Editor's note: This article has been updated to correctly state Lance Lamkin's last name.
Airplanes soared through the sky and sat on the ramp of the Max Westheimer Airport at the return of the Norman Aviation Festival Saturday.
2021 marks the 15th year the airport and Norman Chamber of Commerce have let the community experience planes up close and personal. The festival was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, airport manager Lance Lamkin said.
It followed Gov. Kevin Stitt’s chamber address on aviation Friday morning in Norman.
While Lamkin was happy to celebrate 15 years and the return of the festival, he said the airport’s mission has stayed the same each year.
“Getting kids, grandparents and parents to learn, look at, touch, feel. Just get an idea of what aviation is so that we can spark that interest and we can keep the pipeline for the next generation to come into aviation,” he said.
Lemkin said the festival seemed to draw a larger turnout Saturday than in 2018 and 2019. The festival had more than 15 planes and more than 25 stands for attendees to enjoy, he said.
While Lamkin would have liked more planes at the festival — some couldn’t fly in because of the low cloud cover following rain Saturday morning — he was still pleased with the amount of planes present that day.
The festival is important in Oklahoma, where aviation is the second-largest industry, Lamkin said. It’s valued at $55 billion, he estimated, behind oil and gas.
Craig Parker, who let children sit in the cockpit of his Cirrus SR22T plane Saturday, said there’s “a huge shortage of pilots” in the aviation industry.
“This is a fantastic career because of the pay that’s available, the opportunities available,” he said.
Lamkin said the event also allows airport staff to show what the facility does for the community. The airport is owned by the University of Oklahoma and brings in travelers and OU game attendees. It has an estimated $37 million impact on the community, he said.
It also contributes to the mission of creating pilots, he said.
“We train over 150 students every year, and all those pilots go on to fly for American, Southwest, United, Delta,” he said.
Lamkin said the festival is a blend of safety, education and exposure to aviation.
He said airports lost connection with the community when security measures were enacted following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Events like the Saturday’s now happen throughout the country on an occasional basis, he said.
Children lined up to look at the planes as they sat on the ramp between the terminal and the runway. Some planes flew in to the airport and parked for the crowd during the festival.
Kyler Johnson, who was there with his family, said his son Miles, 1, got to sit in a cockpit and touched “about every other plane” there.
“It’s always fun to expose him to things that he doesn’t get to do and see very often, and this is kind of a unique event,” Johnson said.
Eric Martin Jr., 7, said he enjoyed watching the planes take off “and the snow cones.” His favorite plane was the L-39 ZO — flown by the Soviet Union during the Cold War — which towered over the others on the ramp.
“The community sees these planes flying around. They don’t get a chance to go up close to it and see what they look like, what it’s like to go up and sit inside of one, what the instrumentation is like inside of it,” Parker said.