PORTLAND – Thousands of people descended on the Portland International Jetport on Saturday, but they weren’t toting luggage or waiting to be checked by security.

And instead of hopping on commercial airlines to destinations around the world, they had the opportunity to climb into an array of aircraft right from the tarmac.

The seventh annual Portland International Jetport Aeronautical Expo continues through today.

“It’s to get people beyond getting on a carrier airline. There’s more to aviation than that,” said Airport Director Paul Bradbury.

As people of all ages milled about among smaller planes, others flocked to a military plane and helicopter parked at the far end of the tarmac.

Isaac and Zoe Dinnerstein of Cape Elizabeth patiently waited their turn to sit inside the cockpit of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter.

“It’s cool,” said Isaac, 8, and his sister Zoe, 5, agreed.

“It’s just very complicated,” he said, looking toward the cockpit. “It’s cool how people invented all this stuff.”

Nick Stahl, a flight medic with the Army National Guard, was nearby telling attendees all about the aircraft. The helicopter, based out of Bangor, is still used on missions and can transport as many as 12 ambulatory patients, he said.

As he opened a hatch in the bottom of the helicopter, Stahl pointed out a cargo hook to Bryant Feyler, 6, of Westbrook. That hook can carry a 5,000-pound concrete weight that the crew trains with, Stahl said.

“The idea is to get people out on the tarmac,” said Greg Hughes, the jetport’s marketing manager. “They get to get up close and personal to look at aircraft and talk to the pilots.”

Bradbury said the event also helps promote “passion in the young people” toward aviation.

Heads tilted to cloudy skies as three brightly colored parachutes glided through the air, powered by a small engine. The demonstration by the Chuting Eagles Powered Parachute Team was one of few active elements to the “mostly static” show, Hughes said.

Others included demonstrations of radio-controlled aircraft and paid rides in a helicopter or biplane.

The expo offered something for everyone, even those up for a bit of a challenge. Nineteen teams competed in the annual Multiple Sclerosis Society of Maine “Plane Pull” fundraiser. The goal was to see which team could pull the 200,000-pound Fed Ex Boeing 757 across a span of 12 feet the fastest.

Each team spread its 25 people out along the length of a rope, bracing for the moment the announcer said, “One. Two. Three. Pull.”

They pulled with all their might like a game of tug of war against the plane.

The fastest time was clocked by a team from Time Warner Cable, coming in at 5.059 seconds.

The teams raised about $25,000 for the organization, Hughes said.

“The real winner of the plane pull is the MS Society,” he said.

The expo continues from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today. Admission and parking are free. For more information, visit www.portlandjetport.org.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

ebouthillette@pressherald.com