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Doors at Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina Slowed, but Didn't Stop this Pilot

Touching base with a Hurricane survivor can be both grizzly and great. Aerobatic pilot Johnny Smith, Lucedale, Mississippi and his young family were survivors, as were his airplanes, thanks to their new 'hangar home' built to withstand 90 mile per hour winds, in fact even the 125 mile-per-hour blast of Hurricane Katrina. Smith shares some of his comments, and his appreciation for building a 'hangar home' tough enough to come out a winner, even against Katrina. "As many pilots will tell you, the ultimate dream of a pilot is to live on an airport “with” their airplane. That was especially my dream since I am involved in aerobatics and sport aviation and next to my family, flying is the heart and soul of my life," says Smith, age 41, who soloed a Weedhopper ultra light when he was 12 years old.

"After years of hard work, by dream finally came true. Our Sport Aviation operation outside Lucedale needed a new base. We spent 18 months building our own runway/airport, “Cedar Creek Air Ranch”, (FAA id MS26). My wife (a Lieutenant, U.S. Navy Reserve) was deployed to Iraq. So while she was overseas, we built out new hangar, this one large enough for my three airplanes (a Cessna 337, Glasair and a Zlin 50LS) plus living quarters for my family.

"We finished in August 2005, just a few days before Hurricane Katrina came roaring through the country. I used a local architect and builder to help with the construction. Our hangar home is a “Gulf States” steel framed, 60' x 80' x 14' building with a 12' x 50' Schweiss hydraulic door out front. And after Katrina roared through, I was ever so grateful for going the route of quality, especially in that big Schweiss door.

"Our hangar home was exposed to winds of 125-mph for several hours. Yet that huge door did not fail. Matter of fact, it survived without a scratch but a near-by wooden hangar housing my Cessna 337 was totally destroyed, with parts of that airplane and hangar strewn over a half mile away. My two other planes rode the storm out safe and sound in the new hangar.

"We're about done cleaning up around here. Thankfully our hangar home has really become the nerve center of our entire operation. My little daughters were small when the storm hit but remember the destruction so well. It's just an amazing sight to see trees falling debris blowing past your front window. We were on the inside looking out, and when the storm finally subsided, both my family and my airplanes were okay.

"My oldest daughter, Aerial-Grace, now 5, often comments that she loves our 'hangar' house because it is “very strong”. My daughters feel very safe here because we had zero damage when others lost their homes. We've talked about getting a second place “out west”. I asked the girls what kind of a house they'd want and they both say, “Daddy, a hangar house just like this one.” To me that means everything because this is where their childhood memories will always be."


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