From Clemson Tiger paws painted on the bottom of aircraft wings to flight crews decked out in Tennessee Volunteer Orange, there isn’t much the staff at Jim Hamilton/L.B. Owens Airport hasn’t seen when it comes to football fans flying into Columbia for gameday.
Jim Hamilton, former airport director, said it is interesting to see the extent in which some fans will go. “One guy from Tennessee would fly in with orange stripes painted on his plane. His flight crew wore orange jackets and an orange limo would pick him up to go to the Carolina game.”
“One vehicle identification number was ‘N10EC,’ so you say ‘Tennessee,” Hamilton said. “A lot of them are really very, very clever.”
One Clemson fan had two tiger paws painted underneath the wings of his aircraft. “He had a professional pilot fly the plane and he would have him wait on the end of the runway, with the engine running, and wait until a few minutes before a Carolina game started,” Hamilton said. “Then he would give the pilot the signal and the pilot would bank around the stadium so to expose the gigantic tiger paws.”
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According to Hamilton, the aircraft’s vehicle identification number was “N57CT.”
“He chose 57, which was the year he graduated from Clemson, and ‘CT’ for Clemson Tigers,” Hamilton said. “Would you say he was a Clemson fan? I think so.”
As college football fans descend on Williams-Brice Stadium Thursday for the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks’ season opener against Texas A&M (12), the airport on Jim Hamilton Boulevard, only a stone’s throw from the Gamecocks’ stadium, is expecting to see increased traffic from fans flying in from Texas.
And they are ready for it. “We had a very busy day on opening game last season and that was against UNC,” Christopher Eversmann, the airport director, said. “As soon as the schedule was announced that A&M was going to be the opening game, my gut told me that it was going to be huge.”
Big games like those against Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Alabama generate a lot of traffic coming into the airport, Eversmann said.
He remembers his first year as an airport director was when the Gamecocks played against, and beat, No. 1-ranked Alabama in 2010. “Man, I tell you what, you could not have shoe-horned another airplane on to this apron. It was packed,” Eversmann said. “We had about every square-inch filled.”
Peggy Roberson, of Eagle Aviation, the fixed-base operator that monitors and directs traffic to and from the airport, said she is expecting even more fans flying in for the Texas A&M game.
“Alabama was a large game, but I’m forecasting this to be bigger than that,” Roberson said. “Texas just travels. A&M is one of those SEC colleges that does that. There will not be a spot left out there.”
Roberson said she already has 15 to 20 aircraft scheduled to fly in, but that doesn’t account for the transient flights that will fly in unannounced.
“We are prepared,” Roberson said. “Our linemen are highly skilled and they know what they are doing.”
Roberson said after fans land on the 5,002-foot runway, they will be greeted by a spread set out for them to enjoy as well as refueling and car-service options if requested.
“We are ready for the A&M guys and we have heard they are nice fans,” Roberson said. “We are basically the doorway to the community. We are the first people they see when they come to Columbia.”