Flying High: Airport Appreciation Day a big success

VVN/Jon Pelletier
Saturday's inaugural Airport Appreciation Day was a great success by any measure. The event struck a note for both residents of the Verde Valley and allowed aviation enthusiasts an opportunity to show off their projects to the public.

VVN/Jon Pelletier Saturday's inaugural Airport Appreciation Day was a great success by any measure. The event struck a note for both residents of the Verde Valley and allowed aviation enthusiasts an opportunity to show off their projects to the public.

COTTONWOOD -- A 10-member Airport Appreciation Day Committee can give itself a pat on the back for the successful inaugural air and vintage car show Saturday at the Cottonwood Airport.

There were at least 1,000-paid $2 admissions, many drawn by the number of airplanes in the sky over the Verde Valley Saturday morning. Officials say those paid admissions don't include the dozens and dozens of kids younger than 12 that got free admission and many vendors and others involved in the show itself.

"That number is conservative," believes City Manager Doug Bartosh. The number could have reached as high as 1,500.

Cottonwood Chamber Director Lana Tolleson, one of only two members of the organizing committee who is not a pilot, was ecstatic. "We were extremely pleased. It was very well attended with a lot of neat aircraft and great vintage automobiles. But the aircraft were the main things."

People like Jim Moeny, chairman of the special committee; Al Gradijan, chairman of the Airport Commission; Jack Merritt with the Users Association and others helped pull together their wide aviation connections to bring in a number of classic aircraft from throughout the Southwest, including an enormous Albatross amphibious rescue plane, a trainer jet fighter, bi-planes, experimental planes and many vintage military craft.

But it took more than just a core committee. Cottonwood Economic Development Director Casey Rooney said that after a year of planning, 50 to 100 people helped coordinate things like the car parking, entrance gate admissions, vendor's booths, and communicating with over-flights.

"Personally, I thought it was awesome!" Rooney said. "We went into it not knowing what the attendance would be. It far exceeded our expectations for attendance, expectation and fun!"

"We had over flights of RV experimental planes to F-16s and everything in between. There was something for everybody," said Moeny.

He added: "People like airplanes and are drawn to airports. It has been a long time seen we have had an air show in Cottonwood."

"By 6:30, people were lined up to see the balloons lift off. The balloons brought in a number of people, but then planes began buzzing around Cottonwood. Certainly, the planes flying around attracted a lot of attention," said Tolleson.

Moeny noted that, " We only had one complaint about airplane noise."

Certainly, the over-flight of three F-16s shook some windows, but many who saw it hoped they would return for a second run.

The military run was part of the praise paid to Cottonwood's Ralph Wandery, Arizona's only living fighting ace from World War II, honored as a key event of the show.

"I was at the pancake breakfast and talked with a young man who lived at the Rimrock airstrip," recalls Rooney. "He said he was there because of honor being paid to Ralph Wandery. Many of the military-style planes were attracted for the same reason. Veteran patriotism was an important side of the event."

Another fly-over included Stearman WWII-painted bi-planes in a Missing Man formation, for Paul Haynie, a Cottonwood pilot killed in a small plane crash near the airport.

The crowds tended to thin about 2 p.m. and then the hang-gliders came in and landed and the crowd picked up for the balance of the day.

Tim Costello, Cottonwood Airport Manager and Public Works Director, said, "We had pretty much 11-hours of non-stop activities and participation."

Gradijan told the Cottonwood Council recently, the event will be to "promote the airport to the aviation community and to promote the airport to the citizens of Cottonwood; a lot of them don't know we have an airport."

They do now.

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