By BRETT MARSHALL
SYRACUSE — Dick Janitell is an accomplished pilot, having started flying at age 12.
With approximately 8,000 hours in the air, the Colorado Springs, Colo., native knows a thing or two about flying, and planes.
So when he began talking about air shows and planes on Oct. 5 at the 19th annual Syracuse Antique Fly-in, he certainly had an expert opinion on both the show and the Syracuse Municipal Airport.
"This is a great event that they put on here," Janitell said during a break in the show, which attracted approximately 30 vintage aircraft and hundreds of spectators. "I've been to all the big shows — Reno (Nev.), Oshkosh (Wis.), and they're just a big show. I'd rather come to one of these. There's a lot more friendly folks, and they're more the grass roots type of flying."
Janitell's plane itself was something to behold. Painted somewhere between a pale and dark green, his Hawker Sea Fury was one of the most viewed planes of the 2013 show.
"It was the last piston fighter made for any of the allied forces (WWII), just at the tail end," Janitell said of his beauty. "It will pass everything but a gas station. It's very fast, very big, very loud. They always say this type of plane is a converter — they convert gasoline into noise."
With a top end speed of 459 mph, it didn't take Janitell long to fly from his home in Colorado Springs to Syracuse on the morning of the show.
"It was about 29 minutes down here, and with the wind that I'll be flying into (about 20 to 25 mph), it will be about 40 minutes going home. That's not bad at all. It beats the heck out of the four-hour drive. The problem is that it's 300 gallons of gas to get me here and back home."
Janitell has an aircraft sales and management company in Colorado Springs and has been coming to the Syracuse show for several years, after having made the acquaintance of several local pilots.
"They just blackmail me to come down here," he said with a laugh. "But seriously, this is a wonderful place to come. It's a great airport. Today, it's amazing that the community supports it as well as they do."
At a time when the economy has taken a nosedive, Janitell said he's impressed with how the Syracuse airport has been improved through the years.
"You talk to a lot of the local folks, and for a town this size, the airport is one of the best I've been to. It's fun to come down to a flying community and see folks that maybe you don't see for a year. It makes it worthwhile."
For Steve Phillips, who serves a dual role as the Syracuse airport manager and president of the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, the event is an opportunity to showcase the improvements made at the facility over the past decade.
"A lot of the airplanes here you'll only see in museums," Phillips said. "They are very rare planes. One is a grand champion from a national air show. The WWII fighters are not cheap to fly and maintain, and we really appreciate them flying in today."
Phillips said there were pilots from Lincoln, Neb., to the front range of Colorado, to Wichita and all points in between in the approximately 30 planes that were on hand for the 19th air show.
"We combined with the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) 377 out of Garden City to help promote the event," Phillips said. "It gives us a chance to show off the airport and all the construction and improvements that have been made over the last 10 to 15 years."
Those improvements include adding in a new runway that is 4,600 feet long and 75 feet wide compared to the old runway, which still exists, of 3,000 feet in length and 40 feet in width.
"We do a chili cook-off and have an open house for the community to show what we have," Phillips said. "It gives us a chance to show how valuable the airport is."
With the expanded runway, Phillips said the facility also added in an instrument landing system, which allows aircraft to land in inclement weather.
"It gives us all-weather access primarily for air ambulance, which is our main link in and out to transport patients to Wichita, Denver or Amarillo," Phillips said. "Before, in bad weather conditions, the old runway was narrow and short, and there was no way to get in here if the clouds were low."
In addition to serving the medical needs of the community, the airport has increased traffic into town for local businesses, as well.
"It's more usable for business traffic, and we've started to see more jet traffic," Phillips said. "Our crop duster is the primary user of the airport. By far, he has the most operations here. It gives him a safety factor to use the bigger runway, and it's more capable to handle things when conditions are not ideal."
Phillips said that despite the windy conditions on this day, he was pleased with the turnout.
"It's really the support of our local pilots, calling out to their friends, and inviting them to come around," Phillips said of the fly-in. "The unique airplanes we have I think really appeal to people. I'm just surprised at the turnout. We've had as many as 65 planes in good weather in the past."
With the local community enjoying the chili cook-off and hamburger feed in a nearby hangar, Phillips said all proceeds from that go to support the local chamber of commerce.
The upgrade of facilities, which includes an apron for parking planes, has allowed the small southwest Kansas community to house a significant number of private planes.
"We have 30 airplanes based here on the airfield," Phillips said. "They are for business and recreational use. We feel fortunate that there's still quite an interest in flying in Syracuse."