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The Great Story of Our Era: Average People Better Off
Though the airfield does not appear on many charts, its existence is whispered of among pilots. The approach requires skill and timing, and there have been accidents; but when the mission is important, some risks must be accepted. Fliers who have data-pulse receivers of the extraordinarily accurate Global Positioning System satellite network use these devices when inbound, as the runway is only 2,350 feet long--short by the standards of such things--which places a premium on putting the wheels down precisely at the beginning of the field so as not to run out of runway at the end. Pilots exhale with relief when the landing is complete. Once on the ground, planes are directed to taxi to a secluded ramp, where crew and passengers quickly debark to swing into action--because there might be a wait for tables.
The aircraft are not military transports full of commandos but small private planes full of diners landing at McGehee's Catfish House in Marietta, Oklahoma, one of the increasing number of "fly-in" restaurants in the United States. The runway belongs to McGehee's and serves it exclusively. The field is lit for night landings, since the kitchen is open late. Guidance beacons with the aviator's designation Loran T40 can be used to find McGehee's, this being the international locator signal not of an airport or classified facility but a restaurant. At McGehee's, you walk from your airplane to the hostess station. Much of the dinner trade arrives from Dallas, about forty air minutes away, though diners fly in from as far as hundreds of miles distant to savor a menu highlighted by fresh farm-raised catfish, pickled tomatoes, and turtle cheesecake.
Nearly a thousand fly-in restaurants are open for business in America today, according to an organization called Hundred-Dollar Hamburger. (Small private planes cost around $100 an hour to operate.) Most are simply eateries adjacent to general-aviation airports, but an increasing number, like McGehee's, have become fly-in in the complete sense. The advent of such restaurants is exciting to the owners of small planes, many of whom learned to fly as a challenge, or in response to the romance of the air, then discovered that they crave destinations for the kind of one-hour hops that make for recreational aviation. Just imagine trying to explain to the indigent of the developing world that one problem experienced by Americans is finding something to do with their personal aircraft!
So far, fly-in restaurants offer no fly-through windows for takeout; that may only be a matter of time. Regardless of whether the fly-in restaurant is a breakthrough or an absurdity, what is telling is that the aircraft landing at McGehee's are not private jets of the super-rich. Rather, they are one- and two- engine propeller planes of farmers, oil-field workers, mid-career professionals, and others from the middle class: men and women who are scarcely oligarchs, but who can afford to own an airplane and to drop $100 on a whim for a platter of fresh catfish. Today in the United States thousands of private aircraft are owned for personal use by people who are not rich, just as millions of not-rich Americans own two homes or four cars plus a boat, or know other extravagances once reserved for the topmost fraction of the elite.
Fly-in communities have sprung up as well--entire housing developments built around runways for small planes. Spruce Creek, near Daytona Beach, Florida, is a fly-in subdivision which boasts about 1,200 homes and fourteen miles of aircraft taxiway...
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