By REID TUCKER
If the expression on the face of 12-year-old Austin DeLong is any indication, the first annual “Marvel of Flight” fly-in at the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport was aptly named indeed.
The Walton Middle School student took his first-ever flight in a small aircraft at the event, held Saturday, June 11, and he loved every second of it. DeLong, already a budding aviation enthusiast, said he’d been up in a large commercial airliner before, but had yet to fly in a light airplane. When he heard about the Marvel of Flight, he made sure his parents brought him to the event.
“I always liked airplanes so I was excited when I heard about the air show,” DeLong said. “It’s been really cool.”
DeLong and 35 or so other youngsters aged 8 to 17 were able to experience their first taste of flight thanks to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Flight program, which takes up first-time fliers free of charge in the hopes of exposing younger generations to aviation. However, the Young Eagles program wasn’t the only thing the daylong Marvel of Flight had going for it. Other events included a pancake breakfast hosted by the Kiwanis Club of DeFuniak Springs, a car show, a Walton County Aeromodelers-sponsored radio-controlled air show, rides in both a ‘20s-vintage biplane and a modern helicopter and a prize giveaway including free flight lessons.
Airport Services Supervisor Kelly Schultz, who organized the city’s first-ever fly-in, said the goal of the air show was twofold: firstly, to get exposure for the services offered by the airport and secondly, to give the city a unique centerpiece annual event.
“We really want the Marvel of Flight to grow into the premier event in DeFuniak Springs,” Schultz said. “We want people to mark their calendars for this.”
The summer heat did not deter the crowds at the free-to-enter event, either. Though an accurate head count was not available because many people that came out did not sign in at the registration booths, Schultz said a likely figure puts attendance between 1,500 and 2,000 people, which she said was a great first showing. The linemen directing air traffic stopped counting the aircraft on hand at 50, which Schultz said is quite the feat considering this was the first time such an event has been held in the city.
While Schultz was satisfied with how the Marvel of Flight turned out in its inaugural year, she said plans are already being laid for next year’s event that will hopefully “shake out” some of the logistical foibles encountered this time around. Event organizers are looking to hold the fly-in at a cooler time of year, as temperatures Saturday climbed to nearly 100 degrees. Other improvements being considered include more busses to transport visitors from the parking lot, more vendors, a static aircraft display, a concert and perhaps even an aerobatics show.
Schultz said the event could not have been possible without the assistance of many local organizations. Primary sponsors included the aforementioned Kiwanis Club and Experimental Aircraft Association, the Boys & Girls Club of DeFuniak Springs, DeFuniak Springs Rotary Club, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, Walton County Fire Rescue, the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and several local businesses. Also, representatives from neighboring cities and DeFuniak Springs City Council members were in attendance at the event.
The Marvel of Flight went a long way toward promoting the airport’s services and increasing its visibility in the community. As air traffic has increased 92 percent since the city resumed control of the airport’s administration in December of last year, Schultz said the facility can use all the extra exposure it can get. If that goal can be realized while simultaneously giving people an event to look forward to each year, so much the better, she said.
“We want people to know this is their airport,” Schultz said. “Our goal was to create an event or program to be held in our county to bring positive focus to our county. I believe we reached our goal.”