Just about every pilot has a favorite airport, and most have their own ideas of what makes one stand out from the others.
A few months ago, we asked our readers to nominate the best airport in the South. Several named Brunswick/Oak Island Airport (SUT) at Southport, N.C., as the clear winner.
“Howie Franklin and his team know how to make you feel very special whether you are local or passing through,” wrote Forrest Walton. “Of all the airports I have visited, this one ranks Number One for friendliness, attitude, service, and all around sensitivity to the general and flying public.” Even Shadow, the resident Labrador retriever, makes everyone welcome while keeping a careful eye on the place, he said.
Doug Deal and his wife fly their Piper Arrow to Southport from Roxboro every couple of weeks, ‘so our plane spends almost half its time at SUT,” Deal wrote. “The people who work there are a great bunch who enjoy what they do and treat us like we are somebody.”
Deal also noted that resident mechanic Kevin Stephenson, an IA and pilot, is “equal to the best of any in the U.S.”
Robert Swanson is another reader who nominated Brunswick County Airport, “managed by Howie Franklin, who has to be the best greeter in North Carolina. An arrival there is a warm-hearted welcome to all the hospitality North Carolina has to offer.”
In talking with readers about the best airports, a common thread we found is that many connect an airport with a restaurant or local attractions.
Bill Walker, a contributor to this publication, likes a short grass strip called Stanton’s, near Bennettsville, S.C. This is not the nearby Marlboro County Jetport, you understand, but a private field with a barbecue restaurant at one end, which is why Walker likes it so much. It’s about three miles south of Gibson, N.C., and it’s on the Charlotte sectional chart. Walker insists that friendly Stanton’s has the South’s – thus the world’s – best barbecue. Call them on 122.9 if you”re in the neighborhood.
John Latz, a physician from North Carolina, likes Moore County Airport (SOP) because it is close to Pinehurst, “America’s greatest golfing resort.” He told us that the FBO at SOP plays host to many well-known golf professionals and instructors with “courtesy and politeness,” which certainly is a good reason for favoring an airport.
Another physician, Phil Smith of Griffin, Ga., says that Edgefield County Airport (6J6) at Trenton, S.C., is his favorite. He says its two turf runways – one of 3,000 feet, the other 2,275 feet – are as welcoming as the friendly staff. If it weren”t for the trees and power lines it would be perfect, he avers, but adds that anyone at the airport can give directions to good restaurants – he likes Ric-Racks – and maybe drive you there.
Kent Misegades likes airports where he can combine the joy of flying with Southern culture. One of his favorites is Curtis Brown Field (EYF) at Elizabethtown, N.C., where Oscar Taylor runs Taylor Aviation. Not only is Taylor a courteous and helpful man, but the town’s the site of the “Tory Hole,” where Southerners defeated the British during the American Revolution.
Wilkes County Airport (IIY) at Washington, Ga., also is on Misegades” list of outstanding airports. The town features some 100 “lovely antebellum homes that somehow were spared Sherman’s wrath,” and there is a mystery, as well: It is where the Confederate treasury’s gold vanished, and has stayed vanished to this day. One time, Misegades arrived at IIY, forced down by thunderstorms, after the FBO had closed. He called 911 from a pay phone and soon had a ride to town with the sheriff, who not only provided a ride and a lot of local lore, but recommended the Jameson Inn and the Huddle House restaurant, both of which turned out to be friendly, inexpensive and notably clean. Furthermore, the sheriff drove him back to the airport next morning. Now, that’s Southern hospitality.
Pryor Field (DCU) at Decatur, Ala., is “a nice airfield in a great Southern town,” Misegades told us. Decatur-Athens Aero Services at DCU has been run by the same family for 30 years and is another example of friendly, efficient service. He also recommended the coconut cream pie at Big Bob Gibson’s.
Bedford Brown of Sunbury, S.C., flies to Suffolk Executive Airport (SFQ) in Virginia a lot and likes the fact that the airport people will take you to nearby restaurants and other destinations. He particularly enjoys Herbert Brinkley’s restaurant, which has been around for more than 50 years and is less than five minutes from the airport. In the same general vicinity, we like Hampton Roads Executive Airport, and not just because fuel is dispensed by the lovely Aprille Canniff. The whole staff is friendly, helpful and eager to make one’s visit a pleasure, which is enhanced considerably by the old-fashioned lunch counter with its rich, old-fashioned milkshakes.
Another airport we recommend is Crisfield Municipal (W41) on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. With one paved and one turf runway, everything from ultralights to business turboprops can make use of the place. We haven”t been there since Jocelyn Quintanilha took over as manager, but when Max McCready was there you could count on a ride to town – otherwise a three mile walk – and a pot of hot soup every winter Sunday, when characters from as far away as Pennsylvania would fly in for good company.
Another good bet: Dare County Regional (MQI) at Manteo, N.C., which is not only close to Kitty Hawk, but its terminal building holds a fascinating small museum, mostly concerning the World War II era when it was a busy Naval Air Station.
North Carolina’s Elizabeth City (ECG) shares the GA field with a Coast Guard station, but the unique thing about it is the blimps. For as long as the Navy and Coast Guard flew blimps, they were based at Elizabeth City. Today the giant wooden blimp hangar is gone, burned to the ground several years ago, but numerous commercial blimps are based there and always are a fascinating sight.
Shadetree Airport (MS82) at Gulfport, Miss., was nominated as the best by Danny Miller, who happens to own the field. It’s a 3,000 foot grass strip featuring Wednesday night cookouts and its own 1928 fire engine. The shade comes from a grove of live oaks around a picnic area, all of which we hope survived Hurricane Katrina. Shadetree started out as a moonshine field in the 1950s, but now has 25 airplanes based there in “one nice hangar and the rest of the pole barn type,” he said.
The Southern Aviator is continuing to look for the best of the South, whether a favorite airport, restaurant, resort, beach, fishing spot – any person, place or thing recommended by a reader as the best.
Tell us about your favorites in an e-mail to TNorton@Southern-Aviator.com or call 877-519-1672.