It’s hard to believe another year has rolled around since Pickens County’s first Airport Appreciation Day. We were more prepared this year, having laid a lot of the groundwork last year. We knew our target audience. While we invite everyone to fly in, the public of Jasper, Pickens County and the surrounding areas are those we hope to attract.
We try to do this with rides that we hope will appeal to all income levels. As insurance and fuel prices increase, this is becoming harder and harder to come by. We also try to appeal to families with our “”Just For Kids Tent.”" This year the pilots splurged for 100 Front Porch Gang T-shirts to be given to the first 100 kids 12 and under. They also received bright yellow goodie bags full of aviation-related stuff, some donated by AOPA and some by our pilots.
While his wife, June, had the Kid’s Tent under control, Walt Burton sat patiently and rather bravely at a table in the second tent. In every one of those bright yellow bags was a single sheet of paper vividly colored with interesting shapes. If folded properly, those shapes created a fighter jet that stirred young imaginations. Walt volunteered to assist in the folding. When all the T-shirts were grabbed and all the yellow bags were gone, Walt and June calmly folded their chairs, limped to their car and went home for a much needed rest and recovery.
The third tent was mine. I called it the “”propaganda tent.”" The Georgia Department Of Transportation donated 100 Georgia aeronautical charts. AOPA sent a nice “”learning to fly”" brochure that was more adult oriented, and the Chamber of Commerce gave us some Pickens County maps. I also had some Pickens County brochures that I made up myself. To my right was a display that included the Georgia chart surrounded by pictures of the Front Porch Gang. It was a hit and lured the public over toward me where I robustly hawked the airport.
I was rather shocked that every single piece of paper was gleefully snatched from my table. The general public always appreciates freebies of any kind, and the aeronautical charts and learning to fly brochures gave them a view into a world they seldom experience. I even had a stately mature lady ask how she could join the Front Porch Gang. “”They look like my kind of folks,”" she determined. I told her there was no cost and that all she had to do was sit in a rocker on the porch and tell a bigger lie than Russ Epps. The last I saw of her she was clutching her bright yellow bag and trotting that way.
The event itself started out like last year’s with poor visibility and low ceilings. In fact, the ride planes didn’t get there until nearly lunch. Vintage Flights brought a PT-17 and T-6 Texan while Alpha Helicopters brought a Robinson R-44. This worried me, for as I say, I know my target audience. On the Fourth of July in Pickens County, the crowd attends the Lion’s Club parade at 10:30 a.m., then they head to the airport, and then after lunch as the heat and humidity build, they head toward the park for the shade of the trees and the entertainment found there. Our peak crowd is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The rides lost part of their customers. However, both companies were satisfied with their haul. Brian of Vintage Flights was ready for next year, and Mike of Alpha Helicopters announced that he would bring two helicopters next time.
Several days of preparation resulted in one day of tangible excitement that was quickly over. As some of us settled in our hangar after the day dwindled toward evening, we commented on our best moments. Russ said his was when a little girl thought he was Santa and wanted to give him her wish list early. Johnny’s was seeing the smile of the mentally and physically handicapped young man that he flew. David’s and the Old Man’s were also during flights with folks who had never flown before.
I think mine was during the height of the rush when I took a moment to stop and look around me. The crowd was large. Kids were all over Rogers’ Avid in the homebuilt display. Dan’s parachute was surrounded by smiling faces, too. In that moment, I knew our day was a success. When a lady asked if the aeronautical chart revealed where the aliens landed, I thought perhaps it was too successful. When she leaned toward me and whispered, “”Have you seen, ya know, anything strange up there?”" I knew she was serious. I gave her an honest answer and told her the only strange happenings I have seen in the sky were the antics of my fellow aviation brethren. She pondered that a moment and continued on.
Johnny would have said I deserved a “”Yeah you!”" after that one. I agree. Yeah me!