Women pilots group paints air marks on Harriman-and-West Airport runways

NORTH ADAMS — A pilot headed to town on a clear day can now verify she is flying into the right airport from a name tag painted on the runway of Harriman-and-West Airport recently by a group of women pilots and other volunteers.

"AQW," the FAA identifier tag of the airport, and a 71-foot-wide compass rose were painted on the runway recently in an effort mounted by the Amelia Earhart Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots.

The signs on the runway are referred to as air marks. The runway compass is used by pilots and technicians on the ground to calibrate their on-board compasses, a safety precaution that needs to be done fairly frequently, especially at aircraft repair stations such as Turboprop East at Harriman-and-West.

Airport Manager Willard Greenwald mentioned the idea after the runways were recently repaved, to friend, fellow pilot and frequent visitor to the airport Barbara Fioravanti. She is a member of the New York Capital Region Amelia Earhart Ninety-Nines in Albany.

So she contacted the chapter, and the New England regional chapters, and found that the Connecticut chapter of the Ninety-Nines was keen on the project.

"We tend do this sort of thing sometimes," Fioravanti said.

Greenwald said the city generously agreed to donate the paint and other materials.

"The North Adams and Williamstown communities are big advocates of the airport," Greenwald said. "So when it came time to get the supplies, the city said, `Absolutely. Get it done.'"

With the planning and preparations complete, the project was ready to go for the summer of 2016.

They set a date, knowing they would need a few days of dry weather to give the paint time to dry. But Mother Nature was fickle all summer.

"We kept on getting shut down by the weather," Greenwald said. "We kept rescheduling. But it happened over and over. It was frustrating."

"Finally we just ran out of time," Fioravanti recalled. "It just got too cold."

So when the spring finally showed up this year, they set a date again.

"We lucked out on the first try," Fioravanti said. "It was dry and warm — not too hot. It was a perfect day."

"This year we were adamant," Greenwald said. "Determined not to get delayed again, we set a date and got it done on the first try."

The Ninety-Nines have been volunteering to paint air marks on runways since the early 20th century. When World War II came up, the air marks were covered so as not to help Axis bombers targeting American cities.

After the war, the Ninety-Nines worked even harder to not only replace the covered air marks, but to mark many more air fields around the U.S.

So it was that at 7:30 a.m. May 20, about 30 folks turned up at Harriman-and-West Airport.

After about two years of planning and weather delays, the roughly 15 Ninety-Nine members and 15 other friends of the airport put the paint supplied by the city to good use.

It takes a lot of paint to cover pavement over a 71-foot-wide circle, and three thick letters over roughly the same amount of runway. It also takes a long time.

They kept painting until about 5 p.m., Greenwalt said. But that doesn't mean they didn't have fun.

"It was a lot of work and a real party atmosphere," he noted.

Sue Mead, a member of the Ninety-Nines based at Harriman-and-West and volunteer for the project, said the effort was typical of the Ninety-Nines and their charitable spirits.

She called it "an inspiring story of air marking and compass rose painting and all the camaraderie of the Amelia Earhart Ninety-Nines group that organized and led the day, along with many pilots and friends of [pilot school] Teamflys and the North Adams Airport."

Theresa Camp, a member of the Connecticut Ninety-Nines, was project manager.

Fioravanti said that when they finally got started, the project went well. She said airport staff was right on task, as usual.

"That is a really nice airport," she said. "It's kept up nicely and there are lots of services available — they're just doing a great job over there."

And when the project was complete, the two-color compass was a nice sight, Greenwald said.

"If you're going to have it on your runway, it may as well look good," he said. "And it does. It's pretty."

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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