Shelby County pilots host philanthropic flight

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, July 18, 2010

It’s not often people are able to make a difference by playing in the ocean and ordering a huge plate of shrimp for lunch, but that’s exactly what the pilots from the Shelby County Airport did on their trip to Gulf Shores this weekend.

More than 60 people in 26 airplanes flew from the Shelby County Airport to Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores on July 17 for an event dubbed “The $100 Hamburger,” designed to pump some money back into the coast’s struggling economy.

“Economically, it’s a drop in the bucket, but the gesture’s huge,” said Shelby County Airport’s superintendent Terry Franklin. “All the credit goes to the pilots.”

Pilots from all over the state heard about the Shelby County’s pilots’ idea to change their normal weekend lunch-flight destination from nearby restaurants to LuLu’s in Gulf Shores, owned by Jimmy Buffett’s sister Lucy.

Pilots joined the effort from the Shelby County Aviation Association, the Birmingham Aero Club and the Experimental Aircraft Association, to name a few.

Not every pilot who made the flight was from Alabama. Uri Hasche joined the party from all the way in Stuttgard, Germany.

“I was interested because we in Germany have also seen information on the news about the oil spill,” said Hasche, who was visiting German friends in Tuscaloosa when he heard about the flight. He said he didn’t know how much the pilots’ spending money would affect the coast’s economy in the long run, but, he said, it’s “the starting point.”

At the end of the trip, Hasche went to the beach to collect a plastic bag of sand to add to his collection of sand from all over the world. He had been to this area of the country before, more than 25 years ago, but he had never visited Alabama’s coast.

“Almost every day I meet new people and they’re always extremely friendly, especially here,” Hasche said.

Some pilots were already in Gulf Shores, and simply joined the Shelby County pilots on the way home.

“We want to participate and promote good news,” said Marty Henderson, a Shelby County resident whose family was in the Gulf Shores area for the weekend. “The Gulf is alive, restaurants are full and you have to wait in line,” he said.

Rick Kilgore, another Shelby County Pilot, said he just hopes the event will encourage other groups to make similar trips.

“Motorcycle groups, anyone–we’ve got 60 or more people here so if they each spend $20, it really helps and everyond down here appreciates it,” Kilgore said.

The pilots were met at the Gulf Shores Airport with a banner, mardi gras beads and lots of hugs and thanks from the South Alabama Parrothead Club members, who wore glasses adorned with parrots and palm trees.

“We’re so excited you’re here and we appreciate it so much,” shouted one of the Parrothead members as the pilots walked inside.

Besides the pilots volunteering the use of their planes, many other local businesses made efforts to help the cause. A printing company in Hueytown donated t-shirts and one local business even donated rental cars to chauffer the pilots and their guests wherever they needed to go once they arrived at the coast.

“One merchant from the coast even called us up at the airport to thank us for what we were doing,” said Johnny Barnes, one of the main organizers of the flight. “It just makes you feel good.”