Jul 04, 2018 12:00AM
● By Brian Saucedo
By Kelley Lewis
I’m minutes away from my first helicopter ride. Nervous? Me…no way! As a pilot’s wife, I’ve been around the sights and sounds, I’ve heard the stories…and yet my palms are definitely sweaty as I exit Route 32 and round onto General Aviation Drive.
I can’t see Tipton Airport yet. Tucked between the Fort George G. Meade army base and a wildlife refuge, you might not even realize it’s here…until you look up! Small aircraft and helicopters pepper the sky on this crystal-clear morning.
Seth Clute, my helicopter pilot and owner of Monumental Helicopters, is waiting for me with a reassuring handshake and smile. I immediately forget my nerves and focus on this
next adventure: an aerial tour of the Tipton Airport grounds—all 366 sprawling acres of it—as well as a quick flight over beautiful Annapolis.
I’m strapped in, shoulder to shoulder with Clute. Wonderfully his voice, over the headset, is just as reassuring as his smile. During our smooth takeoff, I note the 3,000-foot runway, Operations building with its gently flapping flags, Hangars 80, 84, and 85, bright blue T-Hangars, and a plethora of beautiful airplanes tied down on the tarmac. We’re heading East, toward Annapolis, when Clute points out the incoming BWI traffic flying above us. On our return, we’re lucky enough to witness a majestic bald eagle souring just a few hundred feet below us. This half-hour flight was a once in a lifetime experience for me, and yet it’s only one of the aviation opportunities offered at Tipton Airport.
Built in 1960, to house and maintain U.S. Army helicopters, the Fort George G. Meade Army Airfield was quickly renamed in honor of Colonel William “Shorty” Tipton—a Maryland native
and decorated veteran of both World Wars. While the army airfield closed in 1995, the Defense Department transferred land ownership to the Tipton Airport Authority (a state-chartered public corporation), which reopened the Tipton Airport, as we know it today, only four years later.
With four full-time and four part-time employees, Tipton operations are funded through revenue generated from its tenants, like Monumental Helicopters. Fort Meade Flying Activity provides flight instruction. Tipton Aircraft Services provides aircraft maintenance. MedStar Transport provides medivac air ambulance service. And law enforcement units provide aerial tactical support.
The rich history remains, but upgrades make the current airport look nothing like the original airfield. Improvement funding through the FAA and state helped resurface runways and taxiways; and make upgrades to the existing hangars. And improvements continue.
There are bright blue, brand new T-Hangars, which are a huge pull for private pilot Billy Smith to return to Tipton Airport.
“My roots are here at this airfield,” Smith says.
Living on Fort Meade as a young boy, Smith would ride his bicycle from his house to the Tipton airfield “to watch helicopters—just waste a whole Saturday afternoon watching the helicopters fly.” The beginning of his love affair with flying.
Graduating from flight school in 1980, Smith began flying Chinooks for the Army Reserve. He also became a member of the local flying clubs, broadening his flying to fixed wing aircraft.
Now a United Airlines Captain, when he’s not flying a 747, he enjoys taking his beautifully restored 1955 Beechcraft T-34B (Navy trainer) out for a quick joy ride. When he got the call from Tipton Airport that the T-Hangars were complete and #5 had his name on it, he was thrilled.
With 22 aircraft (like Smith’s) housed in the T Hangars, 25 in the big hangars, and more than 90 tied down on the ramp, you see a little bit of everything—Cessna, Mooney, Bonanza, and Piper—making around 40,000 take-offs and landings last year.
But the heartbeat of Tipton is more than simple take-offs and landings. General aviation is the gateway to any community as decision makers and investors arrive through local airports like Tipton. Jon Hammock, President and CEO of KeyLogic, headquartered in Morgantown, West Virginia, chose Tipton to access his Fulton, Maryland office and area clients.
A pilot himself, Hammock quickly identified that general aviation would be a strategic advantage for his business, allowing the speed of business to be quicker and more efficient. His Cirrus airplane allows for a normal business day (take off, conduct business in the local area, back home for dinner) verses an overnight stay if they drove.
Working toward greater efficiency, Hammock may upgrade his company aircraft to accommodate more people and greater distances. Luckily, Tipton is currently in the middle of an environmental assessment to lengthen the runway, from 3,000 to 4,200 feet, for just that reason. A longer runway allows for greater efficiency with small business aircrafts.
The mission of Tipton Airport is captured beautifully in the welcoming value statement hung on the wall in Ops, printed on their brochure, highlighted on the webpage, and
clearly communicated through Michael Wassel, the Airport Manager:
Maintaining dignity & respect
Community involvement plays a key role in Tipton’s mission, as well as the future of aviation. Wassel maintains a working relationship with the Fort Meade leadership and continues to run Tipton as an FAA designated reliever airport for BWI.
Tipton also prioritizes hosting events like the recent Young Eagles, sponsored by EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association), held on Saturday, April 28th. The event offers future generations of local aviators their first free ride in an airplane. Eric Heigis, VP of the local Young Eagles Chapter, welcomed 20 excited boys and girls, and their families, on what turned out to be a beautifully clear, warm day. He walked them through ground safety academics and then introduced them to their volunteer pilot. As the first group of Young Eagles walked out to the four-seat Cessna 172P, video cameras were rolling and the excitement was palpable. After landing, it was smiles from ear to ear…definitely securing some future aviators. Mission accomplished.
Missed this event but have a child between eight and 17 years old who would enjoy being introduced to the world of aviation? Don’t fret; another Young Eagles event hosted at Tipton is scheduled for September.
Another exciting relationship is with the newly established Central Maryland Chamber of Commerce (created in 2017 by merging the Baltimore-Washington Corridor Chamber and the West Anne Arundel County Chamber). On September 20th, Tipton will host the organization’s 2018 “Taste of the Region” event, which showcases local businesses and restaurants.
Tipton welcomes you to enjoy all that it has to offer, at all times of the year.