May 12

By Jacob Mann

The Alaska Airmen’s Association held their 25th annual Great Alaska Aviation Gathering for the first time in the Mat-Su May 8 and May 9.

The annual aviation trade show is normally held in the Fed Ex hanger at the Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, but it was moved to the Alaska State Fairgrounds and Palmer Municipal Airport.

Over 100 aviation-related vendors, including flight schools, parts suppliers, and aircraft manufacturers participated in this year’s event.

This year’s event featured aircraft static displays, helicopter rides, demonstrations, youth aviation activities and career fairs, food trucks, live music with a beer garden, a swap meet, and a show and shine aircraft show. There was even a water-bombing demonstration by the Alaska Department of Forestry.

The Alaska Airmen’s Association presented scholarships to 2021 recipients pursuing careers in the aviation industry toward the end of the first day of the event, with Gov. Mike Dunleavy and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan congratulating the winners.

“I think it’s the future for a lot of our youngsters… I know a lot of you have thought about this for some time,” Dunleavy said. “Alaska is the flying state. We have more pilots and we have more planes per capita… You guys are the ones who make the planes fly… I look forward to hearing about what happens to you guys in the future. I’m sure it’s gonna be really good stuff.”

This year’s winners received over $40,000 worth of scholarships, according to the Alaska Airmen’s Association website. The scholarship presentation was particularly unique this year.

The check was delivered by two skydivers from the Alaska Skydive Center after making a jump right above the fairgrounds, landing just a few yards away from the ceremony near the farm exhibits, prompting the surrounding crowd to erupt in applause.

Scholarship recipient Aras Sirvelis said the skydiving demonstration was an extra sweet cherry on top of an unforgettable day. He said that having the event outdoors and in the Valley added so much more excitement with more flying activities and demonstrations than usual.

Sirvelis said that he finished his pilot license in 2018 and he’s currently attending UAA with the intent to open his own aviation business. He said this is his third time receiving the scholarship, and it’s helped him pay for education.

“This has helped significantly with that and allowed me to continue piloting as well as maintenance,” Sirvelis said. “It’s everything I do. I eat, sleep, and eat aviation.”

Sirvelis said that he grew up around the Merrill Field Airport, and that likely played a pivotal role in his inspiration to pursue piloting and aircraft engineering. He said that being up in the air is beyond compare, and there’s nothing else like it.

“It’s basically complete freedom,” Sirvelis said.