Airport hosts inaugural Celebration of Flight

When Larry Morris was 6, he began to cultivate a passion for flying.

As his interests evolved with flight technology, he moved from rubber band-powered balsa wood aircraft to free-flight and radio-controlled models.

The Concord native, now 67, has flown nearly every day since 1971, when he learned to fly conventional airplanes. He has been a flight instructor since 1978 and offers advanced training via his business, Tar Heel Air Tech, at the Concord Regional Airport.

Morris will fly his historic WWII aircraft - a 1943 North American SNJ-5C Texan - among a dozen other aircraft as part of a fly-in breakfast planned for the airport's inaugural Celebration of Flight, scheduled Oct. 29-30 at the airport.

Other confirmed aircraft include a Douglas A-26 Invader, a Czech Republic L-39 Albatross, a Lear Jet 31A , an F-1 Rocket and a Beech T-34 Mentor.

"There's going to be some really unique airplanes, and quite a few of them are local," said Morris, adding that about half will come from Cabarrus and surrounding counties. "The crowds enjoy almost anything that's military or military paint scheme. They have a very unique sound."

Robert Dickson's Temco T-35 Buckaroo also will fly for the crowd. It was designed in the late 1940s as a low-cost trainer for commercial and export markets, and only 17 were made, he said.

"At this event, people will learn a little bit more about general aviation, the preservation of antique airplanes and what has made aviation what it is today," said Dickson. "We've got quite a nice collection right here at this airport and at small airports around here."

There also will be static displays, such as Carolinas Aviation Museum's "Flight 1549, Miracle on the Hudson" exhibit, free flights for ages 8-17 and a 5K road race.

A piece of history

Morris said his aircraft is the most faithfully restored SNJ-5C flying anywhere in the world. The piece of American naval military history has working 30-caliber Browning machine guns, optical gun sight and tailhook for landing on carriers.

Built in 1943 as an SNJ-5, it was overhauled in 1945 and equipped to be carrier-capable, earning it the "C" designation. It has made more than 400 aircraft carrier landings throughout its 3,000-plus hours of logged flight time. And it helped with anti-submarine warfare exercises on the USS Badoeng Strait from 1948 to 1950, before being overhauled again.

Bill Crone bought this aircraft and 399 others in 1989 and restored it to look the way it did while aboard the USS Badoeng Strait. Crone finished the 30-month project in 1993, and Morris bought the plane in 2007.

A life in the sky

Since he learned to fly, Morris has spent a lot of time in the air.

"Hardly a day ever goes by where I don't fly," he said. "In fact, there's not many days where I don't fly two or three times in one day. It's just a passion."

Morris said he and other lifelong pilots see and experience things that some people never experience.

"I've seen more beautiful sunsets, I've seen sunrises, thunderstorms during the day and night," said Morris. "I've seen maybe a half-dozen rainbows on the ground in my adult life and I've probably seen 100 rainbows from an airplane."

Morris made a point to attend the 2003 Kitty Hawk Centennial Celebration, which celebrated 100 years of powered flight on the anniversary of the Wright brothers first successful powered flight.

"In the scheme of things, I've been around to see an awful lot of what's happened in aviation," said Morris. "I've seen so much happen just in my short span, but my short span of aviation is more than 50 percent of the entire deal.

"Considering the fact that my airplane is a year older than me, if you look at that airplane and compare it to a modern airplane, it's hard to believe it was built in 1943, 40 years after the Wright brothers flew in 1903."

Morris took his first solo flight on Feb. 22, 1977. He flew a Cessna 150 out of Monroe on a "gorgeous winter day with a perfect, blue sky."

"You never forget the first time that airplane comes off the ground and realize that you're the only person in there," he said. "And soon you realize, the only successful outcome is for you to be able to put this plane back on the ground."

Morris has been married to his wife, Nora, since 1968, and they have two daughters.