THOMASVILLE -- Though no airplanes were flying Saturday afternoon, spirits were soaring.

As many as 500 aircraft were expected for the 36th annual Thomasville Fly-In. Rainy weather, however, grounded the planes of many who were expected to participate. About 80 aircraft ended up making the trip to the Thomasville Municipal Airport Saturday.

Thomasville Aviation Club president and fly-in organizer Dr. Ronnie Bozeman said the success of the event is largely weather dependent and that this is the first time in fly-in history that the event has almost been rained out.

"We couldn't move it to another weekend," he said of the yearly event that draws people from Florida, Alabama and other parts of Georgia.

On the upside, said Bozeman, the lack of activity allowed those working the fly-in to mingle more than they would have been able to in past years. The weather could clear up today, he said, and more people could end up making the trip.

Russ and Helen Epps didn't let a little rain deter them from making the drive from Jasper. They got to Thomasville Friday night -- not by plane as is usually the case. This year, they came by car.

"It's just like a magnet for us," said Russ Epps of the fly-in. "We've never met a stranger down here."

This is the second year the couple has participated in the event, one they say is as much about socializing as it is about the planes. They visited the antique aircraft engine museum set up at the airport. Russ Epps, who works on planes for Lockheed Martin and owns a 1963 Champion 7HC, said he was astonished at the number of antique engines in the collection -- some of which even he had never heard of.

"To me, that's amazing," said Russ Epps.

Aviation artifact vendor Bob Hurd came from Weslaco, Texas, for the fly-in and had tapestries, pins, photographs, knives and other items for sale there Saturday. Among items being sold were a 1938 glass plane lamp he found in a junk shop in Iowa and early '30s art deco lamps shaped like Saturn he got from a bar that closed in Wisconsin. The price tag for the pair: $2,200.

"This pair struck my fancy," he said of the lamps made rarer by their intact rims.

Hurd travels around the country from fly-in to fly-in selling his artifacts, some of which he found on E-bay, and said the Thomasville Fly-In comes highly recommended.

Among the types of aircraft at the airport Saturday were a 1989 Reliant Piper Cub named "The Other Woman" from McAlpin, Fla., four short wing Pipers that came as a group with the Georgia Chapter of the Short Wing Piper Club and a group of seven antique Cessnas, the pilots of which live in Atlanta. A red-and-white Fairchild stood proudly in the grass as well as did a '20s-era Stinson Detroiter.

Lyle Wheeler, who lives in Sarasota, started his flying career at the age of 18 as a flight instructor at the University of Illinois. That job led to work as a bush pilot in Alaska and 37 years as a pilot for Pan Am. His 1946 Piper J3 Cub wasn't with him Saturday, but his love of all things aircraft was. Wheeler, 71, was taught to fly when he was 15 by a man who he said ended up becoming a second father to him. So far, he said, he has logged 42,600 hours -- about five years -- in flight.

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