August 2020: Look, up in the sky. It’s a plane! And another plane! And another plane! And another plane!
Despite the cancellation of so many 2020 events, festivals, and social get-togethers due to the coronavirus, northeastern Oklahoma aviation aficionados can still make plans to look to the skies for the return of the Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly-in and National Day of Remembrance.
Slated for Saturday, August 15 in Oologah, Oklahoma, the annual fly-in and day of remembrance event will see swarms of planes returning to the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch for a not-to-be-missed day of free family-friendly fun and entertainment.
(L-R) Tom Egbert (as Wiley Post), Linda and Bill Biard and Lester Lurk (as Will Rogers)
“The day will be starting early because, with it being in August, it’s usually a hot day,” said Tad Jones, executive director, Will Rogers Memorial Museums. “Pilots will start arriving early that day, around 7:30 a.m., and continue flying in until maybe 8:30 or 9. After that, we’ll have our remembrance ceremony (at 10 a.m.) to honor the lives of those who have lost their lives in a small plane crash and award special lapel pins to members of their families who are present.
“Additionally, we’ll be having some special guests for the occasion, some of whom will be speaking – Cherokee Nation Council member Keith Austin is usually there, (Will Rogers family member) Jennifer Rogers-Etcheverry usually comes out for the day – it’s going to be a great day for everyone,” he said.
For those not familiar with the yearly Fly-In event, it’s a day that commemorates the date -- August 15, 1935 -- when pilot Wiley Post and Oklahoma-born humorist Will Rogers died in Burrow, Alaska.
As Rogers was an early proponent of the once-fledgling aviation industry and an inductee into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, to mark the occasion, pilots from across Oklahoma fly to Oologah in their planes, converging on the Birthplace Ranch for a day of aviation appreciation, food, family, and fun.
In the past, it’s not been uncommon for there to be more than 125 planes fly in over Oologah Lake before settling at the ranch and allowing the public the chance to get up close and personal with pilots and planes alike.
This year, Jones said he wouldn’t be surprised to see even more planes and people than usual.
“It’s such a great atmosphere, such a great experience – it’s very unique – you’re landing on a grass strip, honoring Will Rogers and Wiley Post, people come out and take pictures with Will and Wiley (interpreters) – they usually come out around 9:00,” he said. “It’s just a very relaxed atmosphere for everyone. People bring their lawn chairs or blankets out to sit on and watch the beauty of the planes flying in.
“Usually, we also hold a car show, a motorcycle show – we plan on having food trucks there. We’ll have a gift shop with several specialty items, including commemorative t-shirts -- there’s really nothing else like it,” he said.
Cherokee storytelling, a remote-control plane display from the American Turf Flyers, and more will be part of the day’s festivities.
Additionally, members of the Oolagah Historical Society will be present as the occasion also signifies the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Sandra Van Zandt art statue of Will Rogers and his horse in downtown Oologah – the hometown of Will Rogers himself.
Although the fly-in will be making its return as usual, Jones noted that some of the other events – including some hosted by the Will Rogers Memorial -- have had to be postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus, making the fly-in even more of a summer event.
“It’s definitely been a challenging year for us – our staff has to wear masks, and as of the first of July, visitors to the (Will Rogers Memorial) museum are also required to wear a mask,” he said. “It’s been frustrating because so many of our usual events have had to be canceled (due to the coronavirus) – we’ve got some great kids camps, our movies, which had really been picking up, we’ve had to suspend for now. It’s been frustrating for us not to be able to do the fun things that we’ve always done, but we do know they’ll come back, and we’re glad that we’ll still be hosting the fly-in this year.”
Regarding safety protocols at the fly-in, Jones said the space at the Birthplace Ranch should leave “plenty of room” for social distancing.
“I think everyone who comes to the fly-in already knows about general safety measures to take right now,” he said, “and we actually think there will be more planes this year because some of the other fly-ins around the state have been canceled. It would make sense that more pilots would want to get out. This could be the biggest fly-in we’ve seen in years.
“We’re just looking forward to it being another great day for us, the pilots, and everyone involved,” he said.
One of the largest fly-ins of its kind in Oklahoma, the Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly-in, is sponsored by the Cherokee Nation. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted.
The event begins at 7:30 a.m. and continues through 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 15, at the Birthplace Ranch in Oologah, Oklahoma.
To add a name to the list of those to be honored during the National Day of Remembrance service, message eat0@eau0eav0eaw0.
For more information, contact the Will Rogers Memorial Museum at 918-341-0719, or visit them at www.willrogers.com.
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