After a one-year hiatus for restructuring purposes, the Mid-Eastern Regional Fly-In (MERFI) has returned for 2017 and will celebrate its 50th installment by taking eventgoers back in time to when barnstormers ruled the skies from World War I to World War II, a period known as the “Golden Age of Aviation.”
Organized by a local nonprofit organization, the 50th MERFI and Barnstorming Festival will converge on Grimes Field this weekend (Aug. 18-20) with a full schedule of events on tap for Saturday.
Airport Manager Elton Cultice said for the past few years the Springfield airport hosted a Barnstorming Carnival in July, and MERFI organizers decided this year to include a similar event in conjunction with fly-in in an attempt to share the history of barnstormers and the planes they flew with a larger audience.
“Being one of the longest-running, biggest events of its kind, the thought was MERFI would be the perfect place to show off all these barnstorming or antique planes so more people could experience what it was like back in the 1920s and 1930s during the early days of aviation,” Cultice said. “There should be close to 50 antique airplanes here, and the people will be dressed in period clothing. This year’s MERFI will look like an old-fashioned fly-in with all the barnstorming stuff.”
The Barnstorming Carnival website states barnstormers were pilots, many of whom served in World War I, who made a living back in the 1920s and 1930s by traveling through the country performing aerial tricks and selling airplane rides.
“Barnstormers introduced millions of Americans to the sky well before organized commercial air travel was put in place,” the website states.
Cultice, a pilot for over two decades, said the modern barnstormers in attendance will give not only the public, but also the pilots in attendance a unique look into the bygone days of aviation.
“A lot of pilots today have no clue what it was like back then,” he said. “A lot of the MERFI people flying in will get a chance to see what aviation was like before it became what it is today.”
Cultice added previous MERFIs welcomed anywhere from 100 to 400 pilots to Grimes Field, many of whom camp on the grounds.
“It is so weather dependent,” he said. “If the weather is nice, we should see around 250 to 300 planes in attendance, as well as 45 to 50 barnstorming or antique planes (prior to 1945).”
Something for everyone
While aircraft will start arriving Friday, Aug. 18, gates will open at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19. There is an admission fee of $5 for those 13 years of age and older.
Cultice said all proceeds will be used to hold future MERFIs.
This year’s MERFI will feature a wide array of activities for families and aircraft enthusiasts.
For families, Cultice said, there will be a kids bounce house, a wandering magician and clown, kids paper and power rocket building workshops, various food and merchandise vendors, and an outdoor movie (“Barnstorming”) scheduled to begin at dusk.
For pilots and aviation fanatics who make the journey to Grimes Field for the fly-in, there will be aircraft and other aviation-related parts and products available for sale, aviation seminars, and organizers will be handing out awards in the following categories: Best Antique Aircraft, Best Classic Aircraft, Best Homebuilt Aircraft, Dirty Bird and Farthest Flown (from home to Urbana).
Dewey Davenport, owner and operator of Goodfolk & O’Tymes Biplane Rides, will offer rides throughout the day at a cost of $75 per person. Davenport, who organizes the annual Barnstorming Carnival in Springfield, is helping MERFI officials organize the Barnstorming Festival, which he hopes will take hold in Champaign County as it has in Clark County.
“The success from Carnival has drawn a lot of different airports asking for my help,” Davenport said. “The Carnival in Springfield is very unique, and I hope we can build the MERFI event up also.”
Cultice said if there is an event not to be missed this weekend, it’s the Parade of Flight scheduled for 11:45 a.m. on Saturday.
During the air parade, various antique airplanes will take to the skies while an announcer describes each plane and gives background information on the pilots handling the controls.
Anyone interested in volunteering to help with the 50th MERFI can do so by calling 937-652-4319.
For more information on the event, visit merfiurbana.org.
Schedule of events
Saturday, Aug. 19
•8 a.m.: Gate opens
•9 a.m.: Kids bounce house opens; Champaign Aviation Museum rolls out B-25; Grimes Flying Lab rolls out
•10 a.m.: FAA Safety Seminar (Top 25 summer flying tips)
•11 a.m.: FAA Safety Seminar (ADS-B, What is it? What will it cost me?); Kids Paper Rocket Building Class (Ohio Hi-Point Career Center classroom/Gecowets Hangar); food trucks begin serving; clown and magician begin performing
•11:30 a.m.: Parade of Flight safety briefing
•11:45 a.m.: Parade of Flight aircraft take off
•1 p.m.: Kids Paper Rocket Building Class and Kids Glider Building Class (OHP classroom/Gecowets Hangar); Aircraft judging begins
•3 p.m.: Aircraft awards presentation
•5 p.m.: Public gate closes
•Dusk: “Barnstorming” movie (airport side of Grimes Flying Lab hangar)
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-508-2304 or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.