Like the rest of the country, Arkansas is suffering under the extremely cold weather we’ve been having. But when I arrived at Stuttgart Municipal airport on Saturday, January 10, the cold temperatures on the ramp were more than offset by the warmth of the welcome I received. Not only did area residents drive in to meet me, those from farther afield arrived in some 20 airplanes as well as a couple of helicopters. It made quite an impromptu display on the ramp.
Everything about this airport is a testimony to the resilience and dedication of the GA community. The airport was devastated in 2000 when a tornado ripped through the FBO, leaving total destruction in its wake. But after a lot of hard work, the local community has built the airport back up, turning it into a vibrant GA field.
After I arrived, I was lucky enough to have lunch with area pilots and business owners, as well as John Knight, director of the state’s department of aeronautics. Stuttgart flyer and jewelry store owner Bobby Wilkerson was kind enough to let us use his wonderfully warm hangar, complete with vintage vehicles, for lunch. We enjoyed a delicious regional specialty, catfish, and talked informally about the issues that matter most to pilots.
After lunch, I got to talk to the group about all that AOPA does, as well as the importance of getting involved on an individual level–especially in this election year. Of course, the people who came out to the airport on this frigid day had already demonstrated their willingness to get involved, and the area is fortunate in that many of its elected officials know the value of GA. In fact, both Arkansas senators, Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, as well as Stuttgart’s congressman, Rep. Marion Berry, are members of their respective GA caucuses.
As always, the audience was interested to know more about the GA Serves America movement, but one of the best questions I got was on the issue of aging pilots. A 65-year-old pilot in the audience wanted to know, “How old is too old to fly?” After telling me his wife thought he was already too old and would no longer fly with him, I had the privilege to introduce him to another member of the audience–still flying at 89.
I am continuing my travels all week, and will be in Mojave, California, on Saturday, January 16. So, if you happen to be in the area, come on out to the Plane Crazy Saturday event at the airport. I’d love to hear what’s on your mind!