It’s called Buchan Aiport, but that’s a little much. The old-fashioned grass runway means it’s more like an air strip or air field. There’s a sign outside the front gate:
“Golfing Prohibited On Airport Property.”
At the 7th annual Fly-In on Saturday morning, non-golfers were welcome to the air field on Old Englewood Road. A few hundred fans gathered to admire a few dozen planes. Pilots from across the state flew to Buchan Airport. There were stunt planes, biplanes and experimental aircraft. Some buzzed the runway before circling around for a landing.
For Dick Solar, a former Army pilot, it was a short flight from Punta Gorda. It took him just 15 minutes from easy takeoff to cushy landing.
"Grass is nice," he said. "As pilots, we say it’s a little more forgiving.”
While talking with people in Englewood, Solar kept an eye on all the planes arriving at the air field. He was grading the smoothness of each landing.
“That’s what pilots do,” he said, laughing. “He got a little bounce out of that one.”
Overheard at the Fly-In
“This is the taxiway. That’s the runway.”
“It’s got a full house of instruments.”
"And then you have to rent a place to store it.”
“You mean, with the prop I’ve got on it right now?”
“I better get breakfast before it gets too crowded.”
Life in flight
Most of the Fly-In pilots were older guys who loved to talk about their planes and themselves.
One pilot from Vero Beach was named Lee Dee.
"I had to go to school with that name," he joked. "Can you imagine that?"
Chuck Mason, an 84-year-old pilot from Nokomis, grew up in Massachusetts. He used to visit his grandfather, who lived across the street from what was then the East Boston Airport. "I had my tongue hanging out for a ride and somebody finally took me up," he said. “That’s how I got started. I was 6 years old.”
Solar, 67, enjoys what he calls the “folksiness” of a Fly-In.
“They do these all over the country,” he said. “You come in, talk to people, have a nice breakfast and take off.”
Some pilots seemed awkward, standing next to the grass runway, but Solar looked at ease.
He wore sunglasses, a baseball cap and a golf shirt tucked into his khaki shorts. He talked to people while polishing the bubble canopy that provides such a splendid view from the cockpit of his plane.
When I asked Solar if he’d ever crashed, he said no.
“I had a bird take my propeller off once — that was kind of exciting,” he said. “It was a buzzard, a turkey vulture. It took out one of the blades, so the engine was out of balance.
“The whole airplane started shaking violently. We landed in a farm field in the middle of nowhere.” Solar shrugs off the incident as part of being a pilot. He flies almost every day of the week. He has to make himself take time off. “We dedicate Thursdays to fishing,” he said, “because if we didn’t, then we’d never go.”