Aircraft—Big Sandy unicom…Cessna 2..3..3…Foxtrot…entering down wind for runway…3…
Unicom—Winds light and variable…no other reported traffic…
The Big Number 3
The runway designations at Big Sandy are 3 and 21, those are the numbers painted on each end of the runway. Now, what do they mean? Just imagine a big circle going all the way around the airport and the runway slashing right through the middle of it. Now imagine that big circle is actually a compass and that the big number 3 painted on one end of the runway represents 30 degrees from north on a compass. Everyone has heard the phrase, ‘do a 180,’ which means turn around and go the opposite direction. The exact opposite of 30 degrees from north is 210 degrees from north, thus the number 21 painted on the opposite end of our runway. In aviation everything is abbreviated as much as possible, to make things quicker and easier to copy, so the zeros are dropped from 30 and 210 degrees. So our runway is painted with a big number 3 on one end and a big 21 on the other end.
I have 4 wonderful grandchildren (Knox-13, Harper-8, Rocco-7 and Lincoln-6) and it is my wish that someday when they become grandparents themselves they will look back at their youth and remember growing up around ‘Grandpa’s airport’. I love having them here, I love teaching them about aviation and everything else I can teach them. I love watching those precious little minds ‘get it’ and understand what I’m talking about. I enjoy introducing them to my friends I have made from all over the state and country, as you can tell, I’m a typical proud Grandpa.
One thing we have plenty of at our airport is space, our ramp is 225 feet wide and 800 feet long. You can park a lot of airplanes on a ramp that size and if there are no airplanes parked on it, it’s the perfect place to teach a kid how to ride a bicycle.
Growing up in Warfield, Kentucky I rode my bicycle from daylight to dark, almost every day. The town was a great place to ride, too, there was a sidewalk on one side of Main Street and a sidewalk leading to the school grounds; sidewalks around all the school buildings with an asphalt drive around three sides of the ball field and playground, also an alternate route to get back to Main Street. (I would like to know just how many miles I put on my bicycles when I was growing up.)
When my oldest grandchild, Knox, was 3 years old, he and I were in Walmart one afternoon and he walked up to a bicycle. He didn’t have to ask me to buy it for him, I was delighted he wanted one. I let him sit on several until we found one that his feet could reach the pedals and that was it, we were on our way to the check-out. Knox’s new bike had training wheels of course and about every time he would come up to the airport we would practice riding. I had a bike also and he would try to keep up with me, riding back and forth on the ramp.
One day Knox asked me if we could ride out to the runway. I was pretty sure he could make it out there but wasn’t so sure he could make it back. The entire airport has a one percent grade running north to south. Going down hill would be easy for those little legs but coming back, I could see me having to carry his bike back and then walk back to get mine. I told him if he could go to the end of the ramp and back three times without any help from me we would go all the way out to the runway; he did so I let him rest a little bit and we started to the approach end of runway 3.
Knox made it out there easily, as I thought he would, he was amazed how big the runway looked and the marking on it. The runway at Big Sandy is 100 feet wide and 5,000 feet long, that’s a lot of asphalt and he rode toward the big number 3. That’s when it dawned on me-Knox is three sitting on the big number 3! I made him stop on the 3, took out my phone and took his picture. Then we started back, as I thought, those little legs started getting tired.
“Grandpa, I don’t think I can make it back, my legs are hurting.” Knox said.
“Let’s stop and rest a little bit buddy, I want you to ‘gut it out,’ I want to be able to tell your mom that you rode all the way out there and back without my help. Some things in life aren’t easy, sometimes you have to really push yourself to achieve a goal, you have learn to just keep trying. You have made it over half way, this is no time to quit. When you are ready to go, let me know and we will do this together. Grandpa will be there for you and I want you to be tough.”
Knox made it all the way back to the hangar. We put our bikes up and he crawled up in my lap. I told him to look out there how far we rode, that’s pretty good for a three year old, then I showed him the picture I took of him. I said, “Knox, I’m so proud of you, I’m going to get this picture printed and put it on the wall. Knox is three sitting on the big number 3.”
