When people heard there might be an airshow at Richmond County Airport, during the Chamber’s monthly “business after hours” event, they arrived in a buzz of excitement Thursday evening.
As usual, “after hours” visitors dropped their names in a bowl, for the chance to win door prizes. After chowing down on a Smithfield’s Barbecue buffet, guests were surprised to learn that two of the door prize winners would receive a plane ride from local flying legend, Austin White.
“I started flying at this airport in 1951,” said White. “I did my first solo flight when I was 17.”
White said he took a 22 year break from flying, but kept his 1965 Cessna 182 in storage, knowing he would someday return to the skies.
Don Bryant and his wife, Sandy, won the plane ride. Sandy forfeited her winning ticket to Bob Weatherly, and the three gentlemen climbed in the plane.
“It just so happens that Austin taught me how to fly in the late 70’s,” said Bryant. “It’s probably been 20 years since I’ve been up in a little plane, but I’d rather ride in a small plane than a commercial liner any day of the week.”
Bryant said the Cessna had about $30,000 worth of upgraded equipment and instruments.
“The age of a plane has nothing to do with how well it flies, as long as it’s maintained,” said Bryant.”I’d fly anywhere with Austin. He’s only cracked one plane in all these years - and that was during an emergency landing when he was 17.”
The trio flew around what White called “the pattern,” giving them the ability to see most of the county from a bird’s eye view.
“When I was flying here in the 70’s, the airport didn’t look anything like it does today,” said Bryant. “It’s such a nice facility now - it’s come a long way.”
“I started here in 1969, and there have been so many improvements,” said Doyle Haigler, airport manager. “This facility has the reputation for being one of the nicest airports in the state.”
4.5 million was spent on upgrades in the past few years, according to County Manager, Rick Sago.
In addition to the Cessna flight, three powered parachutes were on display. The machines belonged to Steve and Jeanne Newton, Bill Martin and Rusty Jackson.
They considered offering rides on the two-seater crafts, but the wind wasn’t in their favor.
“You have to be really patient to use these,” said Jeanne. “You can’t just hop on and go whenever you feel like it. We’ll only go up if the wind is five miles per hour, or less.”
Newton said she and her husband typically travel at about 600-1,200 feet, giving them the opportunity to enjoy the view.
“We get to see all kinds of animals, which is really neat,” she said.
Parachuters often use the airport, as the gas-powered vehicles required a flat, open, space for take off and landing.
Ron Williams and Scott Tucker were on hand to demonstrate the National Guard helicopter.
“It’s a UH 72 Alpha Model, with the newest frame in military inventory,” said Tucker. “It’s used for everything from counter drug to medical transport missions.”
The dust flew when the chopper lifted off, almost making their dramatic departure unwatchable.
Staff writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org