HOSPITALITY SWEET Generosity impresses visiting pilots and fans

Several members and guests of the Black Pilots Association attending this weekend’s Operation Skyhook national fly-in at Pine Bluff’s Grider Field Airport said Friday that they are pleased the event is being held here for a 17th consecutive year.

“I love Pine Bluff,” said BPA member John W. Hicks of Tuskegee, Ala. “Everybody here is always friendly and helpful, especially the airport staff. Everyone is supportive of our Operation Skyhook continuing to be held here, and they’ve been that way the entire 17 years.

“I’ve made each of the Pine Bluff fly-ins,” continued the 71-year-old, a licensed pilot since 1968. “We always look forward to our time here. We’ll start planning for next year’s trip as soon as this one is over.”

Hicks flew his daughter, Audrey Hodge, and granddaughter, 17-year-old Alani Hodge, to Pine Bluff from Tuskegee, where Alani Hodge just completed her junior year of high school. Audrey Hodge, 47, is a licensed pilot and Alani Hodge is undergoing training. Both had kind words for Pine Bluff.

“This is my 10th year to come here for the fly-in,” Alani Hodge said. “Coming to Pine Bluff always starts my vacation. I enjoy coming here every year. The people at Grider Field and the motel we stay at here remember us and are always glad to see us. I want to come back again next year and be able to enter all the (pilot) competitions. I hope to have my pilot license when I get back next year and I would love to win something.”

Charlie Masters — “over 70” — of San Antonio is a retired Federal Aviation Administration flight safety engineer and has been a licensed pilot for “about 40 years.”

“The people here are nice and this is a nice general airport,” said the BPA member, who isn’t at ease with traveling as he once had been. “I wouldn’t want to live here because it’s too far inland for me, and I don’t like making the trip to Pine Bluff every year, but after I arrive, I’m always glad to be back.”

Air Wisconsin pilot Yvonne McManus flew from New Jersey for the event and said she had been eager to return to Pine Bluff.

“This is my fourth year here and it’s become my favorite event of the year,” she said. “Pine Bluff people are unbelievably friendly. I think Pine Bluff has the best Southern hospitality anywhere.”

A couple of observers hadn’t traveled far from their nearby homes but were quick in offering additional kind words.

“I’ve been to five or six of these and I never leave without feeling that the airport officials are happy that I came,” said Deborah Williams, 46, of North Little Rock. “Everyone is kind and considerate. I have relatives who live close to Pine Bluff and we always get together when I come to the Black Pilots show. I love the (Grider Field) restaurant. We’ve eaten there a couple of times and the food is absolutely delicious and the workers are wonderful.

“I’ve gotten to know some of the pilots and their families, and I can tell you that they like coming here just as much as I do,” she said. “This is all something that Pine Bluff can be proud of.”

Donald Fletcher, 55, of Desha County, said he lived in Pine Bluff as a boy.

“I can’t believe how nice this airport is now,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like there was this much to it when I was a kid. You can tell that the people here are proud of it. They ought to be. I like the restaurant, too. The people there make you feel like they’ve known you all your life. The roads are so much better around here than they used to be, and getting here and around town is a lot better than it used to be.

“I think the black pilots are glad to be able to get together in a place like this,” he concluded.