A Jones Airways Bombardier Challenger touched down precisely at 3 p.m. with a Citation Ultra following close behind.
“There he is, right on the number,” Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson said. He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as the wheels touched down on Runway 3. It was the end of a long struggle in the advancement of local aviation.
LeRoy Rymer, a member of the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority, said, “Avery, you’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
“You better believe it,” Johnson replied as the two men watched from an observation platform on the second floor of the shiny new terminal building. “Boy, that’s good,” he observed.
The runway at the $42 million general aviation airport officially opened about 30 minutes before the planes landed.
The grand opening was held earlier this morning.
Challenger pilot Fred Salyers of Cleveland smiled Thursday as he talked about landing the big plane in his hometown for the first time. Roger Langlo of Cleveland was the second pilot and Jan Smith of Chattanooga was the flight attendant.
“You couldn’t land that plane here before,” he said. “That was the first time this big of an airplane has landed in Cleveland.”
The runway at Hardwick Field is only about 3,500 feet long. About 1,000 more feet is needed to bring the Challenger in for a comfortable landing. He made the first landing in about 4,000 feet.
“We had a good headwind today so we were able to land a little shorter,” he said. “It was a pretty good landing for the amount of wind we had today.”
It’s deceptive, but it’s the takeoff performance that’s more critical than the landing.
“When you see a takeoff, you say it doesn’t take that much, but in a jet airplane, you have to have enough runway to where you can accelerate to what we call ‘decision speed.’ If we lose an engine at that point, we still have enough runway to stop or continue on one engine and make a safe takeoff.”
Salyers has been flying for different companies in the area since 1984.
“We’ve been trying to build an airport here since before then. It’s a great day. It’s the realization of a dream.”
Shaun Barry of Ooltewah piloted the Citation with David Keck, who came down from upstate New York, and who was the second pilot.
Did landing second take away from the excitement?
“It does not,” Barry replied to the question. “What an honor it is to be part of this whole event. I just feel very privileged to be here and be a part of the first landing, second or third.”
Barry said he flew the Citation in and out of Hardwick only in good weather and only when it was dry and even then, it was still tricky.
“It was kind of, pick your spot right at the beginning of the runway and put it down. You can’t worry about getting a really nice, smooth landing — just pick your spot, put it there and get it stopped.
“This one is miles of runway compared to that (Hardwick). You’re looking at 3,200 feet compared to 5,500. Over there it was surrounded by trees and an upslope when you’re landing to the northeast and a downslope when you’re landing to the southwest. This is a dream. This airport is phenomenal.”
Keck said he was honored to come from New York to Cleveland just to be a part of the event.
“You don’t see too many general aviation airports opening up in the country. It’s very unusual to see this size of an airport. This is part of the infrastructure of the community,” he said. “A lot of times the first thing companies look at is transportation. ‘Can we get any of our people here by airplane?’ So this is a big deal. I wish the whole community good luck on this.”
Allan Jones, owner of Jones Airways, said later that the airport has already helped.
“We’ve got Wacker. We’ve got Amazon. We’ve got a new industrial site the Chamber is working on — it’s already had a huge effect. If this airport hadn’t been coming, they wouldn’t be here.”
Jones said he has been hearing about building a new airport since graduating from high school.
“I kept hearing them talk about it and I wanted to help them do something about it,” he said.
Jones said he met with airport design engineer Mark Paslick at the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce. A second meeting included himself, Paslick, At-Large City Councilman Richard Banks and City Manager Joe Cate.
“We decided the best way would be to form an airport authority. At that point, Richard was able to get four votes on the City Council,” Jones said.
“We picked three key people: Lynn DeVault, who has pulled this off before in Arkansas; former state Sen. Lou Patten, who understood the politics in Nashville; and Jim Sharp, who understood land acquisition. Those were the three key people. LeRoy Rymer and Mike McCoy were activists in the local airport.”