The Monroe County airport, located just off Lyons Chapel Rd., in Tompkinsville, is quite a jewel, Airport Board Chair Marshall Hodges told a group gathered on Monday, Jan. 15.
Hodges met with a group of elected officials and local supporters to showcase the airport and its offerings.
“You don’t realize how nice and convenient this airport is. People tell us all the time that they didn’t realize it was here and people from out of town who fly in, say it is one of the nicest they have been to,” Hodges said.
According to Hodges, the airport is in the running, and high on the list, for a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Grant, which they would use toward extending the taxiway, an over $3 million-dollar project, making it 100% nationwide funded, requiring no state or local assistance.
Hodges noted the county and city contribute around $3,000 each year, “which basically pays utilities, as well as helping with cleanup projects that we have no other way of doing without their equipment.”
Hodges noted how important the airport is to Monroe County, explaining, “Everyone in the Aviation Cabinet will tell you that you need an airport. Corporate America won’t come to your town on a bus.”
Former Monroe County Judge-executive Tommy Willet, interjected, saying, “An airport is the single most important entity in the county. It is the first thing anyone asks, ‘Do you have an international airport?’ We don’t, but we have the next best thing.”
Hodges led the group on a tour, providing information about the airport, which opened in 1987 and began expansions nearly 20 years ago. This has included adding a taxiway ($480,000), building hangers ($530,000), fuel system additions ($169,000), hanger construction ($800,000), new terminal construction ($860,000), lighting system update ($339,000), fencing ($130,000), land purchased ($132,000) weather pane project ($150,000) and a runway overlay ($1.1 million).
The tour included different hangers, including the first housing the plane of Wesley Cleary. This hanger is mid-project, Hodges said, boasting many advanced features, such as lights set on timers to reduce energy use.
The group continued, viewing several airplanes inside the hangers, including the Circle C and another owned by a club made up of several members and their families including recent Monroe County High School (MCHS) graduate and pilot Cade McPherson, who has performed at events throughout the county.
The group moved on to the mechanical hanger, where work is completed on the planes by J.R. Addair, who flies back and forth from Fountain Run each day and then to the MCHS hanger and classroom, where students work each day.
The MCHS classes, instructed by Darrell Doerhoff, are held five days a week from 1:20 to 2:30 p.m., and include flight simulations, radio-controlled flights, mechanics and more.
Hodges noted that the classes are a big part of operations at the airport and it takes a lot of students to sustain it, saying, “I hope it gets bigger and bigger or we are at least able to offer multiple classes.”
Doerhoff, who is building his own hot rod airplane in his spare time and weekends at the airport as the weather allows, agreed, saying, “We need more time. Time is a biggie and we want to reach as many kids as possible.”
Those kids include MCHS juniors Alex Lee and Lucas Farringer who were hard at work in the classroom, demonstrating the flight simulators for the tour group.
As they landed their “planes,” Farringer, spoke for the both of them, expressing their appreciation, “We are thankful to have the opportunity offered to us through this program. We have learned so much and we really enjoy it.”
Doerhoff explained that the boys, along with other students, are also preparing for a Wing Design competition in March, with 133 participating schools, and the first-place winners earning a trip to the Glass Air Factory in Arlington, Va.
In the main hanger, Hodges pointed out a lot of restoration work which is completed there, such as a Navaho passenger plane.
Also included in the main terminal building is an area which can be used for overnight stays for pilots and acts as classrooms.
Hodges told the group that the airport is open most days and noted that anyone could arrange a flight with one of the airport’s club members.
Kaneia Copass, the bookkeeper for the airport, noted, “You never know when a dream may start. This man right here, (Hodges), is a retired Air Force pilot who fell in love with flying when he was 15 and knew he never wanted to do anything else. He has some fascinating stories from flying for Fed-Ex (a small company in that time) to flying with the Blue Angels, to all of this… We want everyone to come out and bring their kids. We want everyone to know we are here.”
Hodges noted that plans are in place for a “Fly-in” event to be held in conjunction with the Watermelon Festival this year. The event, if all goes as planned, will feature plane rides, food, a small carnival and something watermelon-related this town has never seen — a watermelon drop.
A target is being planned for the aviation students to help build in which watermelons, donated by Mark and Tonya Cherry, Fountain Run, will be dropped onto from a plane above.
Anyone who would like more information on anything related to the airport is asked to call 270-646-0544.