On Saturday, Grimes Field is hosting its second annual fish fry to benefit the Grimes Flying Lab. Organizers hope to serve at least 250 meals throughout the day.
The event kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and is slated to end at 7 p.m., featuring live music and a beer garden among other attractions.
Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children. Pre-sale tickets are currently on sale at the airport during business hours at a cost of $8 for adults and $6 for children. Each ticket secures a meal that includes fish, beans, coleslaw and a water or lemonade. Proceeds go to the maintenance of the longtime test aircraft known as the Grimes Flying Lab, a commemoration of Urbana’s history as a pioneer in aviation lighting.
Keeping the Flying Lab operational is no easy feat, according to Municipal Airport Manager Elton Cultice.
“Last year we did a major inspection of the Wing Main Spar, which was very expensive,” Cultice said of the Flying Lab. “This year we are required to do an inspection of the propellers and their hubs to make sure there is no corrosion weakening the structure. This should cost us about $10,000 total.”
Cultice credits local donors, fundraisers and volunteerism for the preservation of this singular display of Urbana’s history.
“All aircraft undergo annual preventive maintenance inspections,” he said. “We are lucky that we have an excellent volunteer mechanic who maintains the aircraft. These maintenance items are major expenditures for the Lab and things we must plan and save for, which is why we have events, and ask for donations.”
The Flying Lab Foundation is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit that supports both the flying lab and its museum. Weather permitting, the Lab will fly Saturday to display its many lights and colors.
“All personnel who are associated with the Flying Lab and the events we put on, or the airshows we attend, are 100 percent volunteers,” Cultice added. “Money raised is used to pay for utilities, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.”
On Saturday, the Airport Cafe will remain open until 8:30 p.m. The Champaign Aviation Museum will close at 4 p.m.
The fish fry will be served inside The Grimes Flying Lab Museum, which is open to guests all evening. In addition, a beer garden and concert featuring three bands will be located on the airport ramp. Those bands include Above the Law, Grampy Bones and Eleyet McConnell.
Contrary to initial plans and advertisements, organizers do not currently anticipate an appearance from Sky Soldiers, an Atlanta-based group that offers plane rides to customers.
Cultice noted that the Flying Lab Foundation seeks to preserve the legacy of Warren G. Grimes (1898-1975), founder of Urbana’s aviation lighting plant known as Grimes Manufacturing.
An inventor and manufacturing pioneer, Grimes created a wingtip navigation lighting system that met an essential need of his day, as airplanes and airports were not previously equipped with lighting.
“(Grimes) started his own company developing lighting, and the rest is history,” Cultice said. “We call the aircraft that (he) used for testing his lights the Flying Laboratory, Flying Lab for short.”
More information can be found on the event’s Facebook page, titled “Fish Fry Fundraiser.”
Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.