Thursday June 28, 2012

NORTH ADAMS -- Before security fences and restricted access, a family outing to a local airport was a real treat. Watching airplanes take off and land made many a youngster dream of daring aerial exploits and far-off travel.

On Tuesday, for one night only, the airport outing returns when Mass MoCA presents the 2012 movie "Red Tails" on quite possibly the widest screen in the state -- a 90-foot by 22-foot airplane hangar door at Harriman-West Airport in North Adams -- with the audience seated on the paved ramp.

The high-flying adventure about the Tuskegee Airmen -- a World War II squadron of African-American fighter pilots who battled racial discrimination on the ground as valiantly as they battled enemy combatants in the air -- stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence How ard and captures breathtaking flying sequences.

Joseph Thompson, Mass MoCA's director, is no stranger to aviation. As a boy, Thompson flew with his father in Oklahoma, and he took lessons while developing Mass MoCA 20 years ago.

"I got my license on a Wed nesday, got married on the Friday, and on Saturday we hopped into a borrowed airplane and took off to the Grand Canyon," he said. "I had I think 48 hours of flying experience."

He now owns a Grumman Tiger single-engine airplane. He has spent many days in small airports, including the one in North Adams.

"It used to be quite open," he recalled. "There were always kids hanging out willing to wash your airplane in exchange for a ride. People would picnic on the grounds and watch planes take off and land. I really like the culture of small airports -- there's always a great cast of characters with great stories."

Bringing films to the North Adams airport provides a similar view to what pilots can see in the air while remaining firmly grounded.

"(North Adams airport) sits right hard on the north slope of Mount Greylock with the Taconic Valley stretching out to the west," Thompson explained. "It's a fabulous bucolic setting."

Airport manager Bill Green wald, from Pownal, Vt., was introduced to flying in 2008 when Thompson invited him to the annual AirVenture Oshkosh air show. By the time they reached Albany, N.Y., Green wald was hooked, and he had his pilot's license and own plane within a year.

He, too, is happy to invite the public to a place that means so much to him.

At the airport, the hangar door is made of vinyl fabric that rolls up like an upside-down window shade, Greenwald said. Every one said it looked like a huge movie screen, and the two men thought it would be fun to show a movie for the community.

With the mayor and airport commission behind the idea, last year's inaugural screening of "The Great Waldo Pepper" attracted 500 community members -- even the FAA sent representatives. More than a dozen pilots flew in from as far away as the Canadian border, camping overnight at the airport.

Greenwald described the scene as "amazingly picturesque."

"There's a glow from the sun over the mountains, the runway lights are on low, airplanes are on display," he said. "I'm there hoisting little kids into [my] airplane so they can sit in the pilot's seat and touch the controls."

Before the film starts, he explained, the hanger door is open. At show time, the lights go off and the door rolls down with a dramatic flourish to reveal the giant "screen."

On Tuesday, the gates will open at 7 p.m., and the program includes flight-related cartoons at 8:15 p.m. and the main feature at 8:30 p.m.

The first 100 kids will receive balsa wood gliders to compete in flying contests such as the longest flight and best crash. Vendors will sell hot dogs, burgers, soft drinks and popcorn, along with beer and wine.

"It's fly in, walk in, bike in, drive in," Thompson said. "BYOC -- bring your own chair."



What: ‘Red Tails,' rated PG-13, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard

Where: Harriman-West Airport, Airport Road off Route 2, North Adams

When: Tuesday.
Gates open 7 p.m.,
cartoons 8:15 p.m.,
main feature 8:30 p.m.

Admission: $7 for adults,
$3 for kids under 12,
or $14 per carload -- fly-ins free.
Tickets available only at the door. Bring a chair or blanket; food and drink will be sold.

Rain date: Friday, July 6