By REID TUCKER
Late spring weather in the Panhandle gets no better than it did on Saturday, May 19, when people came out by the thousands to the 2012 Marvel of Flight event at the DeFuniak Springs Airport.
The event, now in its second year, hosted aviators from around the Southeast, some from as far away as Georiga, and crowds of about 3,000 people spent the sunny morning and afternoon gazing on more than 70 aircraft of all shapes, sizes and types.
Airport Services Supervisor Kelly Schultz, who spearheaded the development of the Marvel of Flight and organized the event, said everything about the whole program was not only better than last year, but was even better than she could have hoped for. The idea all along was to create an annual event that simultaneously serves as an economic boon for DeFuniak Springs, gets local people interested in general aviation and, most importantly, one that brings together people from across Walton County.
“One of our goals was to create an annual event to support the community and it seems like this year was so much better than last year,” Schultz said. “The support we get from local businesses through donations and door prizes makes allows [the Marvel of Flight] to be an economic engine for the city. We were looking to develop something that would generate a positive economic impact but also make sure it was free to attend so lots of people could participate.
“We want people to know that this is more than DeFuniak Springs’ airport. This is Walton County’s airport.”
Just about everything at this year’s event was revamped from last year, from more shuttles to and from the parking area to vendors selling food and t-shirts to opportunities for sky-diving and helicopter rides. There were even several educational seminars and booths set up by the U.S. Army and Air Force. Finally, many non-profit organizations, including the Walton County ARC, Friendship House, Kiwanis, Rotary, Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast, the Boy Scouts, and several local churches, were all represented, as was the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.
One of the more obvious additions to this year’s event was the presence of several “warbirds” or decommissioned military aircraft. Predominating this small but elite group were three T-6 Texan trainer-type planes of the Destin Warbirds, the members of which performed precision flying drills and demoed some combat-style aerobatics for the crowds. More involvement from groups piloting restored or vintage planes is something Schultz hopes to include more of at future Marvel of Flight days.
Schultz said she and other event planners listened to the comments and suggestions of those who attended the 2011 Marvel of Flight so that they could bring in more of what the public wanted to see at future events. Some of the suggestions include more signage, a revamped car show (dust billowed everywhere when a plane would fire up its engines, which some classic car owners didn’t exactly appreciate), shuttle assistance for visitors with limited-mobility, and different arrangements of food vendors to prevent overlap on the items sold. Altogether, these changes are small, but Schultz said the end result is that, by tailoring the event to the community it serves, the Marvel of Flight will keep getting better years down the road.
“We took into account all the different suggestions from people last year, and we did the same thing this year,” she said. “Thanks to the feedback and the turnout at this year’s [event], I can only imagine that it will continue to grow and develop next year and for years to come.”