The 16th-annual Great Alaska Aviation Gathering offered something for everyone this weekend, from vendors and planes for sale to the sage advice of a 91-year old World War II pilot who still takes to the skies.
Rex Grey, president of the Alaska Airmen's Association, estimated that more than 20,000 people stopped by the FedEx hangar at Ted Stevens International Airport where the show took place Saturday and Sunday, to check out the airplanes and reconnect with Alaska’s tight-knit aviation community.
What started as a typical trade show has evolved to “more of a social event,” Grey said, where aviators who may not cross paths all year have a chance to catch up with each other. The event also serves as a fundraiser for the Alaska Airmen’s Association, which puts on the show for free, relying on the help of more than 100 volunteers to carry out two days of aviation fanfare.
The show holds particular pertinence in Alaska, where 82 percent of the state's communities are served year-round only by air. Gray has been a pilot more than 40 years. What he loves most about flying in the Last Frontier is “the freedom we have in Alaska to kind of fly where we want and the beautiful country we have to fly over,” he said.
On a bright Sunday morning, folks of all ages crowded the hangar where hundreds of vendors were set up, selling everything from aviation art to GPS tracking software. Outside, dozens of aircraft were on display and people made their rounds from plane to plane.