Cleveland Jetport looks forward to visit from Tuskegee Airman

Cleveland Jetport looks forward to visit from Tuskegee Airman

February 22nd, 2014 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

The terminal at the Cleveland Regional Jetport, which is scheduled to host several events.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - A member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, a World War II black fighter group, will speak at Youth Aviation Day on March 8 at the Cleveland Regional Jetport.

"It's a pretty big event for us," said Mark Fidler, director of operations at the airport. "It's going to have some warbirds flying in, and we'll actually have an original member of the Tuskegee Airmen group speaking to the assembled youth who are interested in aviation."

The racially segregated unit trained in Tuskegee, Ala., providing pilots for the 332nd Fighter Group, which served in Europe during the war. Their story was told in the 2012 film "Red Tails" and a more critically acclaimed 1995 movie, "The Tuskegee Airmen."

Youth Aviation Day is sponsored by the Community of One in recognition of aviation and Black History Month, officials said. The event is free.

The Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority also is trying to work out the possibility of hosting a military helicopter riding event staged by the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation at the jetport.

The foundation recently proposed to provide rides on a Bell Huey UH-1H, a helicopter used extensively in the Vietnam War, for $65 per rider. Each ride lasts seven to nine minutes.

Several members of the airport panel expressed concerns over the foundation's requirement that the jetport be responsible for funding ticket sales that fall short of 150 riders for the event.

For example, the airport would have to pay $1,950 if the rider count fell 30 riders short of 150, according to the foundation's proposal letter.

"We can't afford to underwrite ourselves," said Lynn DeVault, secretary-treasurer for the airport authority.

DeVault recommended that the jetport bring in a sponsor for the event, such as Hardee's, McDonald's or Budweiser.

"They could have ticket pre-sales at locations," she said. "We need to make it a big deal."

A high turnout at the quoted ride cost would need "a fair amount of marketing behind it," said Taylor Newman, director of operations for Crystal Air, which provides operational services for the jetport.

The airport authority might want to consider connecting the helicopter rides to a larger event at the jetport, Newman said.

Fidler said timing is another concern. The original time frame for the Army Aviation Heritage Foundation event is in May and the organization's schedule is filling up, he said.

The next steps will be to arrange a meeting with potential sponsors and request a tentative event date for October, when the weather is cooler, DeVault said.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.