Four T-6 Texan warbirds lifted off from the runway, one by one, until each became specks indistinguishable from the birds circling the blue sky above Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport.
It was a rare sight, but the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport’s a rare place.
At a 45th anniversary open house on Oct. 17, planes and people gathered to celebrate an airport that has served the aviation and local communities since Sept. 20, 1970.
“It gets more special every single year,” Michelle Broady, airport manager, said.
The airport remains one of few privately-owned, public-use general aviation airports in Virginia, and its beginnings trace back to 1967 and a young man’s desire to fly.
Following the closing of Williamsburg’s College Airport, Larry Waltrip asked his parents, owners of a construction company, about building an airstrip. Together, Waltrip, his brother Timmy and his father Dudley built a runway.
Bill Phillips and wife Anita traveled to Williamsburg from Alabama for Saturday’s open house. An architect, Phillips helped design the original airport.
Phillips remembers sitting around the Waltrip’s table years ago, drawing and dreaming of the airport.
“What we did was plan for any eventuality,” Phillips said. And much of what’s happened at the airport is exactly according to plan, he continued.
Since opening, the airport remained a family operation under Waltrip and his wife Jean. Jean was the airport’s heart and soul for 38 years before she passed away seven years ago, said Broady, Larry and Jean’s daughter.
Maintaining the airport has been far from easy. But the family presses on for the customers, the community.
“When they’re happy, I’m happy,” Waltrip said.
Pete and Caddy Meekins enjoyed the antique aircrafts on display at Saturday’s open house. They’ve housed their own 1958 Cessna 180 at the airport since moving to Williamsburg around 5 years ago.
But they’ve flown through the airport since 1980, always stopping to grab lunch in Charly’s Airport Restaurant. They love the friendliness, the welcoming atmosphere.
“Makes you feel like you’re at home,” said Fred Norris, a customer who often stops by the airport to eat or observe the planes.
Robin Bledsoe and her family have used the airport for nearly eight years—her husband is a pilot. In that time, she’s realized: “It’s more than just an airport…it’s a community gathering place.”
“The heart of the community comes out here,” Bledsoe said.
The airport averages about 18,000 arrivals each year—from business people and coporations to tourists and Tidewater locals.
“We are one of the vital links to bringing people into Williamsburg and out of Williamsburg in a speedy way,” Waltrip said.
Additionally, the airport currently houses 79 privately-owned aircraft. The Williamsburg Flight Center, operating on airport property, provides flight training, maintenance and air tours. Emergency services utilize the airport, including Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance.
Several civic groups use the airport’s conference area as a meeting space. Representatives from several groups, including Five Forks Ruritan Club and the Virginia Helicopter Association, attended the open house.
“It’s kind of an unpolished gem, in a way,” Shaun Stewart, owner of the flight center, said. “It’s a family-run, hometown airport.”
Stewart believes the airport will become increasingly important as the community of Williamsburg grows.
Whatever the future holds, one thing remains certain: those who visit the airport leave with greater appreciation for aviation and for each other.
Charley Rogers works at the airport in fixed base operations. After retiring from the life insurance business, Rogers sat at home for awhile before Jean Waltrip recruited him to the airport 10 years ago.
Rogers admitted he spends much more time at the airport than he has to. It doesn’t feel like work.
“I meet a lot of friends here,” Rogers said. And he tries his best to speak to everyone who walks in the door.