By RICK HAYES email@example.com
---- — MT. VERNON — A misty rain late Friday afternoon prevented many of the participants in the inaugural EAA AirVenture Cup Race from landing at Mt. Vernon Airport, and to make preparations for Sunday’s race.
Manager Chris Collins though said the airport will be full of activities on Saturday — with late arrivals coming into town and an open house expected to generate public interest.
“It’s exciting to see all the airplanes, and it will be even more exciting to see the ramp completely filled Saturday,” Collins said.
“The open house is for the public to come and see the airplanes and talk to the racers. We’ll also be doing the Young Eagle flights from about 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or so. They are free rides for kids ages 8 to 17. They won’t get to ride in the race planes, but we’ve got plenty of support staff airplanes here that will be participating,” he added.
The open house will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Collins said a Mt. Vernon 100 — a race involving about 20 aircraft — will be held this morning. The aircraft will fly over Pinckneyville, Harrisburg, the Rend Lake Dam to McLeansboro and back to the north tip of Rend Lake.
The race, which will start at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, was founded in 1997. The race is open to experimental aircraft and pilots with at least a private pilot certificate or pilots flying light sport aircraft.
The race starting point alternates between a chosen airport in the Midwest and Mitchell, S.D. Last year, there were more than 50 aircraft participating in the timed race. Collins anticipates 60 plans for this year’s event, and hope the participants enjoy their stay in Mt. Vernon.
“That is our intent. We want them to come back to Southern Illinois and have this race here again in two years,” he said.
Collins said MVN was able to secure the spot as the starting point for this year’s race through the efforts of the Plane and Pilot Light Sport Expo held at the airport in the fall.
“After last year’s race some of the race staffers were considering a new location and it was suggested by Pete Johnson of Waupaca, Wisc., we host the race. The things that impressed them was our hospitality industry with all the motels located in close proximity and to the airport, and the thing that sold them was our shuttle service,” Collins said.
Rene Dugas of Monroe, La., has been a strong finisher in the race the last three of four years, disqualified one year for “navigational issues,” but winning it one year and placing second in another.
Dugas, a retired ear, nose and throat surgeon, said he’s always had an interest in flying.
“I had an interest in the Air Force as a young man, but I’m now retired, and taking up my aviation career and have been flying contract charter service as a commercial pilot,” he said.
Living near West Monroe, La. — the hometown of the Robertsons from the popular Duck Dynasty syndicated television program — Dugas said he knows the family well.
“They are at our FBO often and flown by our charter service often. They are wonderful folks from our hometown and we’re proud of their success and their popularity nationwide.”