The buzz surrounding the brand new Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport could be deafening after Saturday.
An open house celebrating the recently renovated facility will be all day Saturday, and it will include free airplane rides for children, displays of historical aircraft, food, T-shirts, and even an authentic World War II encampment. Airport officials hope to have thousands stop by during the day and take the opportunity to witness planes taking off, landing and everything in between - all for free.
"We want them to come out and see the progress the community has made in the development of this airport," said James Lyle, the airport's fixed-base operator. "We think it is a symbol of pride for the community. We want them to not only see the terminal here, but the new fire station and the attractiveness of this facility, and how we think it's going to be an asset for economic development for the community for many years into the future."
Lyle said aviation fuel will be sold at a discount all day to encourage area pilots to fly in and out to provide a show for open-house attendees.
"I'm expecting that we'll have possibly at least 40 or 50 airplanes fly in that morning just to buy the fuel or visit us, so we'll have a very busy day," he said.
In addition to free 20-minute airplane rides for children from 9 a.m. to noon, a number of authentic historical aircraft will be on display.
"We have an open-cockpit Stearman, which was one of the original aircraft used to train the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II," Lyle said. "It's not a replica, it's the real airplane. If they want to ride in it, they can do that, but there's a fee for that. We'll also have several other airplanes people can ride - we've got a couple of airplanes that were trainers for pilots in World War II in addition to some more modern airplanes."
Additionally, on Saturday the airport's new flight school officially opens. The airport recently bought three new airplanes for the school, and prospective students can sign up during the open house for private flying lessons.
The Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force also will be present and will conduct a World War II encampment on airport grounds.
The $1.3 million regional airport opened in April. In addition to an instrument landing system, which enables pilots to land planes without seeing the ground, the airport has a new full-service terminal, an EMS and fire station, a computerized weather information system for pilots, and a place for pilots to rest and shower.
Though the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport is expected to play a big part in the economic future of McDuffie County, it will be all about having fun Saturday.
"While the airport is here to attract industry and economic development, things like the airplane rides and the tour of airplanes are things the local people could use," Lyle said. "So I think that this is something that is worthwhile for the entire family."
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