“A mile of highway takes you a mile, a mile of runway can take you anywhere in the world,” described Ken Reed, managing partner of S. Hunt Aero LLC, as he looked out across the future-site of the runway expansion project at the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport.
The multi-million dollar airport expansion is a joint effort on the part of private industry, the board of St. Mary’s commissioners, various county government agencies, the state of Maryland and the Federal Aviation Administration. All vested parties hope to benefit from the shared vision, oversight and investment of time and money required to build a concrete foundation beneath the wings of aspiring aviators and innovators.
The monetary value of private investment and land donation at the airport, coupled with sizable contributions from county and state governments, currently totals more than $50 million; and yet, for patients and the family members of those traveling inside the Maryland State Police Trooper 7 helicopter, or on a MedStar interhospital transfer flight, the reward can be priceless.
For a small local airport with humble beginnings, no buildings and a 3,150-foot runway, the capability to accommodate charter services, corporate flights by large national chains, pilot training, aircraft modification, emergency services and a soon-to-be active terminal with a pilot shop and planning facility, small coffee shop and a restaurant will be the long-awaited result of many years of dedication, collaboration and dreams of making aviation history — all thanks to more than 100 contractors, consultants, local businesses and government agencies.
The expansion project at the airport will make an impact on the community that cannot be overstated, St. Mary’s Commissioner Tom Jarboe (R) said. He views the infrastructure development at the airport as a means to diversify the business community, and “bridge the gap between those that work in naval contract support services [at Naval Air Station Patuxent River] with those who turn wrenches in the local community.”
For the St. Mary’s county-based entrepreneurial development company, S. Hunt Aero, the project provides an opportunity to source local workers, materials and resources in order to share their passion for aviation and innovation, while providing world-class facilities and benefits to the community as a whole.
For inventors and tech startups, marketing and consulting company, Tech Port offers to foster emerging innovators as they mature technical concepts and ideas into profitable businesses, “at lightning speed” via the trending “incubator” concept. Techport stakeholders include the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, the University of Maryland, TEDCO and county government.
For professional aviators, the additional 1,200 feet of runway will provide the ability to land a higher class of corporate aircraft, while preserving surrounding neighborhoods and providing minimal environmental impact and noise disruption.
The airport has become a home base for emergency responders, such as the Maryland State Police Aviation Command and the MedStar Transport Helicopter Service, which provide services to Southern Maryland.
Additionally, the airport provides flight-line and air support to the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol. Every year, over 1,500 members of the Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing perform search and rescue, disaster relief, emergency service, and homeland security missions in the United States, according to their website. Approximately 100 of them are based at St. Mary’s.
The airport-based, University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, is home to the Talon 120LE fixed wing aircraft, whose record-breaking 12-mile flight across the Chesapeake Bay marked the state’s first civil unmanned aerial delivery of simulated medical cargo. The achievement of the Talon 120 demonstrated the key role that UAS can play in emergency situations.
“UAS are faster to deploy, less weather dependent, and less expensive,” said Matt Scassero, director of the UMD UAS Test Site.
UAS engineers have developed the capability to conduct life-saving efforts through the delivery of self-inflating life preservers and vital medical supplies to areas that are unable to be accessed as a result of natural or man-made disasters. Upcoming research is exploring the potential of organ-delivery services, and other emergency response capabilities.
“The possibilities are endless,” said Scassero with a broad smile, adding that “we all have incredible passion for this project.”
Passion and excitement for the opportunity to participate in a collaboration of economic diversity are part of the core values expressed by the managing partners of airport-based companies, Pax Aero Solutions, Airtec, UMD UAS Test Site, TechPort, ASEC and S. Hunt Aero.
Sharing this passion, Art Nalls, a former U.S. Marine Corps test pilot, once made history at the airport, by breathing life into a then 31-year-old decommissioned Sea Harrier jump jet, on the afternoon of Nov. 10, 2007 — a first for a non-military pilot. Labeled by Nalls Aviation as the world’s only civilian owned Harrier, the team describes the aircraft as a true 0-to-650 knot airplane, and vows to “use every one of them.”
From the 26,200 pounds of Nalls’ Sea Harrier, to the 22 pounds of the Talon 120 UAV, the hangars of the county airport are home to many aircraft technologies making aviation history. And with the expansion of the airport’s facilities and capabilities, those involved hope for a great deal more history to be made at the site.