The blue skies above Sisters were abuzz Thursday morning as pilots flew in from all points of the compass to mark the grand opening of the refurbished Sisters Eagle Airport.
The July fourth celebration marked the completion of an improved runway, the addition of a fueling station and a big step toward the future. Hangar space is on the agenda, and a community garden has been created on the site, which is currently in the land-use process toward annexation into the city of Sisters.
Sisters Eagle Airport is owned by Benny and Julie Benson, whose firm, ENERGYneering Solutions Inc., is headquartered at the airport.
A large contingent of the Sisters community mingled with pilots who flew in for the morning, enjoying a pancake breakfast provided by Sisters Rotary on a grill belonging to Sisters Kiwanis.
The huge turnout of both planes and citizens was impressive to many who attended.
"Never seen anything like this in Sisters, have we?" said Peter Storton, of Sisters. "It's awesome."
City Manager Andrew Gorayeb called the renovation of the airport "among the best things that could possibly happen in Sisters. It's going to bring people here; it's going to bring commerce here; it's going to bring visitors here. Anything that does that is a win for us."
David Clemens, whose father Clifton Clemens owned and operated the airport for decades, said, "What do you think Dad would have thought of this? He would have been so excited."
Pilots were most excited about the fueling station.
"(The airport) will get a lot of people flying in now that they know there's fuel," said Sisters resident Jack Addison.
Bruce Merrell said, "You always had to land at Bend or Madras to top off. A little more workload on the pilot... so it's great to have fuel here."
That sentiment was echoed by Joe Blank, of Molalla, a member of the West Coat Ravens formation team, members of which flew in formation over the airport in RV kit planes.
"It's great," he said. "This is awesome. This is exactly what the airport needed."
Blank said he got into formation flying as an extension of his experience in formation work as a skydiver.
The runway is wider and smoother thanks to a $750,000 upgrade that brought it to an FAA-standard width of 60 feet and smoothed out a prominent rise and dip. ConnectOregon IV provided $600,000 in grant funding for the runway improvements. The lottery-funded ConnectOregon IV grant comes from Northwest Oregon Area Commission on Transportation (NWACT).
Merrell noted that, while the runway is wider, it's not longer, and pilots will still have to pay attention to lift.
"The wider strip makes it a little safer with the crosswind, but guys still have to be careful with the length," he said.
The strip will be a public-safety asset, usable for medical evacuation craft, symbolized by an AirLink plane that landed on the runway during the fly-in. Attendees got to tour the craft.
Vern Goodsell, a pilot and aircraft builder, called the renovated facility "fantastic."
"You've got to give Benny a lot of kudos for what he's done here," he said.
Merrell said the work greatly enhances an airport that has a beautiful setting.
"There's nothing like coming in after a long flight and seeing those mountains and saying, 'I'm home,'" he said.