The series of events that occurred is available in other articles. Needless to say, there were some speeches, thank you's, and promises made for future events. There is no need to duplicate what journalists have already reported in articles listed here. Instead, this report will focus upon things that did not get said elsewhere.
Burns Flat is a small town in southwestern Oklahoma. It is a dying town. Anyone who has traveled on the American Great Plains for more than a few days has seen many towns like this. The people who live there know quite well what their future is likely to be. Some are bitter about past decisions. Some have lost hope. The school bus sent to collect kids in the morning is nowhere near full. The local banker is now running a gas station/diner.
This small town lost something very important when Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base was closed in the early 70's. It lost more when the town elders failed to grasp an economic opportunity and let the town of Clinton take ownership of the base. It lost even more over the next couple of decades as promises were made to develop the place and nothing seemed to happen. Some businesses and jobs were created to fold later with no lasting impact. Some of the older hangers fell into disrepair and eventually fell to the ground. Clinton-Sherman Airpark, as it is called today, is in use and many of the buildings are filled. Those using it though, have not brought it up to its former level of economic activity; so there is still a strong desire to reshape the place by those who want more.
On March 23rd, the people of Burns Flat got to see something they honestly did not expect to see happen. The folks who tried to reorganize Clinton-Sherman Airpark as the Oklahoma Spaceport and put together an opening event managed to get a small aerospace company to show up and fly something. No big rockets or high-speed aircraft were needed to make the opening event the biggest thing to happen in Burns Flat for an entire generation. Just the fact that someone followed through on a promise has given many of the people living near by somehope.
The people who officially made the opening event happen can be categorized into a few groups. First, there are the politicians who want to create jobs in the region. Second, there is the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority (OSIDA) tasked with creating a spaceport and bringing aerospace to Oklahoma. Third, there is Takeoff Technologies and its partners who organized many things and won the proposal that actually became the opening event. Fourth, there is JP Aerospace (JPA) and its volunteers who brought their vehicle to fly, discovered it was too windy on both of the allotted days and improvised enough to get both of the planned payloads into the stratosphere anyway. Together, these groups managed to create something for the people of southwest Oklahoma that they haven't had for longer than they can remember. Some of them left the event feeling that they just might have a place in the future.
A fifth group, though, had a definite impact on the event. Without the residents of Burns Flat and the surrounding area being there on preceding days, it is possible the motivation of the volunteers of JPA to improvise solutions and get payloads flown would have been lower. The fellow who operates the local hardware store got a little choked up when JPA members showed up in his store needing to buy some things they had accidentally left in California. He wouldn't let them buy anything. Instead, he donated the small items and lent the bigger ones. The volunteers felt strongly appreciated and decided to give him the first platform flown from his spaceport after it was recovered. The former banker had special t-shirts printed up to sell at the event. He saved one and asked many of the JPA volunteers to autograph it. There were many other interactions between localresidents and JPA members that helped to provide an emotional glow that effectively beat back the cold and the wind and made it worth spending vacation time from their days jobs in Oklahoma instead of at some nice beach.
For those who might consider participating in future events at the Clinton-Sherman Airpark, they need to be aware they are likely to receive strong support from the people of Burns Flat if they treat the local residents like they matter. After the fact, it was discovered that three bedroom homes could be rented in Burns Flat for prices similar to single occupancy motel rooms with maid service just like one would expect in a motel. If the next event is likely to accidentally cause a few sonic booms, the locals are much more likely to cheer than complain. Set aside a little money to help fix a few windows that might break and you are covered. If any company operating from the airpark found any reason to create even a single job there that could be filled by a young person, they would likely get unasked for special treatment in the local politics.
While there are a great many things that worked and some that didn't, from the perspective of the people hoping for a future for their small town, the opening of the Oklahoma Spaceport not only worked, it was the most important thing to happen to them ever. Each of the groups that helped make it happen noticed the emotional impact on the people who drove for hours in the dark time before sunrise to see it happen. This is the kind of impact that gets politicians elected, brings in local support for events others might consider a tad risky, and draws companies that rely on public appearances and public relations for their well-being. Whether or not this combination of events reoccurs, future event organizers have something strong to work from in creating a future for aerospace in southwest Oklahoma. With a strong will, greater things could grow from this seed.