January 1, 2012
By Alton K. Marsh
Pilots are good at emergencies because they live them—eating out of vending machines, driving beater cars, and wearing, as in the Johnny Cash song, their cleanest dirty shirt. It doesn’t have to be like that. Just point that airplane at the right FBO and you’ll eat sirloin instead of Ramen, be offered a bottle of wine instead of a Coke (or use the wine to barter for more Coke), and snack on toffee instead of days-old cake in the back room.
Readers have responded with a list of airports in 20 states and the Virgin Islands that give away neat things. You’ve heard of the $100 hamburger, now meet the $100 free lunch. You still have to fly to Lebanon, Mo., or Pecos, Texas, but once there, lunch is free.
True, some of the giveaways are linked to fuel purchases of 50 or 100 gallons, but many are open to all. Sport pilots, do not despair. In one FBO, you can total your fuel purchases over time until you get trinkets meant for the big-iron pilots.
There are also humorous T-shirts to be found—most you have to pay for (see sidebar). Nevertheless, you need to know about those because life is more than just food and flying. Or not.
Starting in the West, here’s what you’ll find.
Napa Jet Center at Napa County Airport, California, offers exactly what you think they should offer: wine, and not just one brand.
Asked what the fuel purchase limit is to get a bottle, an official said, “About all our customers get a bottle of wine, a good majority. It is at the discretion of whoever is at the front desk.”
To be on the safe side, act very nice. It’s just a hospitality thing, and you won’t get much if you are inhospitable.
West Star Aviation at Walker Field Airport, Grand Junction, Colorado, gives out a half-pound box of Enstrom’s Almond Toffee, made for the world right in Grand Junction.
The FBO buys a case at a time, costing $378, and just hands you one over the counter if you purchase fuel. How much fuel do you need to purchase? Doesn’t matter. Hear that, sport pilots and every other kind of pilot? It doesn’t matter.
“We’ve been doing this for 25 or 30 years and that’s why we are so well known,” said Line Operations Manager Teresa Garner. “Pilots love us.” At Christmas, West Star offers additional one- and two-pound boxes for retail sale that pilots buy as Christmas gifts. They even ask for it on unicom: “A quick turnaround and a box of candy.”
If you are cruising through the northwest corner of Kansas and have a sweet-tooth attack, drop down to Renner Field/Goodland Municipal Airport in Goodland, Kansas, and visit Butterfly Aviation. There, you will find one of the nice little surprises still remaining from the days of family-owned FBOs.
Butterfly makes a play on its name for its slogan: “Don’t Flutter By, Stop at Butterfly.” Once inside they will give you a “Nectar Kit,” a little plastic bag with several pieces of candy inside.
The airport has an ILS, jet fuel along with 100LL, and 24-hour service if you call ahead. There’s even a Butterfly Café on the airport.
Flower Aviation’s two locations—in Salina, Kansas, and Pueblo, Colorado—show the importance of location. They are about halfway for aircraft crossing the country, and offer a steak per 100 gallons to pilots purchasing fuel. Eight hundred gallons? Eight steaks. To be specific, they are frozen Kansas City strip steaks.
This year, in September, the Flower FBOs are starting something new. If you fly a jet or a turboprop aircraft, and you call on unicom for a “spin” or quick turnaround, you get either a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer (for after the trip).
Beyond that, there is something else special. The mother of owner Todd Engle, who can be found at the Pueblo location, created a recipe for cookies so special that pilots tear up their diet right at the counter. They are made by the personnel working the desk. Just to emphasize, these are not cookies in the bag, they are scratch-built. Even small-aircraft pilots qualify for the cookies.
A little bit of everything from the world of freebies comes flying across the counter at Gulf Air Center located at Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores, Alabama. You have military pilots to thank.
In order to entice military fuel contracts, Gulf Air Center turned the old terminal building into a pilot lounge called Jack’s Aces with a skull-and-wings logo. For a 100-gallon purchase, you can choose from among T-shirts, hats, a 24-ounce glass mug, or a cooler. If you buy 50 gallons, you are directed to an area with water bottles, plastic glasses, key chains, playing cards, bottle openers, and stickers.
OK, you didn’t buy 100 or 50 gallons. Guess you’ll just have to hang out at Jack’s Aces with WiFi, an Xbox, theater seating, and often hot food. Darn. If there is no food, you might want to try Lulu’s restaurant.
This is the place where pilots of smaller aircraft can play the mooching game, too, even though their aircraft don’t have big fuel tanks. The Executive Air Terminal will total your fuel purchases and let you build the total over time until you qualify for the really neat stuff. They have to sign the receipt, so make sure to follow the rules.
Here’s the way it works. Each gallon equals a point. When you have 200 points, you get two steaks or one bottle of wine, selected from among a few different labels. If you have a light sport aircraft, you’ll need to fly off 20 to 40 hours of fuel to get those steaks and wine.
Or you can let the points accumulate to a total of 500 and get a $50 gift certificate at any Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, or Best Buy. The program has been in effect many years.
