August 1, 2007
By Peter A. Bedell
A picture-perfect morning greets the Clermont County Airport in Batavia, Ohio. All you can hear is the static sound of the interstate a few miles away and birds chirping incessantly. Were it a few degrees cooler, this place would be shrouded in fog as it was a few miles away at Cincinnati Municipal Airport/Lunken Field. But we're greeted with blue skies, no wind, and a bright sun that makes the 52-degree Fahrenheit temperature feel comfortable.
Pilots across the country recognize the name of this airport for its well-known tenant, Sporty's Pilot Shop. Today, Sporty's is hosting a fly-in along with its weekly free hot-dog lunch. By 8 a.m., vendors are setting up booths inside two nearby hangars and Sporty's staff is busy getting ready for what's going to be a big day. Across the airport, the Tri-State Warbird Museum has emptied its hangar contents on the ramp. The early morning light hits the inventory just right. What started as a silent airport this morning is bustling with activity by 10 a.m. Fuel trucks with their ratcheting ground wire spools and whirring power takeoffs are constantly on the move. In a T-hangar, Larry Clark is safety wiring the air box of his recently acquired Kitfox homebuilt with plans to take it aloft later in the day. He's been itching to fly for some time.
A Beechcraft Baron 58P arrives with astronaut and Ohio native John Glenn at the controls. He stops into Sporty's for about 45 minutes and then takes off on a training flight. Meanwhile, a man on a mission is roaring around the airport in a dune buggy owned by Sporty's. The company has lots of strange vehicles on site; some resemble the vehicles in the 1970s' television show Fantasy Island.
In many ways, Sporty's has turned this airport into a destination playground for pilots and their families. Besides the on-site pilot shop and tours of the facility, there's a picnic shelter with lots of activities adjacent to it, such as a sand volleyball pit, horseshoes, tetherball, and other lawn sports. Currently under construction on the west side of the airport is Sandy's Farm, a residential airpark named for Sandy Shevers, wife of Sporty's founder Hal Shevers.
By lunchtime, the hot dogs are grilling and patrons are lined up to get their complimentary vittles. Some are talking about the morning fog. Another group is debating whether you can extend the glide of a Piper Arrow by pulling back the propeller control. You can — significantly.
What can't be missed is the number of people joking about how much they spent to get a free hot dog.
When the fly-in ends, the airport returns to normal. Instead of more exotic airplanes and occasional classics departing, we hear only modern light trainers making circuits in the pattern. Hal Shevers proudly reports that 90 airplanes flew in during the fly-in hours and some 1,100 hot dogs were served. Presumably, there were a number of drive-in customers since that works out to a 12-to-1 hot-dog-to-airplane ratio. As the sunset blankets the airport in nice light once again, the activity stalls and the static of the interstate and occasional bird chirps are all that is heard again.
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