Derryberry dubbed for prayer duty as he's reappointed

Friday, March 26, 2010
Angela Griffin of Lewisburg laughs as she hams it up for the cameraman when she's behind the controls of the high wing airplane she flew in for a bird's eye view of Marshall County recently.

New airplane hangars, valued at about $1 million, are under construction at Lewisburg's Ellington Field where the city's cost is $100,000, the airport manager said on a recent Friday afternoon when clouds cleared after a morning of rain.

"And they don't have to pay back the $900,000," said Clay Derryberry who's just been renamed the airport's Fixed Base Operator, a title that means he's the manager of the airport and can conduct other businesses there. "It's a dedicated revenue stream for the airport," he said of the hangars that will be rented to airplane owners.

Maintenance, utilities and other operating expenses are paid with the revenue stream while Derryberry sells rides in his Cessena 172 and does business transport with his twin Comanche. Airports such as Ellington are proven assets when businesses comes calling for locations and later for services and Derryberry has some tales to tell.

However, during America's business slump, Big D Aviation continues to take folks for rides and teaches those who want to learn how to fly - as well as sells aviation fuel and generally runs the airport.

Shane and Angela Griffin of Lewisburg were Derryberry's passengers for a joy ride a couple of weeks ago. He works at ICP. She's a full-time student at Martin Methodist College studying criminal justice. She's flown before when she worked in real estate. He'd never been up in a small plane.

It's like riding in a sports car, except there are vertical curves and the muffler on the car might work better.

It's also comforting to know a couple of things about the pilot. Like most pilots, Derryberry knows that when there's a crash, the pilot is the first on the scene. That's not happened with Clay.

The other thing about him is that he's been a preacher at Wilson Hill Church of Christ since 1975. Before that he preached at Westvue for about five years.

He started flying in 1972-73. About that time, Milton Brown asked him if he'd be the chaplain for the Civil Air Patrol.

"I went for a ride and it went from there," Derryberry said.

He's also become the man who provides the prayer just before the Lewisburg City Council gets down to business when it meets every second Tuesday of the month.

"We had some issues a number of years ago with a fellow who wanted to run the airport," Derryberry said. "I decided to go to all the meetings thereafter."

Then, he was renamed airport manager and FBO during now-former Mayor Bob Philips' term.

"Bob Phillips asked and it became a job ... the prayer came with the FBO" designation, Derryberry said.

It's not in the contract and he continues to attend and accept Mayor Barbara Woods' request for a prayer before meetings start.

Having dispelled that part of his responsibilities, Derrybery said, "Many people have the misconception that the airport is a playground for rich people, but 80 percent of the flights are commercial and 20 percent are personal.

"And I've noticed that the people with planes here are not rich largely because they own a plane," he said.

As the FBO, he's paid a "modest salary."

Before the housing bubble burst and the economy, the business flights were important for continued production at the Saturn plant and other places.

For example, at one time, "Some (Nissan) parts were shipped to Smyrna instead of Canton, Miss. and they needed to get them there to get the line running before the truck could get there," he said.

The solution: Fly enough parts to start the production line and give the truck time to travel across the highways and finish the delivery.

That was done in some cases because the Saturn contract allowed GM to impose a fine on parts suppliers if production stalled. A supplier of preassembled parts couldn't afford a delay that would stall the vehicle assembly plant. Nor would a supplier want to jeopardize its contract for continued work.

"Every now and then, the truck would pull over to an airport and we'd fly from there."

The runway at Ellington Field is 5,002 feet long.

"It will accommodate most of the mid-sized business jets," Derryberry said.

That runway length is something of a magic number, but mostly because of aircraft insurance policies. Corporate jet policy premiums are lower if the plane isn't flown into and out of an airport with a runway shorter than 5,000 feet.

The point was driven home in Winchester during the 1980s when Franklin County was preparing itself for Tennessee's second Nissan plant. To help attract the motor and transmission plant, the runway was lengthened.

Ellington's runway was originally 4,000 feet long. It was extended to its current length in the late 1970s. In the early 1990s, taxiways were added from the tarmac to the runway.

Ellington Airport is on 220 acres. It sells about 40,000 gallons of aviation fuel per month.

The idea for the airport arose in 1959. It was dedicated in 1962.

Derryberry is a 1969 graduate of David Lipscomb College. Born and raised in Marshall County, he graduated from Marshall County High School in 1965 with Mayor Barbara Woods and Councilman Odie Whitehead Jr.

He prays for them, other city leaders, and the airport.