How Do You Exhibit High-Tech Aircraft? With Serious Precision and a Lot of Space

The Vertical Flight Society brings uncommonly large (and expensive) exhibits for its highly technical audience.

Founded just as the first U.S. helicopter was put into service in 1943, The Vertical Flight Society is the world’s oldest and largest technical society dedicated to the field of vertical flight technology.

David Renzi has been the principal coordinator of VFS’ Annual Forum & Technology Display for about two decades, coordinating sales and sponsorships. The 77-year-old event serves a specialized global technical community, drawing top players in the aerospace engineering community (about 1,400 attendees annually).

The meeting comprises as many as 15 parallel sessions focused on various technical disciplines, such as aircraft design or dynamic influence on vertical flight aircraft. “At its nucleus, it’s really a technical meeting,” Renzi says.

Along with those sessions, about 75 exhibitors set up displays in a 75,000-square-foot exhibit hall in booths varying in size from standard 10-by-10-foot exhibit spaces to 50-by-50-foot ones.

Not only are some of the items exhibited uncommonly large, but they’re unwieldy and extremely valuable, including high-tech vertical flight aircraft. Naturally, bringing these to an event requires a delicate dance of planning and logistical precision coupled with top expertise — and plenty of open space.

One of Renzi’s most memorable conference moments happened in Virginia Beach, a destination where the event is often hosted. “Probably one of my fondest memories is when we landed an MV-22 aircraft [a Marine Corps combat aircraft] in the parking lot,” he says.

To pull off such a feat, “a lot of coordination goes on with the city and police and fire department,” Renzi says. Beyond the expert team, “not too many facilities have a campus that can accommodate such a request. It’s nice to be able to have space to do such a thing.”

The event also requires substantial sign-offs from local fire and rescue departments, and attending to logistical hurdles including blocking off roads, clearing parking lots, and even taking down utility or telephone poles or lighting fixtures for clearance. “But I don’t have to worry about that after we come up with a plan,” Renzi says. “Virginia Beach seems to have everything understood — and we just do it.”

Well, there was one caveat when it came to the MV-22, he explains: “The only thing I didn’t plan for was having to re-mulch the parking lot after it took off!”

Indeed, the Vertical Flight Society’s annual event requires a rare combination of space, permits, logistics and a team with a sophisticated level of technical expertise. But for a successful result, it also requires convenience and comfort for attendees.

Each year, the event takes over two to four hotels, which he says must be “convenient and accommodating and close to the convention center,” as they always are in Virginia Beach.

Beyond that, Virginia Beach affords a vibe that suits this crowd, Renzi says. “It’s a very relaxed environment, and our attendees love being there. Our other destinations have more of a high-energy, downtown feel. But the meetings in Virginia Beach always seem more laid back. And it’s always good for our attendees to reduce stress [amid] the natural surroundings of the seashore.”

With in-person meetings on the upswing, Renzi says he expects his group to confirm a return to Virginia Beach within the next few months.

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(Vertical Flight Society)