Impactful Chapters Do Impactful Things
EAA 34 has really turned around over the last 6 or 7 years. We were a struggling shrinking chapter and are now a growing and diverse chapter that is demonstrating our love of aviation through our social events, ground school classes, tutoring future aviators, growing tool crib, supporting builders, attaining and supporting aviation scholars, running Young Eagles Rally’s, creating a youth program, and community outreach.
Community outreach and making a difference in the lives of people is what I will focus on in this month’s column. Marlin, Texas was the result of searching for a new and exciting fly out location. I was looking for an airport with a nearby lake, that could support camping and other fun things pilots might like to do on a fly out. As I was searching the state of Texas, via google earth, I noticed the Marlin Airport was very close to New City Lake. In fact, only 280’ from the airport gate and reasonably large with wooded areas for trails and hiking. There were also glaring problems. The airport didn’t have a couple things that are sorely necessary for fly-ins like bathrooms and areas to sit and enjoy the airport and lake. Another important missing structure was a pilot shack. Not ideal but the potential was huge.
The next step was to contact the city and ask about the airport. I called and spoke with Cedric Davis, City Manager, and he was very excited that someone would ask about their airport. He was very interested in exploring opportunities to enhance the airport and bring positive attention to the community. I reported back to EAA 34 President Jerry Ritchey my impressions of my conversation with Cedric and it was decided to do an exploratory road trip to Marlin. After a two-hour drive, we arrived at city hall. There we met the Mayor Carolyn Lofton, and Cedric. While there we explained who EAA34 is and took a tour of the airport property. What we saw was a neglected airport that saw little use. It was overgrown with vegetation, T-hangars in need of repairs, and the runway and ramp soon needing paint and a top-coat. But, the potential for this airport was huge.
We spoke with Cedric and the Mayor about the issues we could see and what was needed to make the airport attractive to aviators. The big obstacle was money. The city simply didn’t have the funds to do much of anything to help their obscured gem. For background, the city has lost industry over the years and thus a significant portion of the tax base. It is also a majority minority community and is on the lower end of the income scale.
Suddenly, Marlin became a multi-pronged effort for 34. The city wanted to improve their airport and lake front and EAA 34 wanted to help by advising and putting experts with airport management in contact with the city. Additionally, we presented a PowerPoint on “Aviation as a Careers or a Hobby” to Marlin High School on October 5th. Jerry Ritchey, AA Captain Charles Wheeler, DFW Base Chief Pilot, and me drove down and spent over an hour with the entire student body presenting and answering questions. This is an important aspect of our program as we want to offer relationships and mentoring for young people who have no idea how to navigate the aviation maze.
Additionally, we made sure that all the teachers and students knew that our efforts would culminate with a Pancake & Young Eagles Rally Fly-In to showcase the airport on November 7th.
What are some of the things that we have identified and already worked on? EAA34 members and the only airport tenant, John, spent one day in the Texas heat clearing the segmented circle and killing the vegetation on the runway edges. We have surveyed the airport for aircraft parking and located where the breakfast and Young Eagles portion will take place. Aircraft parking is a big issue as we are planning for 40 plus arrivals and the ramp can only handle 18-20 airplanes. Therefore, we have staked out an area around the ramp that needs to be made capable of taxiing and parking aircraft. In the extreme case many more airplanes arrive, we are looking to have an overflow parking area near the end of the runway for an additional ten airplanes. All this prep takes time and coordination and we are thus working closely with city manager Cedric Davis on this aspect and many other aspects of fly-in prep. On our most recent visit, we could see the city is well on the way to getting the airport ready.
A timeline has been laid out for completion of the many items necessary to have a safe and memorable Fly-In. We have some very interesting airplanes scheduled to visit such as a T-28 Trojan, a PT23 WW2 trainer, a Float Plane or two (why not have a Sea Plane Base!), and possibly an army asset. The Fly-in is being advertised on North Texas Aviator, Central Texas Aviators, Grumman Pilots Association, Social Flight, and soon in the local area news media. We are all learning along the way and thus are keeping in close contact to ensure no major loose ends appear at the last minute. With a successful first Fly-In, we hope to develop confidence and experience for future Marlin Airport events. Additionally, as the fly-in draws attention to Marlin, it is our hope that other improvements will be made and that future annual events will be planned and looked forward to by the area pilots.
No one does an event like this alone. It takes coordination, initiative, vision, and teamwork. The City of Marlin & EAA34 are working hard to create a diamond from the rough. Ultimately, it will be the people of Marlin and the aviation community that will benefit as we do our part to resurrect this little jewel.