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Local aircraft group to share flights of fancy
June 03, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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For almost two decades, flight enthusiasts have shared their love for the sky with the public during Airport Appreciation Family Fun Day at the Western Nebraska Regional Airport northeast of Scottsbluff. The story continues on Saturday, June 11.

The annual fun day is hosted by local Chapter 608 of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). “One of our goals is to remind people the airport is here and offers much more than just commercial air service,” said EAA member Gary Hashley. “The airport also houses airplanes owned by individuals who love to fly for fun and for travel.”

Hashley said he also wants the public to come out and have a good time. As with most air shows, pilots from around the Panhandle are invited to fly in for breakfast and display their planes at the event.

Airport Family Fun Day starts with breakfast at 7:30 a.m. on June 11.

Lunch will also be available. Until about 1 p.m., several varieties of planes and other vehicles will be on display. Also scheduled to be there, Air Force Capt. Tyler Sandberg will bring in a KC-135 military fuel tanker. The Air Link helicopter will be there as well.

Twice during the morning, the Scottsbluff Police Department will give demonstrations of a robot used for disarming explosives.

As for other performers, local EAA chapter member Sherry Fisher will take on the role of Rosie the Riveter. She’ll share the story of how American women joined the workforce to build the planes and munitions that were used by the military in World War II.

Hashley said that over the years, EAA chapters across the nation have sponsored the Young Eagle program. “We’ve exposed young people to aviation,” he said. “The age bracket is for kids from 8 to 17 who haven’t ridden in an airplane. We’ll offer a free ride to the kids and maybe they’ll become interested in flying.”

Since the program began, the local chapter has given 2,187 Young Eagle rides. EAA Vice Chairman Neal Smith has given 399 of them himself.

“Aviation is critical to any community,” Smith said. “The loss of an airport leaves a big vacancy because many pilots and business rely on them for transportation. The airport is a gateway to our community. It can be the first impression people have when they consider expanding their businesses.”

The local airport, which dates back to World War II, can accommodate anything up to a 747 commercial jet. Many airlines use Scottsbluff as a diversion airport in case of inclement weather at destination sites like Denver.

Another group has formed from the local EAA chapter, called Friends of Flight. Smith, who’s heading up the group, said their goal is to expand interest in airplanes and flight. In the near future, they plan to host a camp for young people who are considering careers in the flight industry.

“Getting people interested in becoming pilots is essential to the industry,” Smith said. “Because of federally mandated retirement, the industry is running into a shortage of qualified pilots.”

Hashley said the 1½ miles of blacktop at the airport is among the most important in the community. “A mile and a half of road is great and will take you downtown, but this one can take you anywhere in the world.”
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