For the past 17 years, visitors to the Chilton County Airport have been routinely greeted by the sound of helicopter rotor blades beating the air, as these machines transverse the airspace surrounding the airport.
Intermixed with the helicopter operations, numerous fixed wing aircraft in various stages of routine maintenance and inspection are visible in the hangar area while the pilots of transient aircraft stop to purchase fuel, travel to destinations within the city or county to conduct business or to utilize the facility as a rest stop before proceeding along their route of flight.
At the center of this constant activity are Ken and Nancy Gilliland, owners and operators of B&G Flying Service.
This husband and wife team operates the fixed base operation at the Chilton County Airport that provides aviation maintenance services, charter flight operations, aerial forest fire patrols and aircraft refueling services.
Formed in 1995, B&G Flying Service relocated from Selma to the Chilton County Airport in 1998 and has remained a fixture at the airport in subsequent years.
The firm has become a well-known and highly respected aircraft maintenance facility specializing in helicopter inspection, rebuilding and repair. Their customers travel to Chilton County from points throughout the eastern United States, Canada and Europe.
Recently, a customer based in England transported a vintage helicopter to Chilton County to allow Ken Gilliland to restore the machine to its original condition. The journey from England to Clanton required six weeks of travel by rail, ocean and interstate highway.
Ken and Nancy Gilliland have devoted their lives and careers to aviation. Ken retired from the United States Air Force after 20 years of service as an aircraft maintenance technician and was involved in the development of the F-117 Stealth Fighter.
He is a veteran of both Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. While serving in the military, Gilliland completed all requirements for certification as a civilian pilot and has accumulated more than 6,000 hours of experience as a pilot and flight instructor in airplanes and helicopters.
In 2013, he was recognized for his 40 years of outstanding performance, professionalism and dedication to aviation safety in being selected as the Aviation Maintenance Technician of the Year for the Federal Aviation Administration Southern Region – an area that includes seven states in the southern United States and Puerto Rico.
Nancy Gilliland is also a certificated pilot and has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of experience in airplanes. Although her primary responsibility relates to managing the financial aspects of the business, it is not uncommon to find her assisting in the maintenance shop, as a crewmember during aerial forest fire patrols or managing the airport fueling services. She has an extensive background in administration, county government and various other business enterprises.
As the Chilton County Airport continues to emerge as an economic engine for Chilton County, B&G Flying Service continues to provide similar economic benefits to the airport.
In conjunction with the growth of the airport, B&G Flying Service has experienced a similar level of growth in their business.
The company recently hired its first full-time employee, Jeff Jett of Clanton, to assist in the maintenance and servicing of local and transient aircraft. In addition to his employment, Jett will be afforded a unique opportunity to work under the tutelage of Ken Gilliland to obtain the experience required to qualify as an aviation maintenance technician.
After obtaining 24 months of practical experience, Jett will qualify for testing and certification by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform maintenance and repair of aircraft and aviation engines.
B&G Flying Service currently operates two airplanes and one helicopter in providing services to their customers. The airplanes are utilized in conjunction with their Federal Aviation Administration approved air charter service and Alabama Forestry Commission contracted aerial forest fire patrols. During the busy summer fire season, the company employs a second pilot to operate one of the two airplanes.
In addition to being used for flight instruction, aerial photography, and aerial surveys, the helicopter is well adapted for more specialized activities. In recent years, it has been used to support the local agriculture industry. Below freezing temperatures during critical periods in the growing season create a significant danger to peach orchards in the county.
To prevent damage to the crop, the helicopter can be operated at low altitude over small fires built in the orchards to circulate the heated air, increasing the ambient temperature, to protect the peaches during the periods of the coldest temperatures.
As the Chilton County Airport continues to grow and develop to better serve the residents of our county and region, so will B&G Flying Service continue to expand their services to better meet the needs of the their customers.
In partnership with the county and its municipalities, the Chilton County Airport will become an increasingly important component of local and regional economic development efforts. As the airport is especially vital to the economic development of the county, B&G Flying Service is vital to the economic development of the airport.
This partnership, like others being developed throughout Chilton County will be one of the driving forces that propel our community to a better economy and quality of life for all residents.