Local aficionados of aviation will be happy to know that the City of Yuma has proclaimed September as General Aviation Appreciation Month to celebrate the industry’s economic impact and history.
The Arizona Legislature made the proclamation last September, and the City of Yuma followed suit this year.
“It’s an opportunity for our community to celebrate the passionate group of people whose interests are essential and help encourage the succession of pilots and professionals in commercial aviation, aerospace and defense industries,” said Gen Grosse, corporate account manager at Yuma International Airport.
At the General Aviation Social held Thursday evening at Yuma International Airport, Councilman Gary Knight presented Mayor Doug Nicholls’ proclamation on his behalf. State Sen. Lynne Pancrazi, the Airport Board of Directors and other Yuma County officials were also in attendance.
A statement from the mayoral proclamation read by Knight at the event showed that Arizona’s general aviation airports contribute nearly $609 million in economic impact and create 6,900 jobs.
According to Grosse, 80 general aviation pilots operate at the airport and about 35 more in Somerton. On average, Grosse says over 89,000 flights (including military) take place each year at Yuma’s airport.
“I think that general aviation really contributes to the community in a lot of different ways,” said Joe Fisher, who has been a Yuma pilot since 1982. “It is truly the gateway to Yuma. It helps the economy and it helps local business.”
Brian Cullen, who has been a pilot for 11 years, believes that airports help keep cities strong.
“It’s a link for vitality for most cities and Yuma is no exception,” Cullen said. “Yuma is also a very unique airport, with military aircraft, commercial and GA (general aviation) aircraft. It’s a unique place to fly in to and fly out of.”
Grosse says that Yuma also has a notable history in aviation.
“Our community is fortunate to have a rich aviation history which can be celebrated every month,” Grosse said in an interview. “The airport has written monthly publications for the Chamber’s Yuma Biz publication about Yuma’s rich aviation history. There are very few historic sites remaining (such as) Yuma Landing, and of course the City of Yuma Endurance Plane at City Hall.”
Robert G. Fowler, a pioneer aviator, touched down at Yuma Landing on Oct. 25, 1911. The site is located at 195 S. 4th Ave.
Fowler was the first person to land an airplane in Arizona under its own power. He was a native of California and he had departed Los Angeles on Oct. 19 and completed aviation history’s first west-to-east transcontinental flight when he reached San Pablo Beach, Florida, on Feb. 17, 1912.
Fowler flew a Wright Model B, purchased from Orville and Wilbur Wright, who taught him to fly.
As a publicity stunt designed to show off the city’s year-round flying weather, the Aeronca Sedan airplane, dubbed the City of Yuma, flew in the 1949 World Endurance Flight. The aircraft flew for almost 47 days and gained worldwide press. It set an endurance record of 1,124 hours in continuous flight.
“Yumans have always shown their appreciation for aviation,” Grosse said. “From Robert Fowler’s first landing in Yuma in October 1911, our community helped him get his aircraft fixed and back up in the air. In the ‘40s, our community helped and cheered for the success of the Endurance Flight pilots, which ultimately attracted the military to return to Yuma. Today, we hope to encourage interest in the next generation of pilots through promotion of aviation-related programs and events.”
Grosse noted that aviation organizations such as The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and its cadet program are open to the public. The CAP is the official U.S. Air Force auxiliary and is a nonprofit organization with more than 56,000 members. According to the organizations website, the CAP conducts 90 percent of search and rescue flights within the continental U.S.
Capt. William “Scotty” Haskell, CAP Deputy Commander of Seniors, says the organization has been in Yuma since 1950.
Haskell attended the general aviation social and noted while the local squadron of the CAP has been one of “Yuma’s best kept secrets,” he feels that General Aviation Appreciation month will help familiarize the group with the public.
“It’s good exposure,” said Scotty Haskell with the CAP. “Any time you can have community exposure, it’s beneficial for both us and the community.”
For more information on the CAP Yuma Composite Squadron 508, visit yuma508.webs.com.