It’s probably the coolest annual air show to occur in a space just a bit smaller than a city block. And this year’s event takes place during HAI HELI-EXPO 2023, Mar. 6–9 (exhibits open Mar. 7–9) at the Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC) in Atlanta, Georgia.
During the 2023 Fly-In/Fly-Out, dozens of helicopters will arrive at the GWCC immediately before the show opens and depart soon after it closes. The event is a dream for aviation photographers and helicopter aficionados who gather at a safe distance, and it’s the exciting result of significant amounts of work.
Planning and coordination efforts for HAI HELI-EXPO flight operations begin months in advance, with the HAI staff working closely with representatives from the local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), convention center staff, and even local emergency services agencies. The overarching goal is always to establish appropriate routes and procedures that ensure safe flight operations both into and out of the Expo convention center.
In most cases, the vertiport is a parking lot or truck staging area. Representatives from each organization and other stakeholders conduct inspections to ensure the vertiport is safe to land the smallest and largest rotorcraft. Lighting systems may require temporary modifications, and shrubs or trees may need pruning. The space is also cleaned of FOD (foreign object debris) and other trash. One of the final steps is applying the giant “H” to indicate the center of the landing area.
HAI also works with representatives from a fixed-base operator (FBO) at a nearby airport for the fly-in/fly-out. Since the landing area is comparatively small, aircraft arriving at and departing from the show usually stage from a local airport. The team from HAI also arranges for tow vehicles and cranes to assist in removing rotor blades from and replacing them on large aircraft that might not otherwise fit through convention-center doors. If required, HAI also secures the services of a portable control tower and flight manager.
Safety is always paramount during the fly-in/fly-out, so mandatory pilot briefings are held each arrival day. Only pilots who have attended the briefing are permitted to fly an aircraft to the site, and no passengers aside from essential crew are permitted on board.
As show floor–ready aircraft arrive, the pilot makes radio contact with the landing zone coordinator, HAI’s director of flight operations and maintenance, Zac Noble. Zac provides updated wind and landing conditions, then provides final landing directions through standard arm signals.
Once an aircraft lands, crews quickly secure it, prepare it for towing, and move it out of the landing area. Depending on a variety of conditions, aircraft land about every 10 to 15 minutes, providing a true air show experience.