By any means of measurement the Marianna Airport Armed Forces Day Fly-In was a huge success. Most local, long time, aviators stated that they had never seen so many aircraft on the Marianna parking ramp at one time. An estimated five hundred flying machines of every size, shape, vintage, and design arrived for the Fly-In events. It was interesting and informative to merely tour the ramp. And these were not the airplanes on display!
The day began with a great pancake and sausage breakfast for the pilots, visitors, and anyone else that showed up. The meal was prepared by that infamous cooking trio City Manager Jim Dean, Chamber Director Jeff Massey, and Chipola’s Dr. Froh.
At nine the opening of the Fly-In event was begun with the “Posting of the Colors” as a smart stepping team from American Legion Post #2 placed the American Flag on display. This was followed by the crowd reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Next came a moving invocation, and welcoming remarks by Marianna’s Mayor, Paul Donofro.
Shortly thereafter, all eyes turned skyward as the Red Dragons flying team flew by in close formation, blowing smoke to be sure they captured everyone’s attention. After several low level passes they peeled off dramatically and came around for landing. They remained parked on the ramp for a good while, giving the crowd the opportunity to take a good look at their CJ-6 Chinese fighters.
It wasn’t too much later that the war-birds made an impressive arrival, making a formation overhead flight before landing. They then sat on display for the rest of the show. They were two T-34 trainers and an AT-6 vintage trainer from its days at Graham Air Base. Other crowd pleasing displays included a beautifully restored 1936 Lockheed twin engine, identical to the plane pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart may still be flying somewhere out in the vast Pacific Ocean.
Another eye catcher was a tiny, tiny one man Dominator gyrocopter owned by Mike Dixon of Greenwood. A lot of Vets experienced stirring memories of Viet Nam when they toured a striking display of a UH1-B Huey Helicopter that looked like it was ready for action. On the grass infield a constant line of eager riders waited for their turn to enjoy a helicopter ride. The copter and pilot were busy from show start to finish.
Meanwhile the crowd enjoyed the talents of the band which played all day. Hordes of visitors shopped and bought great food from an assortment of busy vendors. The kids enjoyed a huge air inflated bounce room and slide.
Other notable events that went on during the day were:
- The “Young Eagles” program which gave over 35 free orientation flights to those children who registered.
- The Graham Reunion which drew around 38 vintage instructors and students from the days when the airport was Graham Air Base, a WW II pilot training center. Many took the tour around the Sunland Campus which was then the site of the base complex, remembering the location of the Base Exchange, NCO Club, Officer’s Club, dining hall, gym, and even their barracks. Dr. Bob Hoff, who trained at Graham, organized and hosted the reunion.
- An FAA Safety Seminar for pilots was conducted Friday evening at Citizens Lodge.
Finally, late in the afternoon it all began to ebb down close to normal, and Airport Manager, Randy Garmon,, Bill and the rest of the flight line crew could slow down and take a deep breath. They had worked at top speed all day parking and refueling aircraft. At one point there was some fear that the flight line fuel truck would empty before the demand slowed.
It was a great Fly-In which was enjoyed by thousands of attendees. The annual Marianna Armed Forces Day Fly-In should now be fully recognized as an event worth coming to.