Gator Fly-In to bring civilian and military aviators together in public event

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -- The annual Gator Fly-In will take place Saturday, with aviators from around the Southeast descending on Gainesville Regional Airport for a day of aircraft appreciation.

An aerial view of the University Air Center at Gainesville Regional Airport, where the Gator Fly-In will be held Saturday.

This is the second year in a row for the event, which serves as a venue for both military and civilian pilots to meet each other and attendees. The event, which is free and open to the public, will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

"It's all about celebrating our armed services, our Gator Aviators, our distinguished visitors, and anybody who likes to fly," said Gainesville Regional Airport Spokesperson Erin Porter.

Aircraft like Beech T-34s, Robinson 44 Helicopters and Cessna 172s will be available to rent for "Swamp Tours," which take visitors for an aerial tour of the airport and the University of Florida.

The military tie-in brings in both active service members and veterans alike.

"As much as they come in here and they're able to be part of our community, we want to support them and thank them for all their hard work and sacrifices that they give to us," said Pamela Landis from University Air Center. "So we have military from young to old that we want to just reach out and say 'thank you' to."

Lieutenant Mary Kiekintveld flew in on an MH-60R helicopter from Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

"I think it's great to represent the Navy and show people what we do, and also for me I want to be an example for young women," Kiekintveld said.

Meanwhile, veterans from the Commemorative Air Force also flew in to show off old planes, like a 1955 Beechcraft T34B.

"[People's] eyes light up. That would be the first thing and they say 'oh wow, I want to take a ride in that,'" said Mike McGowan, a colonel in the Commemorative Air Force and a veteran.

McGowan flew in from Peachtree City, Georgia for the event. He says the plane is a living piece of history he looks forward to showing off.

"It's part of American history, and being a patriot," McGowan said. "Without these airplanes we may be speaking another language."

The opening ceremony for Gator Fly-In starts at 8 a.m., with activities, live music, and aircraft tours starting at 9 a.m.