Sentimental Journey is an old-fashioned sort of fly-in. It is a gathering of the like-minded more than an exhibition, a sharing of things rather than simply a selling of things. It is a wonderful place to simply sit beside your aircraft and smell the fresh-cut grass, to watch the activities on the grass and blacktop runways, to watch and listen for the aircraft as they pop over the ridgelines to the north and south and join the airport's traffic pattern.
The 20th Annual Sentimental Journey Fly-in occurred this past June 22nd through June 25th, on what turned out to be a string of beautiful summer days and nights in central Pennsylvania. Held at the picturesque Lock Haven Airport, this uncontrolled field with its 3,800-foot paved runway and a parallel 2,200-foot grass strip was once again a perfect hosting facility for what turned out to, as it perennially seems to, be a perfect fly-in destination.
Even though the official festivities were to begin on Wednesday, those who were intent on being early—a cushion for weather delays (none needed this year), a chance to pick up an optimum parking and/or camping site, or just a desire to spend more time in the famously-relaxed atmosphere of Sentimental Journey—airplanes of all sorts began arriving as early as Monday.
By Tuesday noon there were a dozen airplanes parked on the field in the neatly organized rows on the south side of the grass runway, and by Tuesday dinner time, the count had jumped to over two dozen.
There were lots of airplanes around (by Friday all the parking spots on the south side of the airport were full, and the extra parking spots on the northside blacktop areas were also quickly getting pretty well populated by every size, shape and brand of airplane in the light airplane fleet.
Pilots and spectators wandered among them all, taking in this cross section of 70-plus years of aircraft types that were turned, just for the fun of it, into an interesting and iconoclastic display of nearly all of General Aviation's alphabet.
"Just for the fun of it" is the sort of the unofficial theme of Sentimental Journey, where the folks in charge have managed to keep things neat, clean and organized without it becoming too official or too difficult. Time and again, pilots were overheard saying that this was their favorite fly-in to come to—and many of them have been coming annually to Lock Haven for many, many years— because it was always so easy and so laid-back.
There are 'rules', of course—but they are invariably more of the common-sense variety than any display of capricious officialdom. Sentimental Journey is the kind of place where they almost always find a way to accommodate any reasonable request.
If you sit by your own airplane, you'll have a gang of admirers wander by, take a peek, ask a question or make a comment about their own experience with such-and-such or this-and-that.
While the roots and origins of Sentimental Journey were originally Piper inspired (actually, Piper Cub inspired, since the official name of the fly-in is actually "Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven"), a goodly percentage of other airplane marques were represented everywhere along the parking line. Lots of Cessna airplanes, both vintage and modern, came and went during the course of the event.
There is, at Sentimental Journey, absolutely no sense of snobbery or us-versus-them when it comes to the type of horse that you rode in on. All breeds of horses are always welcome with open arms at this ranch, and that's one of the charms of the place.
A good example of exactly that sort of thing was a formation departure one late afternoon that included a return pass and fly-by of that particular gaggle that was well-received by the entire audience on the ground. That particular formation consisted of a big round-engined Stearman biplane and two Republic Seabee amphibians. A pair of beautiful polished-aluminum Cessna 170s arrived, parked, and got gobs of attention from the admiring crowd.
There are organized activities if you care to partake—seminars, presentations, a small vendor's area and the choice of food on-site is pretty darn good. Each evening had some sort of musical entertainment that ranged from Swing and Dixieland to other specialty players. Again, it was all done in such an easygoing way that it was—as you might expect—just an easy way to enjoy yourself if you elected to sit and listen.
The Sentimental Journey website (sentimentaljourneyfly-in.com) tells all and one visit there will provide you with all the data you need if you intend to prepare yourself for the 2006 21st annual fly-in.
No matter what sort of airplane you have, if you enjoy hanging around light airplanes and General Aviation, this is a good fly-in to plan on attending. Some folks come for a single day and some folks fly in with tents or hotel reservations and remain on-site for nearly a week, but I never one time heard anyone say afterward that they wished they hadn't come at all. That's a testimonial that should really matter when it comes to picking a future fly-in to give a try.
Editor-at-large Thomas Block has flown nearly 30,000 hours since his first hour of dual in 1959. In addition to his 36-year career as a US Airways pilot, he has been an aviation magazine writer since 1969 and a best-selling novelist. He owns an L-19 Bird Dog, which he contends is a straight cross between a Piper Super Cub and a highwing Cessna taildragger.