Sunny skies and warm temperatures did what Lee County Airport fly-in organizers hoped Saturday.
Crowds wandered the flightline, enjoyed music and food and got familiar with the airport’s facilities as a new jet fuel tank awaits installation later this summer. County Airport Commission Chair Cody Wolford, between flying visitors around the airport area for brief hops, said the event is helping raise public awareness of the airport as an economic development and tourism asset.
“I feel like the general public is getting a good perception about the airport,” said Wolford. “When you have people inside and outside the airport fence like we have today, that’s a good thing.”
At least 14 aircraft and helicopters had arrived for public view, including modern general aviation types like single-engine Cessnas, twin-engine business aircraft like a Beech King Air and Piper Cheyenne, piston-engine helicopters and a post-WW II Comper Swift with fighter-like construction and lines.
Ann Slemp, president of fly-in sponsor Lee County Farm Bureau, said this year’s event appeared to build on the success of the 2021 fly-in.
“We’re really looking forward to Oct. 1, when we’ll have a fly-in and car show here,” Slemp said.
Fred Slagle flew in Saturday along with his two children, and he said the airport has potential.
“I’ve been here a few times and it’s really a nice airport,” Slagle said. “The runway and taxiway lines are well marked and I enjoy coming here.”
Nick Sturgill, a rising eighth-grader at Union High School in Big Stone Gap, spent much of the day photographing the visiting aircraft and working in a short flight around the airport. He said the trip fit in with his interest in aerospace and aviation.
“I never thought I’d get to do this,” Sturgill said after being asked to help wheel a helicopter to the flight line.
“The airport’s been neglected for years, but we’ve got an aggressive Airport Commission now,” said Lee County Supervisor Sidney Kolb. “We’re looking at a new corporate hangar that can hold three aircraft in addition to our existing T-hangars, and we’ve still got a waiting list for hangar space.”
Kolb said the impending 10,000 gallon jet A fuel tank this summer will expand the types of aircraft the airport can service to business jets and turbine-powered helicopters like those used by air ambulance services in the region.
“Once we get the jet A system installed, the next goal is to get another corporate hangar here,” said Kolb. “We’ll also have a new LED runway lighting system in place hopefully within the next 12 months.”
Getting more aircraft based at Lee County Airport means more than tourism and support for businesses, Kolb said, since they can also generate personal property tax revenue.
“(The airport) can be a liability or it can be an asset,” Kolb said. “The costs to operate it are basically fixed, so the more aircraft we have based here or visiting, the bigger an asset it becomes.”