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Hangar hangout snowballs into food truck festivals

The president of the newly formed nonprofit Vermont Aviators Association Inc. is a relative newcomer to general aviation. In a video chat, Ryan Bliss explained how he came to love GA while stuck in traffic on his daily commute between Nashua, New Hampshire, and Waltham, Massachusetts. In those conga lines of cars and trucks that crawled along Route 3 past the local airport, he would look up and watch Cessnas and Pipers landing and departing Boire Field and think, “What a great time that would be.” But Bliss had no family or friends involved in aviation, and was not sure where to start. “It was completely new to me.”

A phone call to the airport led to a discovery flight in January 2018, and Bliss is now an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Van’s RV–10 and a hangar at Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, and a home nearby into which he moved with his wife in 2021.

“I just love everything in aviation, want to share it with everyone else, and get as many people involved as possible,” Bliss said. He found like-minded pilots among the hangars at the Rutland airport, and summer cookouts evolved into a food truck event in October—“just a beta test, to see if anybody would show up.”

The Rollin' Rooster sold more chicken than anyone expected at the Vermont Aviators Association's food truck test event at Rutland Airport in October. Photo courtesy of Ryan Bliss.

The Rollin’ Rooster, Rutland-based purveyor of “cluckin’ awesome fried chicken,” answered the call, along with Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream (arguably Vermont’s best-known culinary exporter), which dispatched a mobile unit to the event that proved the potency of mixing deliciousness with an open invitation to get an up-close look at aircraft.

“We ended up getting a huge turnout, way more than I expected,” Bliss recalled, adding that the Rollin’ Rooster “sold a ton of chicken [and] did really well.”

Well enough, in fact, that the chicken slingers and ice cream bringers will be back at the Rutland airport on June 12, with two other mobile eateries: Squeels on Wheels and True Texas Smokehouse.  North Country Heliflite, which offers scenic tours of the Adirondack and Green Mountains out of Harris Airport in Fort Ann, New York, will dispatch a Robinson R44 to offer five-minute rides for $45. SD Air Service Corp., the local aircraft maintenance and fabrication shop, will host a free workshop on landing gear (wheels and brakes) maintenance for pilots.

Ryan Bliss earned a private pilot certificate and instrument rating and bought a Van's RV–10 less than four years after a January 2018 discovery flight. Photo courtesy of Ryan Bliss.

Bliss said a Facebook user who spotted that workshop on the association’s new Facebook page inquired if there is an age limit. Bliss was happy to extend the welcome to supervised children, and “her 11-year-old son is going to attend the workshop.” There is always a chance that seeing airplanes up close, and seeing how they work, might inspire lifelong interest in any number of aerospace pursuits, and perhaps more than one. “We’’e really excited to have, you know, a youngster coming to one of those classes.”

The Food Truck Festival is billed as “a fly-in/drive-in event” that will be held June 12 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free (food is available to purchase), and the hourlong maintenance workshop begins at 10 a.m. This will not be the association’s first event of 2022, either: A similar event (with different food trucks) is planned June 4 at Vermont’s northernmost charted airport, Franklin County State Airport in Highgate, Vermont. Ben & Jerry’s will dispatch dessert to that one, also, with Mo’s Backyard BBQ, Glory Burger, and Taco Truck All Stars serving lunch on the field from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. North Country Heliflite will also be on hand, offering rides. (The company also gives helicopter instruction.)

Sponsors have provided raffle prizes for both events: Cape Air (which serves Rutland) has put tickets into the prize pool for Rutland, and Whelen Aerospace Technologies furnished a Parmetheus G3 LED landing light for the northern Vermont event.

“It’s turned into a bigger thing,” Bliss said, noting that several additional events are being planned. “But it’s all so much fun. We all love it. We really just want to bring the rest of the community that may not have the exposure to aviation that we’ve been lucky enough to have into the aviation world. And just to see it and be around it, and just understand you don’t have to be a millionaire to fly a plane. There’s ways to do it that’s affordable, through clubs.”

Vermont's best-known ice cream maker will dispatch mobile units to two events coming up at Vermont airports in June. Photo courtesy of Ryan Bliss.

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