There are two airports at Harrisburg, relatively close together and neither is far from the chocolate capital of America, Hershey, Pennsylvania. So if it’s Hershey bars you crave, be sure to get the right airport. We are talking here about CXY, Capitol City Airport (the smaller of the two), not Harrisburg International (MDT).
You’ll find a choice of either dark chocolate or milk chocolate, and this offer is open to everyone who lands there. You don’t even need to buy gas, although it is of course appreciated.
There’s a touch of controversy with this one. One pilot said he has landed there often and so far, not one Hershey bar. Not one. He is owed several, so if you were to show up and say you are that person—well, you never know.
Feast your eyes on Eagle Aviation’s “jelly closet.” It is your lucky day. You’ll find it at Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Columbia, South Carolina.
You do have to make a fuel purchase, but it’s worth every penny. The old rule of needing to purchase 50 gallons seems loosely enforced. Fourteen different kinds of jams and jellies, four types of salad dressing, and four kinds of hot sauce await your choice. No, you can’t have one of each. The foods are packaged so they don’t spoil.
It all started with a lady who made those treats out of her kitchen, but now the food is purchased from Braswell’s in Statesboro, Georgia. You may already have tasted their products under private labels. If you want a case of something, it is available but will be sold at the retail price.
Fourteen different kinds of jams and jellies, four types of salad dressing, and four kinds of hot sauce await your choice.
Panorama Flight Service at Westchester County Airport, White Plains, New York, has a fortuitous set of circumstances in your favor.
It all adds up like this. John Boyd works there. (He’s director of sales, marketing, and customer service.) His wife owns a cheesecake company called Cheesecake Aly in Glen Rock, New Jersey, 35 miles from White Plains. Her name is Alyce, thus the “Aly.”
She also makes amazing chocolate-chip cookies. He brings in five varieties of cheesecake every Monday and places them in the refrigerator on the second floor. A dozen cookies go on the counter, but probably not for long. Refrigerator—second floor. Got it?
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Three of the coolest T-shirts in the nation are found in Boonville, California; Telluride, Colorado; and Fort Myers, Florida.
The late California aviation legend Amelia Reid was flying above Boonville, California, and nature was calling on her to land. When she did, there was no bathroom on the field, so she knocked on doors asking the locals to use theirs.
To prevent more pilots from knocking on doors, the community built a unique outhouse in the shape of a control tower. “It wasn’t installed out of kindness,” said one anonymous observer, “but rather to make sure that no local had a pilot knocking.” The outhouse is scheduled for renovation and will be the best little outhouse in California.
That led to a T-shirt sold by Boonville resident Kirk Wilder that reads, “The Place to Go; Boonville Airport.” Wilder adds that the town once created its own language, boontling, to keep outsiders from knowing what is going on. There’s a dictionary for that somewhere in the town. A few longtime residents still speak boontling.
Telluride Regional Airport, Colorado, sells high-quality T-shirts and sweatshirts (that means I own some) that read, “Some Fly at 9,078 Feet; We Land.” All the sweatshirts and T-shirts had to be changed to, “Some Fly at 9,070 Feet” after the airport was reshaped to eliminate the bowl at the center of the runway, dropping the airport elevation by eight feet. Beneath the phrase, “We Land,” is this: “Highest Commercial Airport in the U.S.A.” Also still offered is a poster that reads, “The Best Pilots Land in Telluride,” because landing there when the runway was bowl-shaped took skills. Even with improvements, you are still landing on a mountain runway with steep drop-offs at both ends.
Pilots at Fort Myers, Florida, wear homemade but highly professional-looking T-shirts that proclaim, “Buckingham Air Park, Fort Myers, Florida; A Quaint Little Drinking Community with a Flying Problem.” The airpark shares a runway with a mosquito control operation.
Survival was the game for military student pilots shooting the ILS approach to Runway 21 at Roswell International Air Center at Roswell, New Mexico. When the student made it, there was a reward, a T-shirt from Great Southwest Aviation that reads, “I Beat the Widow Maker,” with a copy of the approach on the back. It is a monstrosity of an approach starting at 15,000 feet and diving 11,000 feet, all the time intercepting and then following a DME arc. If traffic is backed up, you’ll start the approach from a holding pattern at 15,000 feet above the outer marker. The military students drop by less often, and civilian pilots almost never fly it, but the shirt survives.
Frogs play a prominent role at Beaufort County Airport, in Beaufort, South Carolina, and on the T-shirt that is offered. There was once a post office called Frogmore near the airport that used a picture of a frog as its cancellation stamp.
In 1995, the financial state of the airport was terrible, and to save the airport, a T-shirt was created showing a frog sitting on a biplane. It proved popular and did what was hoped. You can still buy the T-shirt featuring the name, Frogmore Intranational Airport. More or less as a joke, it once had the nickname Frogmore International Airport, but the owner was uneasy about it—he didn’t have U.S. Customs service. He declared that day it would be known as Frogmore Intranational Airport, so that pilots would be curious about it and maybe drop by and buy fuel.
The shirt features a green frog sitting on a biplane and wearing a red scarf with the notation: “Frogmore Intranational Airport; Just a Hop, Skip, and Jump From Anywhere.”
Share your favorite airport and FBO experiences on Al Marsh’s blog.
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.
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