Souther Field’s 100th anniversary marked with two-day event
Published 10:56 am Thursday, October 25, 2018
By Beth Alston
AMERICUS — It was a great two-day event, in spite of some weather that moved in late Saturday afternoon. The 100th anniversary celebration of Historic Souther Field, at Jimmy Carter Regional Airport, saw lots of visitors of all ages. The event, organized by a group of aviation enthusiasts, featured children’s activities, barbecue, burgers and dogs, real dogs and cats from the Sumter Humane Society, airplane and helicopter rides, and lots of history. Pilots from all over flew in either Saturday or Sunday to enjoy the event, others just to refuel and take a walk-around before taking to the skies again.
One of the most popular attractions was a UH-1H Huey helicopter brought to the airport by Friends of Army Aviation based in Ozark, Ala. The nonprofit group, staffed by veterans of the Vietnam era, seeks to educate the public on contributions that Army aviation has provided; support veterans’ families; honor veterans past and present; maintain, restore and preserve authentic Army aircraft used in combat operations; and support Fort Rucker, Ala., which is the home of Army aviation.
In talking with one of the volunteers, Tom Aretz, crew director, he talked about his experiences as a young man in Vietnam and how the helicopters worked in delivering and retrieving troops to and from the field. Arezt, in talking with a small group of people waiting for the next ride, urged them to think of the 18- and 19-year-olds who were flown into Vietnam on such helicopters, not knowing if they would ever return home again. He explained the use of helicopters in Vietnam raised the troop survival rate from 6 percent in World War II to 92 percent in Vietnam.
Mike Cochran, known as the Souther Field historian, gave plane rides when he wasn’t inside showing visitors old photos and other memorabilia from Souther Field, which was used in World Wars I and II to train pilots. The most famous pilot to solo at Souther Field was Charles Lindbergh who first flew his Jenny soloe in May 1923.
At the airport Sunday was Bill Parsons, age 91, of Shellman. He recalled hearing all about Souther Field and Lindbergh from his father who worked at the airport during the time Lindbergh was there. In fact, the elder Parsons actually put the engine in Lindbergh’s Jenny which he purchased as Army surplus for $500. He said Lindbergh didn’t have much money, except to buy the surplus airplane, and was allowed to sleep in the hangar. He said people from Americus would bring the young
Lindbergh sandwiches, and whenever Lindbergh would disappear, everyone knew where he could be found: sitting atop the ball on the water tower at Souther Field. “He was known as kind of a loner,” Bill Parsons remembered his father telling him. He said his dad told him that the day Lindbergh first soloed, everyone had left the air field except for a black man named Zack. Lindbergh asked Zack to prep the propeller so he could take off. Just a few days after, Lindbergh would fly his Jenny from Souther Field enroute to Montgomery where he would start a barnstorming career. Only four years later, Lindbergh would make his historic transatlantic flight.
A young couple from Locust Grove flew into the airport on Sunday in their vintage Cessna 195. Leigh and Kamilla, from Australia, brought their daughter Olive, 4, and son, Archie, 2, to enjoy the jumping castle, lunch and other fun. Kamilla said the plane’s name is “Lady K.”
Sumter County Fire & Rescue had a truck onsite and free hats for children who were allowed a close-up inspection of the big
fire truck, even sounding the horn. Batallion Chief Alfred Lewis, and firefighters Ryan Carter and Joshua Calcutt were on hand to answer questions.
Americus City Council member Charles Christmas, District 4, a pilot and avionics instructor at South Georgia Technical
College, was also there. He said that many people in the area are not aware of how important the airport is to the community. “Lots of people think it’s a grass agricultural air field, but it’s a lot more than that.” He mentioned the grants that the city and county have received over the years to extend the runway and to make other improvements. Aviation fuel is also available onsite. “This is a stopping point for many pilots traveling through. They can stop here for fuel and maintenance. It’s a great runway. It’s unique form a small airport.”
Christmas said the aviation community is hoping to bring more school children to visit the airport and hopefully learn about aviation and the careers they can have in the field of aviation in the future.
Organizers plan to hold future open house days at the airport.