020919_perry airfield

Perry Aircraft Service is seen in the former Brunswick Airpark.

Raymond Ganas stood Wednesday morning where an aircraft hangar used to be and pointed to the path he followed as a boy to his dream of flying.

“I walked right through those woods from Jane Macon (Junior High) after school — right through there,” Raymond said, pointing to a line of trees flanking the Glynn County Stadium.

We were standing in a broad field off of Fourth Street, vacant except for a fleet of empty yellow school busses parked in the patchy grass before the stadium. Standing, in fact, on all that remains of the old Brunswick Airpark, a city-owned seat-of-the-pants airfield that operated on this site up until the mid 1970s.

Raymond pointed to the concrete foundation encasing the steel grooves of the hangar door tracks that stretched along a slight rise in the ground below us. It was the aircraft hangar for Perry Aircraft Service. This is where Raymond was initiated into the fraternity of flight.

“That’s where I grew up, basically,” said Raymond, 70, a Vietnam Veteran cap blocking his eyes from the midmorning sun. “I started all of my stuff over here. He had me washing airplanes and gassing them. It all started here.”

But not before he was designated a new handle to replace the name Raymond. From Raymond’s first day there, George Perry of the aforementioned aircraft service would refer to him ever after as “Frogskin.”

“Every kid that came out here had a nickname,” said Raymond, whose family owned Town & Country Garden Supply. “It didn’t matter. He had a nickname for you.”

Winn Baker was “Tailwind,” the Brzowski brothers were “Bumble Bee” and “Second Hand Bumble Bee,” Michael Pharis was “Mackerel Fish,” and George’s son Larry Perry was “Dazy.” The nickname list goes on and on. George even nicknamed all the adults: Former motorcycle cop and city police chief Jimmy Carter was dubbed “Scooter” (his daughter was “Tricycle”); bank president Harry Aiken was “Banker”; and pilot Eddie Ratcliffe was “Colonel Eddie.”

Readers may recall George from last week’s history column. He was the young Depression-era Georgia farmer who caught a 22-pound, 4-ounce bass in 1932 that still stands as a tie for the world record. As noted, George was better known around here for the legacy he established back when a kid could still walk onto an airfield after school and talk his way into the cockpit of an airplane.

That is what numerous youth did back in those days, including Raymond, Pharis and the Osburn twins, Barbara and Beverly.

The Brunswick Airpark first opened sometime in the late 40s, operated by the city. Bordered roughly by U.S. Highway 17, Fourth Street, and Altama Avenue, it consisted of several hangars and a pair of crisscrossing runways aimed at the prevailing winds.

“That would be where the runway was,” Raymond said, as my eyes followed his arcing arm from a stand of trees along 4th Street to the stadium on the other side of the field. “It went straight down the middle of that football field.”

Along with the other youngsters bent on flying, Raymond earned his place at the airpark by working an assortment of jobs. His gumption paid off. “I solo’d on my 16th birthday and got my multi-engine certification on my 17th birthday,” Raymond said.

Within a couple of years, Raymond would be serving in Vietnam as an army airplane maintenance crew chief and also flying small reconnaissance aircraft. He returned from a three-year army stint and went to work for George’s aviation service as a mechanic. He also flew, taking potential charter customers up to see if they were competent enough pilots to accept their money.

George’s operation there was typical of the others that leased space at the Brunswick Airpark. He chartered planes, sold used planes, worked on planes and trained pilots for certification. He operated perhaps the largest plane that ever flew there, a Martin 202 charted by the Jacksonville Suns minor league baseball team.

They even once manipulated a ditch along the airpark’s northern border to fill it higher so a local pilot’s small amphibious plane could land there for maintenance, Raymond said. “There used to be a ditch, 200 yards long,” Raymond said. “He landed it in a ditch — not a lake, a ditch.”

They also staged airshows at the airpark from time to time. And they took anxious thrill-seekers on flying adventures that were well worth their weight. “He charged them a penny a pound per person to go up,” Raymond said. Aviation fuel ran about 25 cents a gallon at the time.

Dr. William Austin piloted a glider out of the airpark, Raymond said. There were even some parachutists out there, including Jimmy the former police chief. George was not about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, but he used the airpark’s small parachuting enterprise to set up the most memorable in his long line of gags and practical jokes.

George was always smiling, always pulling a fast one. He loved to offer a kid $5, then rip a ten dollar bill in two and hand over half of it, guffawing at his own punch line.

But when George told the grownups he was going to finally parachute, they were incredulous. He had no such training for the perilous undertaking, they pleaded. Long story short: A dummy in a jumpsuit went up, while George sneaked into the woods in a matching jumpsuit. The dummy plummeted from the plane, crashing into the woods as folks watched in shock. Moments later, George came walking out of the woods, brushing pine straw from his hair and jumpsuit.

“I’m never gonna trust Jimmy (Carter) to pack my parachute again,” George deadpanned to the stunned onlookers.

Tragically, George died in a plane crash on Jan. 23, 1974, on a solo flight from Brunswick to Birmingham. The old Brunswick Airpark closed down about a year later. Anything that could be salvaged went to what stands today as the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport off of Glynco Parkway.

Raymond and I stood Wednesday where George’s old hangar used to be. He took one more look around.

“There must have been 30 airplanes parked over there at one time,” Raymond said, pointing past the parked yellow school buses. “That’s where I started, working on those planes. It was all here.”

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