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SHERIDAN — Saturday morning, the people of Sheridan will keep an eye to the sky and the county airport will be buzzing with visitors.
The Sheridan County Airport is hosting an open house and fly-in this weekend to foster community relations as well as show airborne visitors what Sheridan has to offer.
Fred Barton, Vice President of the Sheridan Pilot’s Association, said the event, scheduled for Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., will showcase one of Sheridan’s unsung assets.
“When you go up to the airport, the first thing you notice is there’s a great big fence around it and no public access,” he said. “By having an open house we allow public to see what goes on there.”
Most of Sheridan’s population without pilot licenses think only of commercial air service when they think of the airport. However, charter planes are only a small percentage of the airport’s 101 average daily operations.
According to airport operational statistics taken from airnav.com, a common reference guide for pilots that describes airport specifications and services, the Sheridan County Airport has 98 aircraft based on the field: 69 single engine planes, 21 multi-engine planes, two jets, four helicopters and two glider airplanes. Half of the airport’s traffic is classified as “transient general aviation,” which means privately owned planes passing through. The other half of airport’s traffic consists of 38 percent local general aviation and 11 percent charter traffic. Less than 1 percent of air traffic at the facility is military related.
Sheridan’s airport is the second busiest in the state in terms of general aviation.
Barton said the open house is a prime chance for local residents interested in seeing the non-commercial side of the airport to satisfy their curiosity.
“This event will give the community a good idea of what goes on up there,” he said. “They’ll see how busy it is and how many planes there really are.”
Barton said the open house portion of the event will allow public access to the majority of the airport facility, but there’s a bigger surprise in store for early rising youngsters.
“One thing we’re doing that will interest a lot of people is we’re flying the first 100 children for free,” Barton said, adding parents must be available to sign a waiver at the sign-up station on the flight line for their children to fly.
The other side of Saturday’s event is the “fly-In,” which means pilots from around the region and around the nation are invited to visit the Sheridan airport to check out the town and show off their planes.
Multiple interest groups are expected to arrive, including recruiters from the Wyoming Air National Guard, Pilots for Christ, representatives from a commercial pilot school in Bozeman, Mont., and an international organization for women pilots known as The Ninety-Nines, among many others.
Aside from a plethora of pilots with different planes and associations, individual hobby flyers, or general traffic, are encouraged to stop by.
“Sheridan is a good stop for a pilot,” Barton said. “We’re inviting them to fly-in and see what’s going on here. We’re hoping to bring pilots to the area who haven’t been here before.
“By bringing other pilots here, we hope they’ll see what’s here and come back,” he said.
Barton said that in terms of small town airports, Sheridan is one of the better equipped stops for pilots passing through or looking for a destination to spend a few days.
The benefits of community education coupled with showcasing the tourism-friendly aspects of Sheridan’s airport will be on the state’s dime.
“The state aeronautics (Wyoming Department of Transportation) Division has a grant program where airports can get $5,000 to promote the airport when they hold a fly-in,” Airport Manager John Stopka said.
“We’ll use the money for fuel to bring in some of the vintage aircraft,” he said, adding some funds would also be used for items logistically necessary for hosting a crowd, like trash bins, chairs and tables.
While Stopka spearheaded the effort to get state funding for the event, he’s turning all the credit for the weekend’s event over to Sheridan’s local aviators.
“The Sheridan Pilot’s Association wanted to do something to let the public know what’s at the airport and invite them to see some of the things that take place on a daily basis and meet the pilots,” he said.
Stopka said the Sheridan County Airport’s last open house was in 2006, when the facility celebrated its 75th anniversary.