Organizers say it’s the largest peace-time airlift ever. More than two-hundred planes coming from 28 different states will be landing in Des Moines this Saturday to deliver hundreds of athletes to the first-ever Special Olympics U-S-A National Games in Ames. Marilyn Richwine, an executive at the Cessna aircraft company, is the chief airlift organizer and her plan is to have a plane land every 90 seconds.
“I don’t even know hardly where to start. We asked our customers to donate their airplanes so that’s one group of people that we’re dealing with and we have 240…(Cessna) Citations that are participating so that’s 240 people that I’m communicating with with schedules,” Richwine says. “We’re doing 28 states at 40 different departure sites…About 1800 athletes and coaches so that’s another whole 1800 people that we’re dealing with.”
She’s been working on this project for a year and a half. She’s been coordinating the flight plans with a core group of people in Des Moines as well as federal officials who coordinate the air traffic control system. Richwine has also laid plans to deal with the planes and their occupants once they’re on the ground in Des Moines.”We have people (who) are donating Gators to help with bags…The UPS (and) FedEx people are graciously clearing out the ramps so we can stage the airlift there,” Richwine says.
Seventy tug-drivers from Cessna service centers around the country as well as some from Duncan Aviation in Lincoln, Nebraska to tow the airplanes on the ground. The airlift will be orchestrated in reverse on July 8th when the athletes and their coaches fly home after the games in Ames have concluded.
“It’s a big undertaking,” Richwine says. “The command center in Washington, D.C. said this would make (the) Des Moines (Airport) on these two days as busy as La Guardia (Airport in New York City).” Richwine is trying to cover all details, like providing enough drinking water for the people who’ll be on the tarmac directly this Saturday and the next planes.
“Sounds like it’s going to be hot in Des Moines,” Richwine says. There’ll be 25 Cessna flight operations people who’ll direct the planes into a parking spot in addition to the people who’re getting the luggage off the planes and those who’re escorting the Special Olympics athletes and coaches onto buses. This is the fifth time Cessna has coordinated an airlift of Special Olympics athletes.
“It was an idea of our chairman Russ Meyer back in 1986,” Richwine says. “He had a neighbor who was on the board for Special Olympics Kansas (who) asked if Cessna would transport Kansas Special Olympics athletes to winter games in Salt Lake City.” It was a quick hit. “Our pilots couldn’t quit talking about the experience for the athletes, but also how much fun they had,” Richwine says. So, when the Cessna C-E-O heard the Special Olympics Summer Games were to be held in Indiana in 1987, he asked Cessna customers to donate their airplanes to transport Special Olympics athletes to those games. “That’s kind of how it go started,” Richwine says.
With so many planes headed to Des Moines on Saturday, even one delay could cause a backup at airports nationwide. “For all the people in Des Moines this is the first time and only time that they’ll ever do something like this,” Richwine says. “For us, I’ve coordinated every one of them so it’s getting to be sort of old hat, but still every location is different.”