Merrill Field (PAMR) punctuated the weekend, as Duty added some time to his logbook in the last frontier.

An avid runner and mountain climber, Hanlon flew into Alaska the previous weekend to tackle as many peaks as he could manage. Hanlon logged 72 miles and just under 24,000 feet of elevation gain in just seven days. “The Chugach Mountains near Anchorage remind me of the 14ers of Colorado—rugged, steep, and challenging—except they’re at sea level, which is nice. I fell in love with them instantly and can’t wait to go back,” said Hanlon. “It was an amazing experience. Hopefully by next year, I’ll be in better shape so I can go even higher,” said Duty.

The final highlight of the Gathering was the annual plane raffle. Winner David Webber was in attendance during the raffle, which added even more excitement to the riveting event.

This year, the grand prize raffle was a Piper PA-18-150 Super Cub with floats and tundra tires.

Aviation is a tight-knit community, especially in Alaska, where many towns are only connected with one another by air. As we look forward to another season of flying, we are reminded of the connections made possible through aviation. As you pursue your dreams of flight or advance your ratings, remember to always train before you fly!

For more information about aviation in Alaska, visit the Alaska Aviation System Plan. Next year’s event is scheduled for May 2-3, 2020. We hope to see you there!

Written by Paul Duty, Gleim Chief Instructor and Aviation Product Manager with contributions from Linda Bustamante, State of Alaska DOT