Up in Smoke

Sky’s the limit for Wisener celebration

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One hundred years from the day the first airplane set down in Massingale Meadow, politicians, pilots and others celebrated the anniversary at Wisener Field Airport in Mineola last Tuesday.

A Texas House of Representatives and Senate Resolution, official recognition from Governor Greg Abbott and a proclamation read by Mineola Mayor Kevin White were all ways that celebrated the existence of the airport that has been an attraction for aviation fans for a century.

As the sky cleared, there was also a formation fly-over and exciting air shows by two stunt pilots. Rides in a Commemorative Air Force Stearman were offered. A catered barbecue lunch was held in the Royal Flying Circus Museum where Henry Wisener’s 100-year-old Curtiss Jenny was parked. Vintage planes and antique cars were scattered around. There was even a DJ playing favorite songs from all decades adding to the party atmosphere.

Representative Cole Hefner brought his wife and seven children to the celebration. Hefner presented House Concurrent Resolution 130 which was “an expression of high regard” on behalf of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate. The city had proclaimed it Wisener Field Remembrance Day.

Owners Dr. Robert and Lupita Wisener hosted the event. Every July 4 sees an informal “fly-in” of pilots to the airport. But this year it was something special. Bob, the son of the original founder, Henry, stood aside from the crowd in shade cast by the wings of an airplane as he watched.

The day had started with light rain and heavily clouded skies. Wisener said that while the celebration had turned out great, “We were kind of worried about it there for a while with the weather. Afraid nobody’d show up. They showed up,” he said enthusiastically.

One had to wonder what he may have been thinking seeing the pilots put on the air show at the airport that hosted many stunt pilots and barnstormers in previous decades.

“The big difference is the airplanes have gotten a lot better, and so have the pilots,” Wisener said. ”Yeah, that’s one of the things they used to do back in the old barnstorming days. Show up in a town and do some stunts. Then, you could start charging for it. They’d go for it,” he said with a chuckle. His uncle Bryce was a parachute jumper and a wing walker. His dad “wouldn’t do any of that, but he’d do aerobatics and stuff.”

Wisener said that today’s stunt pilots “are way past the basic stuff.” They were performing loops, quick rolls and barrel rolls, which are slow. He said the maneuver in which they would fly straight up in the air, then come tumbling down “was a Russian thing. The Russians came up with that. Now everybody’s doing that. Better them than me,” he said of the chilling stunt.

He noted that Steve Covington who flew a green Raptor is a professional stunt pilot. “He’s got a lot of money invested in that airplane. That engine’s double the horsepower it used to be. And it costs money to mess with that.”

Covington’s aircraft was a Pitts. “A guy named Pitts built the first one. Curtis Pitts. He’s long dead and gone now.” Wisener continued that Pitts started out in the 1940s and he built the first little airplane for a woman pilot named Betty Skelton. “She liked doing aerobatics,” and most of the planes were large and heavy. He said Skelton liked the plane, others started seeing it and men began wanting them as well. “It can do things real quick, where big airplanes like this take longer. It’s like the difference between messing around in a race car and messing around in an 18-wheeler.”

A program was also held with Lupita Wisener serving as the master of ceremonies. It included the posting of the colors by the Civil Air Patrol, Sulphur Springs Composite Squadron. World War II veterans were asked to stand, Wayne Collins was the only one present and was applauded. And then all veterans in attendance were asked to stand. She then included the announcement of WWII pilots who used to go to their celebrations who had died and a moment of silence was held in their honor. They included Doug Fournier, a B 51 pilot in England; Roland Chamblee, born on the Fourth of July; Elmer Bunn, a frequent flyer; Gene Bright, a flight engineer during WWII and Doug Wright, a B17 gunner . Wisener thanked the Bonanza V-Tails, led by Collins, for their formation flyover. Randy Bateman of Mineola was also one of the pilots.

White read the proclamation declaring it Wisener Field Remembrance Day.

Cole spoke a few words of appreciation, joking “Currently your life, liberty and property are safe because we are not in session. We will be back in session shortly.”

As he spoke, more aircraft made “low passes” past the airport. He noted that Wisener is the longest continuously-running airport that is privately owned and noted that it is good for the local economy and recreation and “it’s a good thing to get to have.” He noted that the Wisener family took over the property in 1926 and Senators Lyndon B. Johnson, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison had all flown into the airport. He said it was “a real honor to be able to do this” and read the last part of the resolution stating that the 85th Legislature “hereby commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first landing of the first airplane at Wisener Field Airport and extends to the Wisener family and to everyone associated with the airport, sincere best wishes .”

The program also included a drawing for an aviation Christmas decoration being offered by the Ninety-Nines, an international nonprofit organization of women pilots. Ameliah Airheart was their first elected president. She was among 117 women in 1929 who formed the group, 99 showed up for the formative meeting. “If it flies, we fly it,” said Jill Shockley of the group.

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