Would your friends travel more than 100 miles to sample your barbecue? How about 500 miles?
Terry Chizek’s friends did that and more Saturday, flying into Marion Airport from as far away as New Mexico and Ohio for the annual barbecue and fish fry he puts on for fellow experimental airplane pilots.
“It’s kind of word-of-mouth, we don’t want to get overwhelmed,” Chizek said.
Word got out well enough that it may have been Chizek’s biggest crowd ever, with more than 20 planes and more than 60 people partaking in the potluck dinner outside an airport hangar.
Rob Schmitt of Kansas City, Missouri, has become a regular attendee.
“I’ve been coming to Terry’s barbecue for five or six years,” he said. “It’s a great barbecue. It’s the combination with the fish fry, his fish is really awesome. You don’t get that in Kansas City.”
Doug Wilson of Emporia eyed the long row of planes parked between the hangars and runway as he reflected on past fly-ins.
“I think this may be the best he’s had,” Doug Wilson of Emporia said. “He gets a good turnout. I was just going to start counting airplanes.”
Of course, great food wasn’t the only draw Saturday. A bond among those who build their flying machines from scratch draws them to events like this all summer. Fly-ins are excuses to fly and opportunities to see the handiwork of fellow craftsmen.
“This is the fun stuff. This is why you build the airplanes,” David Roe said.
Roe was flying from Ohio to his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He learned of the fly-in from a Los Alamos, New Mexico pilot friend.
“I kind of invited myself,” Roe said. “This sounds like fun.”
That friend, Jeff Scott, said he met Chizek at a fly-in about 15 years ago. This was the first time he made the 3½-hour flight from Los Alamos to attend Chizek’s event.
“He invites me to this every year, and every year something always happens, but this year I made it,” Scott said.
Many of the pilots, including Scott, flew KR airplanes, based on plans Ken Rand used to build his pioneer experimental KR-1 plane in 1972. However, each pilot puts their own spin on the design when they build their planes, Scott said.
“They’re all custom-built,” he said. “That plane there, mine there, this one of Rob’s, they kind of look like distant cousins. They’re all built from the same plans, but the plans are more of a guideline.”
The plane Scott flew to Marion he built 18 years ago. He’s made a number of modifications over the years.
“About every four or five years I get bored and start cutting parts off the airplane and make improvements,” he said. “I’ve cut the tail off and made a larger horizontal stabilizer and a larger elevator. I cut the trailing edge off the wing and built flaps into it, so I’ve done a lot.”
Experimental aircraft are cheaper to build, maintain, and operate than commercially-manufactured planes, so pilots get to fly more.
“You have to build one of these here in order to be able to afford to fly,” Hugh Cooper said. “I used to rent airplanes, and you could maybe afford to fly every two or three months.”
Cooper, a former airline mechanic, has been working on his plane for about five years. He said he doesn’t have a deadline to complete it. He came from Bixby, Oklahoma, to get ideas.
“I’m in no hurry,” he said. “I just enjoy working on it.”