The Madison Airport gave its second annual open house Saturday, and despite the threat of rain, at least 300 showed up.
Among them were 80 children, or Young Eagles, who were given free rides in light airplanes by members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter.
The open house was an occasion for the airport board and Eastern Kentucky University, its fixed base operator, to announce the airport had been awarded the Federal Aviation Administration's annual regional safety award.
Despite the increased traffic from EKU's flight training program, which keeps 14 leased aircraft at the airport, the extra 500 feet added to its runway and its new full-length taxiway helped the airport attain the safety record which won the award, said Jason Bonham, the airport manager.
The university, which operates the only baccalaureate aviation program in Kentucky, has 80 students taking flight instruction. Additional students are enrolled as aviation majors.
The free flights for children age 8 through 17 were scheduled from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., but they were cut short when a light rain began to fall around 1 p.m.
That didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the children, many of whom were making their first flight, or at least their first flight in a light plane.
His flight was like riding a roller coaster, said Alek Masters, 9, a home-schooled student who lives in Richmond.
“It went up and down and then sideways,” he said after stepping from the small plane’s passenger section onto its wing and then jumping to the pavement.
Peggie Moore, 15, who recently moved to Richmond from New Orleans with her family, said she got a good view of the mountains and saw islands of trees when she flew. From the air, cattle looked like dots on the ground, she said, and described a house in the shape of a compass.
Studies have shown that children who get to fly in light planes develop an interest in science and make better grades than their counterparts who don’t have the experience, said Dr. Wilma Walker, the airport board chairman and retired head of EKU’s aviation program.
The airport is staying busy, Walker said, and it has a waiting list for hangar space.
Even tie-down space on the airport apron is getting scarce, she said, calling an expanded apron and additional hanger space among the facility’s greatest needs. Both are listed as priorities on the airport improvement plan it has filed with state government and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Tonita Goodwin, executive director of the Richmond Industrial Development Corp., said the airport is an important asset in industrial recruitment. Industrial and retail prospects, as well as existing industries and retail chains in Madison County are frequent users of the airport.
Bill Robinson can be reached at email@example.com or at 624-6690.