News » Events »

View All News

2016 Fly-in Celebrating SouthWings’ 20th Anniversary

Thanks to all of the volunteer pilots who joined us in Black Mountain, NC for the 2016 SouthWings Fly-in!
October 7, 2016

SouthWings recently celebrated its 20th Anniversary at our Annual Pilot Fly-In.  This year our event was held in Black Mountain, NC from Sept. 30th to Oct 2.  We were fortunate to have great weather and a great turnout!  We wanted to recap the weekend for everyone and especially for those that weren’t able to attend.  Please read below for an overview of the 2016 Fly-In – we hope to see you at the next one!

The Venue and the Area

This year our event was held in beautiful Black Mountain, NC at the iconic YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Conference Center.  This was SouthWings’ first time at the location and it was a great place to host our Fly-In!  The staff and facilities at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly fed us, housed us, and welcomed us heartily.

The grounds were beautiful and offered plenty of activities for outdoor enthusiasts.  Many of our attendees went hiking along the trails of the property on Saturday afternoon, leading to great views of the Black Mountain area.  With temps in the mid-70’s, it was a great time to be outside.  Those who didn’t hike ventured into the town of Black Mountain to enjoy some local shopping and local tasty treats.  Our Flight Coordinator may have also snuck away during free time to fly-fish in one of the local streams for a couple of hours…

mtns-on-hike dave-fish

Each evening we enjoyed sitting around the fire pits outside of the main entrance while the fires kept us toasty warm and illuminated our conversations.

This was truly a great place to be for the 2016 Fly-In!

Guest Speakers

mary-anneOn Friday night, SouthWings was honored to have our long-time friend and flight partner Mary Anne Hitt speak to our group.  Mary Anne is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. She gave a memorable and inspiring presentation describing how far we have come in making renewable energy a reality in this country, as well as telling the story of times she has witnessed SouthWings flights inspire key individuals to commit their resources to ending the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.

Saturday morning we heard from Dr. Rafat Ansari via a conference call as he presented a scientific endeavor to monitor algal blooms from the air via small airplanes and volunteer pilots.  This project is gaining momentum and is backed by NASA.  SouthWings will be gauging interest of our own pilots going forward to determine not if, but how many flights we could contribute to this project.

Steve Hedges, Southern Region Manager for AOPA, was our guest speaker for Saturday evening’s gathering.  Steve spoke about many of the great things AOPA has been working on, particularly 3rd Class Medical reform, the Pilot’s Bill of Rights, and getting aviation programs established in high schools throughout the country.


Each year SouthWings likes to recognize one or two pilots for their service to us and our flight partners.  This year we were honored to recognize two individuals.

emmet-and-tomTom Kahlert of Huntsville, AL received this year’s pilot spotlight award.  We called it the “2016 Bird Dog Award,” named after Tom’s beloved Cessna L-19 Bird Dog that he predominantly uses on SouthWings flights in his region. A new tradition was started where the previous year’s winner presents the current year’s winner with the new award.  Last year’s winner of the “Rookie Rockstar Award,” Emmet Bartholomew (LA), had the honor of giving Tom his prize – a framed set of photos from two of Tom’s many flights with Hurricane Creekkeeper, John Wathen (AL).  Well done, Tom!

hume-and-tomAdditionally, this year we also created a new award to honor excellence, dedication, and achievement.  The “Mauritson Award,” named in honor of our good friend, supporter, and Volunteer Pilot, David Mauritson, was presented to our long-time pilot and friend, Tom Komer of Mills River, NC.  In response to receiving the award, Tom Komer said this:

It was quite a surprise to be honored with the inaugural Mauritson award.  The award also belongs to the other 46 SouthWings pilots who unselfishly give their time, talent and treasure in the trust that we all make a positive difference in the quality of life on this fragile planet of ours. Furthermore, it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the SouthWings staff who enable us pilots to make that impact through the SouthWings partners.  Dr. Mauritson lived a very full and rewarding life, one that few could emulate, but all can admire with awe. Our contributions are small in comparison, but we honor his memory by continuing our flights in support of the ecological movement.

Congrats to Tom Komer who embodies all of the qualities we look for in Mauritson Awardees!



We were quite fortunate to have many items donated to the Fly-In.  Our new friends at Kitchen and Company in Asheville gave us a substantial discount on the wine and snacks we enjoyed each evening and the good folks at Highland Brewing once again donated all of the beer for the weekend.

For our pilot giveaways, we were blown away by the generous donation of winter Storm Jackets by Leigh Bost, store manager of Patagonia Atlanta!  Each pilot attending the Fly-In received a brand new jacket, complete with the SouthWings logo!  If you’re ever in the Atlanta area, please stop in and say hello for us!

jeff-headset jack-headsetNew (this year) donor, David Clark, donated two brand new aviation headsets for us to give away as well.  Winners were Jack Lynch (NC) and Jeff Justis (MS).  Congrats and enjoy, you guys!

If you can’t tell from the overview presented above, it was a terrific Fly-In event.  We loved having everyone attend and celebrate our 20th organizational birthday with us.  For those of you who couldn’t attend, regardless of the reason, please know you were missed and here with us in spirit.  We’ll look forward to the next event and will keep you all posted as to when and where it will be.

Thank you to all of our volunteer pilots for your selfless dedication to the SouthWings mission.  Without you all we wouldn’t be around to celebrate 20 years of Conservation Through Aviation.  Happy Birthday, SouthWings!

View All News