The mountains of the Upstate’s western rim are more than 10 miles from the Anderson Regional Airport. The nearest 10-story building is more than 30 miles away.
That makes it an ideal playground for pilots.
“Pilots say it’s a great little airport for doing shows,” said Anderson resident Bill Trent, a former military pilot who flew Delta jumbo jets for more than 23,000 hours. “There are no obstacles to worry about. Not only does it have great visuals, but there’s nothing standing anywhere to distract a pilot.”
“There’s a lot of open land surrounding the airport, and pilots love that,” said Trent, who along with his wife, Jo, is helping sponsor the event. “That’s also good for spectators, because there are unobstructed views.”
Butch Jones, chairman of the executive committee that is bringing an air show to Anderson for the second straight year, said the airport location is ideal in terms of attracting crowds.
Jones expects a crowd of more than 30,000 for Saturday’s Bill and Jo Trent Celebration Anderson Regional Airshow, which would make it the largest to attend a single-day event in the county.
“Midway between two large population centers in Charlotte and Atlanta, Anderson is a really good venue for an air show,” Jones said, “because this gets a lot of interest outside of the county. A lot of people in those areas love aviation, but it’s hard to have an air show in those areas because the FAA restricts shows in heavy population areas.”
“The terrain is good here, and the runways are fairly long (6,000 feet and 5,000 feet),” Jones said. “They’re not long enough to accommodate the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds, but they’re long enough for most acts.”
Dense population also limits air-show potential at the downtown airports in Greenville and Atlanta. That provides opportunities for Anderson, along with Greenwood. But Anderson’s runways are only seven miles from Interstate 85, which gives it a marketing edge over Greenwood.
“It’s a great place for a show,” said longtime pilot and air-show enthusiast Reid Garrison, who partnered with the Shriners to stage two air shows in the 1980s. “I think they should charge money and make some money on it, but that’s just me.”
The biggest reason Anderson is carving its Upstate niche among aviation enthusiasts, Jones said, might be that its community simply wants it more.
Jones is part of an air show committee that numbers about two dozen, and marvels at their individual response to volunteer work.
“You need a lot of cooperation to do something like this — everything from the sheriff’s office to fire departments to EMS personnel,” Jones said. “And every time we’ve talked about planning a show, the response is the same: ‘How can we help?’
“No one has ever said, ‘That’s not my job,'” Jones said. “In any organization, that’s unique. And that’s the reason we’re able to have shows here. The volunteer work is the best thing going for us.”
Saturday’s air show will be the fifth in 10 years at the airport, located on S.C. 24. The previous show was in May 2015. Typically, the schedule is determined by the availability of headline acts, although this event was also planned with Clemson University’s football schedule in mind. The nationally-ranked team has an open date Saturday.
Lt. Commander Wallace “Gump” Miller pilots the F/A-18F Super Hornet during a test flight on Friday at the Anderson Regional Airport. The Bill and Jo Trent Air Show starts at 1 p.m. Saturday. Ken Ruinard/Independent Mail
The value of the shows, and the reason county officials are reluctant to charge an admission or parking fee, is a subtle one. Those aviation enthusiasts want others to be familiar with the campus.
“We hope it helps people recognize the value of having an airport,” Jones said. “The airport really is the doorway to Anderson County, and it’s an asset that most people aren’t aware of.”
Steve Newton, Anderson County special projects director, said the philosophy of the county is to provide the shows as public benefit.
“Most are shows are put on as private promotions, for profit. This show is put together by a committee of volunteers; it’s a labor of love for them. It’s a group of citizens who want to make this happen.
Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns said the byproduct of a vibrant community airport is the chance to attract and keep prospective business owners.
“One day we had six corporate jets out here,” Burns said Thursday, citing the companies that owned them. “When companies are thinking about relocating their business, the first thing they look at is airport access.
“They like to be able to fly into the the city and be at their company in 15 minutes,” Burns said, “and they can do that here. If they had to land in Greenville, they’d probably just move their company to Greenville.
While most committee members would love to host a show every year, Jones said alternate years is a more realistic goal.
“It takes a lot of time to plan and execute, and to do it without charging a fee, we typically go back to the same sponsors every time,” Jones said. “Having a show every 18 to 24 months is a more realistic goal.
Gates at the airport open at 10 a.m. Saturday, when more than a dozen aircraft will be on display. The activity in the air begins at 1 p.m.
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Lt. Commander Wallace “Gump” Miller pilots the F/A-18F