IBJ: Your annual Fly In and open house is scheduled for Sept. 28 and 29. How did it begin?
Miller: It started 19 years ago, beginning with just a bunch of pilotsinformally getting together, roasting a couple of turkeys, talking about flying and telling war stories and other lies about their flying accomplishments. I came on board about 10 years ago and added a car show, too.
IBJ: Who hosts the car show?
Miller: Initially, it was a car club called the Jerseyville Street Machines. In the beginning, we had 15 to 20 cars. But the car show has continued to grow. Last year we had more than 125 cars in that show. Other organizations like the Alton Antique Automobile Association started getting involved and people who just have a car but are not part of a group bring them out for the event as well. We started the car show because we recognized that a lot of the antique aircraft were dropping out of sight. You can put a car on a trailer and haul it somewhere, but an airplane has to maintain its air worthiness certificates - and if you’re going to take it someplace, you’re going to have to fly it to get it there.
IBJ: How many planes come in for the Fly In and where do they come from?
Miller: We get a lot of them from the St. Louis Metroplex area as well as all of Central and Southern Illinois. Some fly in from Southern Missouri. We have about 100 airplanes that come in. Some of them are privately owned types of aircraft that you would see all of the time. There are World War II vintage aircraft, but none of the World War I vintage aircraft are still flying.
We usually try to get some centerpiece aircraft in here. For example, in the past we’ve had the Ozark Airlines DC-3. There’s a group in Pennsylvania that wants to bring a C-123 in. The pilots come in in the morning, land, leave their airplane on the ramp and people can come up and talk to them. Some of them even let people sit in the cockpit. These folks are proud of their planes. They like to talk about them. Like with anybody’s hobby, they’re eager to share it with other people. By 4 p.m. in the afternoon, it’s essentially over. At that point in time we get all of the pilots together. We award trophies for things like the best restoration, the best multi-engine, the best single-engine planes, etc.
IBJ: What is the program on Sunday?
Miller: The aircraft and auto show are Sat., Sept. 28. On the following day, Sun., Sept. 29, the Experimental Aircraft Association offers free flights for children through its Young Eagles program. That’s from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
IBJ: What is meant by experimental aircraft?
Miller: The Experimental Aircraft Association is a national association. A lot of these people build their own airplanes. The name sounds kind of scary, but most of the members have store-bought airplanes - Cessnas and Malibus and stuff like that. All of their pilots have to be certified to do this. I think about two or three years ago they finally passed their one millionth kid that they gave a flight to.
IBJ: What are the age limits on those flights?
Miller: The age limits are eight through 17, and parental approval is required.
IBJ: Why does the Experimental Aircraft Association provide this Young Eagles program?
Miller: Because they realize the importance of introducing youth to the fun of flying. As with any organization, if you don’t pay attention to the youngsters, pretty soon your organization is going to die. The EAA saw that people were losing an interest in flying. And when that happens, there won’t be as many airplanes and there won’t be as many airports, and it just dwindles down from there.
IBJ: Why does St. Louis Regional Airport hold this Fly In every year?
Miller: From the Airport Authority’s perspective, we look at this as an open house. Since we’re neighbors, let’s be friends. We attract 5,000 to 7,000 people over the two days. We enjoy a very good relationship with the community. And I think the community generally understands the economic importance of the airport to the community. My staff and I are out there during the Fly In. It’s an opportunity for people to talk to us, whether it’s about political issues, flying safety issues or economic development issues. We’re available to engage in those conversations.