By CRISTIN REECE
The Palestine Municipal Airport has been helping pilots reach the wild blue yonder — and get them safely back on the ground again — for eight decades.
City and airport officials are marking the facility’s 80th year in operation with a celebration where the sky’s the limit. The airport’s 80th anniversary celebration is Saturday at the airport located about four miles north of Palestine on U.S. 287/Texas 19. Admission is free. Gates open at 9:30 a.m. Opening ceremonies begin at 10 a.m. and includes a fly-in by members of Palestine’s Texas Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 1549 Dogwood Flyers.
“It’s going to be a great time,” Palestine Public Works Director Tim Perry said. “Our airport has been a huge boon for the City of Palestine and Anderson County and continues to be a vital part of this area’s economic development. We thought it’d be nice to celebrate that, as the facility marks 80 years.”
The municipal airport was built in 1933 as a potential secondary airport, to support the air force base in Waco, according to city records. Since then, the airport has served its community not only as a hub for air traffic but also as an attractive incentive to businesses looking to build in the area.
“The significant thing about this airport, compared to other airports in this area, is we have two runways — one is more than 5,000 feet long and the other is 4,000 feet long,” Airport Advisory Committee President John Dorsett said. “That means we have the capacity to land jets and other bigger craft that other area airports just can’t handle. For a city our size to have a facility as nice as this one, it’s a huge advantage to have.”
The airport currently serves approximately 29 local planes and 35 transient planes per month.
Saturday’s festivities include many exhibits of aircraft from classic and antique planes to planes that flew in World War II to new, experimental aircraft that are pushing the aviation envelope even today. Exhibits of classic cars and custom motorcycles, a remote control airshow, concession vendors, informational booths and more activities will be featured as well.
World War II Flying Ace Darrell Welch, who was assigned to the 27th Squadron of the 1st Fighter Group, which became the first squadron to be equipped with the new P38 Lightning, and F4 Phantom pilot Captain Phil Hogan, who flew more than 300 missions during the Vietnam War, both will be on hand to share stories about flying during those conflicts.
Winners of the Palestine Library’s aviation themed art contest also will be announced. Winners will receive a free flight from the Palestine Jet Center.
Rainout date for this event has been set for Oct. 5.