Photos by Kelly Sue Photography
Mankind overcomes superstitions and defies his fear of death and gravity. First by subduing the earth, then breaking free of its bonds to soar the heavens above it. Huntsville, a micropolis with aspirations to achieve greater levels of consequence, is blessed with the foresight for flight.
The Bruce Brothers Regional Airport brings those dreams closer to fruition. This 180 acre facility, set at an elevation of more than 360 feet above sea level, can boast of a new asphalt surfaced runway measuring more than 5000 feet long and 100 feet wide.
What may surprise many is this small, yet versatile facility located in the Piney Woods of east Texas serves as many as 20,000 aircraft operations per year. The range spans from general aviation to military operations, single/multi engine aircraft, maintenance and avionics repair, jets and even helicopters.
Bruce Brothers is also home for two of the most sought after flight instructors in the region – Wayne Hammond and legendary, award-winning pilot Mitch Inman. Both men work tirelessly, opening doors to the wonder of soaring the skies.
Pilot and Huntsville Aviation manager Wade Gillespie runs a tight ship seemingly effortlessly. His attitude is as if he just won the largest sweepstakes lottery of the most fun one can have in his chosen occupation. His smile seems as large as Texas.
8:30 a.m. – The skies are unusually overcast on this summer morning. Temperatures are expected to rise above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Gillespie has been on site for well over an hour, ensuring operations are at a high state of readiness. At this point, a large fuel truck is refilling the various types of fuel needed for the day’s operations. Gillespie is all business, yet with the charm of seeing an old friend. With the recent reconstruction of an Interstate 45 tributary underway, Gillespie acts as a ground transportation consultant for his fuel truck driver, as well as those going to and from the airport today.
The sounds of country music fill this airport’s Fixed Base Operation Center (FBOC), providing a feeling of wistful sentimental longing for flight to some joyful place. Gillespie informs all concerned persons that the overcast has a low ceiling currently below 14,000 feet, but fully expects the cloud cover to burn off given the expected forecast of high temperatures. After making all safety inspections and assisting the fuel tanker, Gillespie signs off for the airport’s fuel allotment.
8:45 a.m. – Agustin Rodriguez is early for his 9 a.m. workday. “I like to get in just a little bit early to see what is going on before I have to start,” he said. “I used to take my son to practice at Kate Barr Ross Park and see all the flights landing and taking off, and I always wanted to get involved with this airport somehow.” Rodriguez, a native of Huntsville, has ambitions of becoming a pilot and someday owning his own airplane. He begins moving planes to designated points on the airfield to increase efficiency of operations.
“We’ve recently completed upgrades to our runway, allowing for larger and heaver aircraft and jets,” Gillespie said. “In addition to improvements in our instrumentation system, we’ve had as many as 12 jet aircraft use this facility in one day, and we’re expecting at least close to 300 jet flights in the coming year. Not to mention our ‘fly-ins’ for the October Fair on the Square.”
10 a.m. – Mitch Inman arrives and begins to instruct on the flight training instrumentation device. “We use this to teach pilots how to fly primarily through the clouds,” he said. “This type of training simulates using low and high frequency radios, as well as global positioning.”
Two students are scheduled to arrive for solo flights. Aimee Montgomery, one of Inman’s students, arrives at the airport, along with her two children, Cameron and Anna. She brings a special lunch for Inman as thanks for “being such a special instructor instilling in her the confidence to fly.”
11 a.m. – Instruction continues on the airport’s flight training device, with special emphasis to problems that may occur while in flight. “At this point, the engine stalls,” Inman said. “Here is where we can use this as teaching moments.” He continues to instruct on the physics of flight and the capabilities of the aircraft. “What’s important to note is that when an aircraft’s engine stops, the aircraft just doesn’t fall out of the sky. We teach how to use the aircraft at that point in a glider mode.”
Noon – As most of the airport crew breaks for lunch, Inman is still instructing flight instruments training. He instructs from the classic golden age of flight towards today’s more automated systems. “In the past, it took at best an hour to work out a flight plan and make all required essential preflight checks,” Inman continued. “Today, we can get up to the minute weather information as well as preflight weight requirements with the touch of a button.”
1 p.m. – Inman continues to provide classic ground instruction, this time on weather predictions. “The earth’s axis sets at 23.5 degrees. Every 182 days, the earth tilts 47 degrees. If we divide 182 by 47, the daily movement will equate to approximately one quarter of a degree per day,” explains Inman. “If you use a magnetic compass and tracked the setting of the sun each day, every four days you would see the sun move one degree.” Inman went on to explain this simple formula is used to predict weather. The weather north or south of one’s present position will approximate the type of season approaching.
2 p.m. – Today’s solo flights are canceled due to low ceiling. More ground instruction ensues. “Each instructor has to try to determine what type of student he or she has,” Inman said. “I try to learn if the person is a hands-on or a mind-on type of person—meaning can they just read the book and learn that way, or do they need to take control and learn by getting their hands on things.” Inman feels the best pilots he’s had are heavy equipment operators. “Those guys just have a feel for an aircraft.”
3 p.m. – Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s aircraft lands, soon after other aircraft land from Wyoming and Fort Worth, Texas. Ground crews scramble to clean and refuel the aircraft. Soon after, additional flights land from Cox Field in Paris, Texas and Northwest Regional Airport in Roanoke, Texas. “Sometimes, the flights come in back-to-back like that, and it can get really busy in a hurry,” said Rodriguez.
4 p.m. – Pete Pothier, Huntsville Aviation’s aircraft mechanic, has spent much of the day performing maintenance on the various types of single-engine aircraft present at Bruce Brothers today. “Today has really been busy for us here,” said Pothier. “Over the last 25 years, I’ve had a chance to work on just about every type of aircraft that lands or takes off from this facility. The special thing about working here is that we can do just about everything onsite.”
At this particular time, Pothier has a section of wing he has just completed refashioning. “Even with some of the newer electronic systems used on aircraft, we are still able to do most of the work here,” he said.
5 p.m. – As the day moves inevitably towards its close, Gillespie makes his final safety checks. This day is not complete until he schedules annual aircraft inspections and orders replacement parts for the maintenance crew. Every facet of Huntsville Aviation is geared toward the aircraft, because it was born in man’s dream for conquering time and space made of steel and power—yet its soul is the men who fly them—they are their islands in the sky.
1000 Airport Dr.
Huntsville, TX 77320
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