|What remained of the old runway before Wal-Mart. Used with Permission|
My family and I decided to raise our collected cholesterol a bit at the local Sonic a while back. While we were sitting there eating our Coneys and sipping Cherry Limeade I noticed something peculiar. In the distance hidden behind some old buildings and junk a kudzu covered airport rotating light beacon still on its tower. We only transferred to the area last summer so we are still new. My wife had heard a rumor that an airport used to be here.
|I believe the X at the end of the runway means this airport is already closed. Used with Permission.|
Apparently, years before Gloucester had a community airport. Now in its place are soccer fields, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot. All that remains are the beacon and the small building standing near it. The rest is gone. The photo below shows the beacon tower as it was then.
|Gloucester Meller Field the tower on right still stands. Used with Permission.|
So what used to be a charming little airport with 15 planes or so (all made in the USA) is now a Super Wal Mart. You go inside Wal Mart and most of the goods are imported from China. The two box stores employ a large segment of the community so that is something I guess. When you speak to the employees at Wal Mart they don't seem very happy though, like they see themselves somewhere else, somewhere better. Where once you could land get a cup of coffee and hanger fly with a smiling airport manager now a row of unhappy locals work the registers running barcode covered products over lasers. The air used to be filled with the sound of wind and Lycoming and Continental engines now is just the din of shopping and the routine beep of laser scanners.
In the works cited below I have placed the most precious of links. A website cataloging the rise and fall of airports around the country. This site tells the tale of Gloucester's lost airport and reports the demise of many others.
When you are driving to your local airport next time ask yourself, how much time does this one have left? They are vanishing one by one, like some rare species on its way to extinction. How long before the only things flying are commercial and private aviation is all but gone? When will the last antique fly-in happen? When will the last airport pancake breakfast be eaten? Who will drop the last flour bomb in friendly competition? Perhaps a day looms on the horizon when the only small planes left will all say the word 'express' on the side of them.
You have no doubt heard my lament before and perhaps you groaned at it. What can we do? What can we do to save private flying for future generations? Well I suspect the answer lies in having fun. You have to involve the community and especially the young people in your area. When I was a kid if I helped wash and wax a plane often the payment for my hard work wasn't money but in fact was a ride in the plane when I was finished. Host a fly in, and don’t just invite other pilots but open the gates to public and make sure they know it's happening. Children love to sit in the cockpit of most any plane and pretend they are flying, just give them the opportunity to be kids like we were.
The city fathers of your town need to know just how valuable the airport is to the community, involve them. Heck give them rides, encourage them to get a pilot's license.
When I was ten years old a friend of mine got his hand caught in a meat grinder. His parents rushed him to the doctor and he said that if Doug wasn’t rushed to Columbia Medical hospital halfway across the state in the next hour he would lose his hand. His dad called my dad and my dad put Doug and his father in the back of his plane and flew to Columbia. Because of this Doug still has his hand and all his fingers today. If this happened now his hand would be lost because the airport just isn't there anymore. This is only one story and I am sure there are others all across the nation. They need to be told again and again to the people in power.
The world doesn’t need more Wal-Marts or Home Depot's. Heck I bet soccer fields could be safely integrated into an airport with a little planning. In fact I think it's a great idea to have a reason to bring kids to the airport on a regular basis. Give them a reason to watch airplanes take off and land it will inspire them to fly just the way it inspired us when we were kids. Make the airport a multi-use space, that is a great idea. Don't let the FAA make it become some fenced in sacred place that only pilots are allowed to inhabit. Flying truly is for everybody.