So a new Cox family tradition was born. When my granddaughter, Harper, turned three, I told her the story how Knox made it out there and back all by himself and got her to do it too, Harper Grey insisted on a girl’s bike though. I took her picture and put it just below Knox’s. Then I told Rocco and Lincoln if they wanted their pictures on the wall they had to be ready to make the long trip out to the big number 3 and back while they are still three years old. They were both successful also. Rocco and Lincoln were spaced out just enought not to cost Grandpa any additional bicycle purchases, I sold them on the ‘hand-me-down’ talk until they were old enough to ride without training wheels. Of course, they all have their own bikes now.
I really enjoy watching them ride their bikes. Riding a bike without training wheels gives you more freedom to turn and circle and go faster. I guess it also adds that element of excitement, the danger of wrecking. I have witnessed a few skinned knees. Lincoln still isn’t quite sure of himself without training wheels, he’s getting there, but the other three zip along with reckless abandon.
The day that Lincoln, my youngest, rode to the big number 3 was a special occasion. Lincoln had been practicing riding but still didn’t think he could do it. I was trying to convince him that he was getting to be a ‘big boy’ now and he could make it. I had all my grandchildren here that day and they were trying to pump up his confidence. Harper got a scooter out and Rocco got his Ziggle, Knox got another bike ready and they said, “Come on Lincoln, we will all ride out together, you can do this, you are a big boy now, we will help Grandpa take you out to the big number 3!” It was team effort and Lincoln loaded up to make the trip. Since it’s slightly downhill going out, he made it easily and with me and the other three encouraging him every inch of the way, he made it back with no problems as well. I took his individual picture on the big number 3 and then a group picture too. When we all returned to the hangar, Rocco asked if we could go to the other end.
I said, “Oh no, buddy, the other end is much farther away, almost a mile and it’s slightly uphill all the way too, that will be much harder to achieve. The other end has a big number 21 on it. You guys will have to wait a long time to be twenty-one on the big number 21. Let’s plan on doing that some day!”
The grandkids left for the day and I relaxed in the gazebo and thought about what a good day we had had, then I started thinking about what Rocco said. Making it to the big number 21 will be much easier of them in a few years than it will be for me. Talking about the phrase, ‘doing a 180,’ I started thinking about ME being able to make the trip. When Lincoln is twenty one, I’ll be eighty-two. My Dad passed away at eighty-three and when he was eighty-two he wasn’t physically able to ride a bicycle, Dad could not have made that trip.
Will I be able to? That is a life goal I have now set for myself. Being physically able to escort my grandchildren, one by one, when they turn twenty-one, to the big number 21. That will be wonderful for many different reasons. First and foremost, we will all still be together. I think it will be wonderful to know that I’m still healthy enough to ride a bicycle that distance without help. My grandchildren will be at an age where I’ll have an idea what career path in life they will be choosing. I’ll have a pretty good idea of what kind of adults they will become.
I’m sure THEY will be the ones offering encouragemnet trying to get Grandpa to his goal. I’m sure when my legs start hurting I can count on them to say, “You’ve got to ‘gut it out Grandpa,’ we can rest a while but you have come a long way, it’s no time to quit. Besides if you make it to the big number 21, it will all be downhill from there.”
When all of the construction is finished this summer at Big Sandy Regional Airport the plan is to put a new sealcoat and new paint on the runway. It will look beautiful and probably won’t be needing any futher maintenance for many years. When pilots come in to land ‘over the numbers’ (pilot talk) they will notice a freshly painted runway, everything will stand-out clearly to them. What they won’t notice is that those newly painted numbers on my runway represent more that just the numbers on a compass, they represent more than a runway heading, those numbers represent an important goal in my life.
Aircraft—Cessna 2…3…3…foxtrot…departing runway…2…1…left turn to the north…
Unicom—Winds…2…2…0…at 8 knots…have a safe trip…
(Gary Wayne Cox is airport manager of Big Sandy Regional Airport owned by Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin and Martin Counties)