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Wings Over Suwannee

Helicopter rides were made available to the public during last weekend’s “Wings Over Suwannee Air Festival,” in Live Oak.
-Photo by Jeffry Boatright

By Jeffry Boatright

The Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Chapter 797, assembled another dazzling display of fixed wing and rotary aircraft last weekend at the Suwannee County Airport, for its annual “Wings Over Suwannee Air Festival.” While there were plenty of unique machines to choose from, many people found it rather difficult to pick just one favorite.

Surrounded by vintage planes and fascinating experimental aircraft, onlookers marveled at the unique characteristics and sleek designs of the splendid aircrafts displayed throughout the festival. The three-day event, which was held at the Suwannee County Airport near Live Oak, certainly offered enthusiasts of all ages and levels of experience a favorable taste for flying.

Perhaps the oldest aircraft on hand was the 1929 Curtis Robin, which was certainly a favorite of the crowd. Of course, the 1943 Stearman PT17 Biplane also captured the attention of many.

This 1929 Curtis Robin airplane infatuated aviation enthusiasts throughout the weekend. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright

Allen Rice, one of the event organizers, was well-pleased with the public turnout, but a little disappointed that weather conditions hampered most of the aircraft taking to the air. “The wind is holding a lot of pilots back, especially those with vintage aircraft,” Rice commented. “But we’re very thankful for them coming out,” he added.

Although little or no rain was in the forecast through Saturday, the clouds did appear threatening and a persistent breeze prevented many demonstrations in the air. Conditions did, however, allow several festival-goers to take airplane and helicopter rides around Suwannee County. Young people in attendance were able to take advantage of the Young Eagle Program and fly the friendly skies at no cost.

Local resident Daisy Wolfe flew for the first time. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright

The Young Eagle Program, which is held in the highest esteem by the EAA, allows youth between the ages of eight and 17 to fly with qualified pilots free of charge. Much to the delight of one local youth, Daisy Wolfe, that opportunity afforded her to take her very first flight during Saturday’s events. “I saw a lot of Suwannee County,” Wolfe said with a huge grin. She added that her first flight was everything she had hoped for. Based on Daisy’s excitement, that was likely her first of many flights.

“It’s all about getting kids into aviation,” Rice said in reference to the Young Eagle Program. He emphasized that there are opportunities in the field of aviation and the EAA hopes to foster young people’s interest in aviation.

According to the EAA, most Young Eagle flights are conducted during rallies and fly-ins. However, a parent or guardian must sign the activity waiver before a minor can participate in flying.

In addition to seeing helicopters and airplanes, guests could examine powered parachutes and experts were on hand to share information about the unique sport.

This 1943 biplane was a hit at the air festival in Live Oak over the weekend. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright

While the event clearly focused on various types of aircraft, a number of vintage vehicles, such as a 1935 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, were on display for car enthusiasts to enjoy. On the other end of the spectrum, Walt’s Live Oak Ford was also there displaying some of their new vehicles for visitors to see.

It was truly a festival that had all the necessary ingredients to be considered an enjoyable event. In addition to free admission into the festival, there was free camping all weekend. The event kicked off on April 20, with a corn roast, bonfire and music, and continued until noon on April 22.

Pancake breakfasts were served on Saturday and Sunday morning, and food vendors were present all day Saturday.

Of course, booths were also set up with representatives from various businesses and organizations. Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol, RIVEROAK Technical College, Hooked on Heroes and others had manned booths to share information with the public.

Everyone enjoyed the treats that were available from vendors at the “Wings Over Suwannee Air Festival.” -Photo by Jeffry Boatright

It was indeed an enjoyable weekend for aviation enthusiasts of all ages, but it isn’t necessary to wait a whole year to take in the excitement of flying. The EAA797 meets on the last Saturday of each month at 10 a.m. for brunch, and they invite anyone with an interest in aviation to join them at the Suwannee County Airport. For more information about upcoming events and the local EAA chapter, visit them online at

Festival-goers were offered a close look at the one helicopter that everyone hopes to avoid. -Photo by Jeffry Boatright