Airport struts its stuff at Wheels and Wings Aviation Day Saturday

The wild blue yonder came close to home Saturday at the Apalachicola Regional Airport, as more than 60 aircraft flew in, and hundreds of visitors stopped by for Wheels and Wings Aviation Day.

Presented by Centric Aviation, the airport’s fixed base operator, with funding support from the Tourist Development Council, the day offered a sunny opportunity for families to explore both new and historic aircraft, and to take a look at an airfield they may have never visited before.

Included in the fly-in were pilots from Georgia, Alabama and Florida, plus a visit from members of a Bonanza Flying Club out of Texas, who stayed overnight in town.

“We think the event was a great success,” said Tara Maugham, who co-owns Centric together with Andrew Hartman. “I have had many vendors, pilots and people from the surrounding community reach out to me with positive feedback.”

Maugham said she was particularly pleased at the success of the EAA (Experimental Aviation Association) Young Eagles Flights, which were free to for young people age 8 to 17. Three volunteer pilots, John Bone, Dr. AJ Brickler and Danny Deason, took a total of 80 kids up in their personal planes.

“That’s amazing. I cannot thank them enough for volunteering their time and resources to give kids this great opportunity,” said Maugham. “I had one mom tell me that her son now wants to be a pilot.

“Through this program kids are inspired to look into the opportunities that exist in the aviation industry. I'm so happy that we were able to coordinate with the volunteer pilots to have this opportunity available to the youth of Franklin County.”

Young people were also the focus of a table set up by Joseph Garcia, on behalf of the Lively Aviation Maintenance Technology School.

“He was very pleased with the turnout and the general response he received of people interested in information regarding continuing education in the aviation maintenance industry,” Maugham said.

Helicopter pilot Andre F. Connan was busy all day offering rides on behalf of his company KoolBreeze Helicopters, out of Tallahassee. He was proud of his 2015 Robinson R-44, one of the most popular light helicopters on the market today.

The Commemorative Air Force Dixie Wing, staffed by Cols. Larry Combs and Tony Stein, offered 20-minute rides in an historic P-51 Mustang, the kind that Geoff Hewell’s dad trained in during the war. Hewell climbed into the cockpit and savored his chance to relive history.

Buddy Bryan had a chance to show off his T-34 propeller-driven, single-engine, military trainer aircraft, as well as his T-28, a piston-engined military trainer dating back to the 1950s.

Percy Wood, a pilot from Sopchoppy, and David Pettit, from Columbus, Ohio, were both particularly impressed by the Beech AT-11 Kansan, owned by John Hess, an attack trainer which never crossed the ocean but was instrumental during the war in the instruction of gunners, navigators and bombardiers.

“That plane there is why we’re not speaking German today,” said Pettit as he watched it go airborne.

The US. Coast Guard brought its HC-144 Ocean Sentry, and Apalachicola Airport hangar tenant Mike Roehr showed off his Yakovlev Yak-52, a Soviet primary trainer aircraft which first flew in 1976.

In addition to conducting raffles throughout the day, and a car show that brought out a queue of fancy autos, the staff at the airport, Airport Manager Jason Puckett and receptionist Charlotte Bachman, spent the day meeting and greeting the folks who came out.