photo by Cody Rheault
photo by Cody Rheault
A helicopter, a gyrocopter and many planes buzzed overhead and the engines of vintage hot rods and drag racers roared at Sisters Eagle Airport on Thursday, July 4, as hundreds of Sisters residents and visitors showed up to celebrate a power-packed Independence Day for the 7th annual Wings & Wheels Fly-in & Car Show.

The weather was perfect — blue skies without a hint of wind as people of all ages lined up for pancakes that Sisters Rotary Club provided for those early risers attending the event.

Sisters Eagle Airport is celebrating 83 years this year — originally built and opened by George Wakefield in 1936.

The morning kicked off with a heartwarming flag drop brought in by Skydive Awesome, coupled with the playing of the National Anthem.

More than a dozen small aircraft were on display, along with over 40 vintage cars of every description, with helicopter rides by Leading Edge Aviation.

Many were there to admire flying machines that went back to the 1930s. Others took a trip down memory lane browsing through vintage vehicles.

Bill Hall stood proudly next to his black 1932 Ford 3-Window Coupe equipped with suicide doors and a running board that his grandfather built over 65 years ago (see related story, page 7).

“He made really unique hot rods out of quality cars,” Hall said.

Right next to the 1932 Ford Coupe was Bill Leininger’s, 1933 Chevy Coupe, also built by Hall’s grandfather. Hall and Leininger met unexpectedly last July 4th at Sisters Eagle Airport just to find out they had a lot in common.

Sisters resident Mike Macon was enjoying the celebration and was happy to have his 2016 Piper Super Cub plane with him.

He noted, “It’s a 1940s design of Piper Super Cub and it’s made with new material from Yakima, Washington. It’s really just like an Alaskan bush plane.”

Lynn Woodward, singer and fiddler for the Anvil Blasters, was having a good time walking around socializing her young dog Pretty Boy Floyd.

“This event is hometown, its history and it’s fascinating,” Woodward told The Nugget. “All the pride and the effort, and it’s a Sisters tradition.”

Woodward left the present behind a moment to reminisce a few happy moments in her past when she attended the Sisters Eagle Airport Fly-in two years ago, shortly before her mother passed away.

“I brought my mom here, which turned out to be three weeks before she died,” said Woodward. “She had the best time ever. She recognized the old models of the cars back to when she was a child and took her first helicopter ride. She was a little scared but was absolutely thrilled. It was one beautiful way to cap off the last few weeks. It was really special and nostalgic for me.”

The crowd cheered as “Gyro Tom” Smith skirted across the sky in his gyrocopter.

“Gyro Tom is always out here at the airport playing around,” said airport owner Benny Benson. “Not a lot of people can fly them like that so it’s worth watching.”

Smith, a Sisters resident, is a war veteran and was a medevac helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1969.

“Later on, I got my license to fly a helicopter up in Alaska for Evergreen. After that I got out of aviation,” Smith said. “It’s been on my bucket list to get back into it and I have with my gyrocopter. It’s my toy.”

Smith purchased his gyrocopter three years ago as a kit and built over 50 percent of the unique flying machine himself.

The gyrocopter was invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva. In 1921 he participated in a design competition to develop a bomber for the Spanish military. His goal was to develop an aircraft that could fly safely at low speeds. The result was the first successful rotorcraft, which he named Autogiro in 1923.

Smith added, “A gyrocopter, unlike a helicopter, has no power going to the rotor blades. That’s what makes them so safe. It’s a big disc like a frisbee and you can tilt it like you would a hang glider. It’s a weight-shift thing and it’s got one thrust propeller that pushes you.”

The day wrapped up with a series of drag races.

Sisters resident Ann Richardson and her three corgis Groover, Ripple, and Dolly come to the event every year.

“It grows every year,” Richardson said. “It’s a very different type of 4th of July event. It’s very uniquely Sisters.”

Airport co-owner Julie Benson added, “It’s really nice to provide a community event where all the locals show up. It’s a fun event promoting aviation, and the kids get to watch!”