Friday, April 24, 2009

Sun'n'Fun and the power of Twitter

You can see from the posts below that I spent most of last week in Florida, at the Sun'n'Fun fly-in. Second in size only to Oshkosh, this fly-in marks the beginning of flying season for most folks. I managed to visit it last year by cadging a ride in a Piper Aztec which was great fun, but this year I'd have to fly commercial.

Now, for the uninitiated, Twitter is like a cross between text messaging and a chat room. You can access it from virtually anywhere, on any device, and send messages telling what you're doing, where you are, how you're feeling or whatever. People choose to follow you, so your followers will see these messages (tweets) and likewise, you will see those for people you follow. It's one of these things that the more you use it, the better it becomes.

So (like most people) I'd been mentioning on Twitter that I was going, and @foxwhisperer and I decided to share a cab from Tampa airport. @girlswithwings decided to join us, so when I arrived at Tampa, they were waiting for me. We jumped in a cab and although we had Greyhound bus tickets, we elected to take the cab all the way to Lakeland as between the three of us, it really didn't cost much more than getting a second cab at the other end as we'd otherwise have to do, and meant we didn't have to wait for buses etc: two extra hours at the show!

In the cab: @girlswithwings on the left, @foxwhisperer on the right

When we arrived on site, @foxwhisperer was being met by one of the Seaplane ladies, Sharon, who was very kind and bundled the lot of us into her car to take us into the show. We bought our wristbands and went in. @girlswithwings wanted to go to the Ultralight area to find her friend, Arty Trost, who flew a Maxair Drifter from Oregon to Florida for the show. Read about her here, she's a star. We ended up camping next to Arty's aeroplane - that's my little yellow tent in the background of the pic in the link! This was great as the ultralight field is pretty central in the showground. We also lucked out in the facilities - there was a very shiny shower truck near us. Always important ;-)

So the week passed in a blur of early mornings - up at 6am each morning to watch the balloons - and evenings at the bar and/or at the presentations that were happening on site.

@wilcofilms, @pilot2b and @girlswithwings at the bar

There's glorious video action of us all at the bar too, courtesy of @Daveflys! Click here to see us all (warning: even me!). @Daveflys is a star, he supplied many of us with breakfast waffles, coffee, beer and transport during the week.

Days were spent watching the world-standard aerobatic shows and, of course, the masses and masses of aircraft that abounded on site. Also, off site; the seaplanes were based at Fantasy of Flight again on Lake Agnes and were even better than last year!

Here's Kermit Weeks flying his gorgeous Grumman Duck for our pleasure (and his, I'll bet!) - wish I had sound on this:

And how about a Micro Mong while we're at it?

I could rave on about seaplanes all day; go see the pics here if you want more. I spent all day at the seaplane base before catching the last shuttle bus back to Lakeland. I wandered over to the Sun'n'Fun Radio station which seemed to be the Twitterers' impromptu base for the week and got there in time to watch and listen to @Daveflys (left) and @Pilotwill (right) record their podcast. @Girlswithwings was their first guest:

After this, we all decamped to the restaurant at the end of the field, Brima, for a Tweetup which had been organized on-line before the show. This turned out to be really good, with about 25 people showing up for it. Hello to @airpigz and @bladedoc and anyone else who was there that I've missed. Big thanks to @stephenforce, @rodrakic and @foreflight for dinner. There's pictures here but you may need to be a member of MyTransponder to view them.

I have met a lot of really cool people during this week; lots of new friends, many of whom are active in the blogging/podcasting/new media sphere, most of whom are pilots, some of them get paid to fly, some don't. It has been my absolute pleasure to spend the week with them all.

This is not to forget the people I already knew, of course! It was great to see Nic, who I spent a lot of time with talking about various things; also friends from San Antonio and Lakeland itself, and also some folks from ISAP, who I see at these events.

One new experience I'd been looking forward to for a long time was the night airshow. They had a few acts that each had more and more lights, flares, fireworks and anything else that could give off light attached to the aircraft, as darkness fell the acts got brighter.

Here we have the AeroShell aerobatic team with flares illuminating their smoke:

They were preceded by the Aerostars Yak team with flares, and followed by the Super Chipmunk which also left bright smoke trails while it flew lazy aerobatics, firing off Roman candles every now and again.

The Army Golden Knights came out to play, with each parachutist trailing a giant sparkler. Then last came Otto the Helicopter, who was almost undiscernible amongst the massive amount of fireworks radiating from him.

The last major event was on Saturday morning with the balloon launch; this is also in a blog entry just below this one. I got very lucky; because @girlswithwings and I had been out each morning to watch and help them launch, when I wandered along the crowdline, I managed to catch the eye of Kevin the pilot. He beckoned me over and allowed me to get in amongst the balloons. This was cool, and even cooler when he told me to remove my shoes and get inside the envelope - a few other photographers and I got the opportunity to image the burner flames from inside the envelope! Pictures yet to come - I've not had time to process the entire week's shots yet.

The last one here is from just before the balloon launch - every morning, we had this fabulous ground mist on the showground. Here's a shoal of aeroplanes swimming through the dawn...

Later on, I packed up my camping gear and was picked up by @pilotwill and @wilcofilms in the ubiquitous golf cart (standard Sun'n'Fun transport!), which took us to their car. They very kindly took me back to Tampa airport, thus avoiding the whole taxi/bus/taxi/several hours scenario that otherwise awaited me.

So this whole week was completely transformed; from the expectation that I'd be on my own (with the exception of meeting up with Nic), to spending so much time socialising with like-minded people; all because of one little Web application: Twitter.

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