Vintage aircraft descend on Houston airport for open house

Sun News correspondentNovember 6, 2013 

PERRY -- For the sake of her young grandsons, Donna Griffin put aside her fear of heights and climbed in an open cockpit biplane for a ride Saturday at the Perry-Houston County Airport’s open house.

How was it?

“Awesome! I didn’t know what to expect and I’m scared of heights, but it was just awesome,” she said. “It was windy, but still it was so peaceful. And looking down and seeing everything was just unbelievable. It’s one of the most amazing things I remember doing in 50 years.”

Griffin said flying with the grandkids would have fallen to her husband, Van, but he recently had eye surgery and couldn’t risk it. She said grandsons Eli, 4, and Harrison, 3, both love planes and going to the Museum of Aviation to see them so much she couldn’t let the opportunity at the airport pass by.

Eli said he loved flying in the airplane -- even the noise.

The biplane ride was one of many flying opportunities, exhibits and aircraft walkthroughs available at the open house, including a vintage World War II P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator provided by the Collings Foundation.

Griffin and her two grandkids flew in a 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane, billed as the oldest New Standard plane still flying. It’s owned and operated by Oliver’s Flying Circus and was piloted by Clay Hammond, of Atlanta.

He said piloting the plane was “pure fun” for him and the thrill of a lifetime for most passengers.

“The D-25 was built specifically for carrying passengers with a big front space for four people,” he said. “People love it. Occasionally somebody gets a little queasy, but that’s rare. It’s a thrill, but we don’t do anything really crazy.”

Though there was no way to track the exact number of guests Saturday, officials said there was probably at least double the number as in past years.

“It’s such a beautiful day,” airport manager Patsy Goff said. “It’s the perfect day. In past years we’ve struggled with high winds and rainy days, but today is perfect. Of course with flying, that makes a big difference.”

Good conditions not only made more visitor flights possible but brought more guests to view displays from the likes of experimental and unusual aircraft owners to the Georgia Aircraft Modelers Association of Fort Valley to Central Georgia Technical College’s aerospace program and more.

Goff was equally excited showing off the airport’s new entrance, newly repaved ramp and tarmac, new hangars and other features. She said the airport is home to more than 80 aircraft, an increase over last year. She said in a time when many regional airports are facing difficulties, the Perry-Houston County Airport, or PXE as it’s designated, is doing well.

The airport is located west of Interstate 75 and has one paved runway on its 465 acres. Goff said it was originally opened in 1942 during World War II as an auxiliary training airfield for the Army pilot school at Cochran Army Airfield, primarily for British Royal Air Force pilots.

The airport is operated by the Perry-Houston County Airport Authority.

Contact Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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