HOISINGTON — Soon, when cross-country flyers stop at the Salina Regional Airport to refuel, they will be able to take in a unique and educational art display created by Hoisington’s own B&B Metal Arts. Bruce and Brent Bitter were commissioned in October, 2016, to create the Steve Fossett Sculpture Plaza which will be dedicated later this month, memorializing Fossett’s amazing 2005 flight around the world in his Global Flyer, a feat that broke several world records. It’s a story Bruce Bitter, also an amateur pilot, has become intimately familiar with over the past year and a half, and one he is excited to share with the world through his art.
While Bitter won’t put a dollar figure on the commission, he will say it’s the largest he and brother Brent have ever been offered so far. Late last week, he invited media to take a sneak peek of the sculpture, fence details and utility pieces before transporting them to Salina for installation.
The concept included a 700-foot-long fence featuring story circles providing the history of the Salina Air Base and Salina Regional Airport, and Fossett’s adventures. The fence provides a backdrop for the 16-foot-high stainless steel sculpture of the globe, set upon a stainless steel cylinder featuring Fossett’s Global Flyer graphical story. The plaza also includes benches, tables, and other utility items, as well as informational signage all designed and created by B&B Metal Arts.
In advance of the 15th anniversary of 9/11 in the summer of 2016, Bruce Bitter was interviewed about the seven sculptures he was commissioned by the TSA to create in 2011 in advance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers. That’s when he learned that the TSA had transferred the sculpture at the Great Bend airport to Salina Regional Airport after Great Bend lost its appeal to retain essential air service there in May, 2016. Bitter contacted the TSA, and as a result of that conversation, B&B Metal Arts was provided another section of World Trade Center I-beam to create an eighth sculpture for Great Bend.
“That Great Bend sculpture was my home-town one, and the medallion coins I made had the Great Bend design on them because of all the hometown support I’d received,” he said.
Other 9/11 sculptures can be found in Wichita, Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal, Manhattan, Hays and now Salina.
Bitter also got to know Timothy Rogers, the executive director of the Salina Airport Authority, around that time. They talked about their love of flying, which led to the initial discussion about the plaza. It wouldn’t be long before Bitter received a call from the Fossett foundation asking him to consider the commission.
Rogers invited Bitter to visit the site of the proposed plaza, where he shared his idea for creating the model of the Fossett’s glider flying around the world. The Fossett Foundation followed up, pleased to have found an artist with experience flying, one who would understand the thrill of adventure in flight that drove Fossett.
Bruce and brother Brent received a quick review in geography as they got to work building the globe, made from steel tubing, with custom ground steel plates cut and formed to represent the land masses of the world.
“Most of the earth’s land mass is above the equator,” he said. “We found that out because the globe is a little top heavy, so we had to reinforce it in several places.”
The globe will slide onto a pole in the center of the cylinder, and will be bolted in place. The final touch will be the addition of a three-dimensional model of the Global Flyer, hovering above the surface of the globe. Brent’s son Nathan helped extensively with the fabrication and welding of the globe.
The Bitter’s also brought Bruce’s daughter, Kayleigh, into the project, making it a real family affair. Kayleigh is a design student at Kansas University, and helped design the graphics of the cylinder during breaks from college, Bruce said.
The story includes images of the Global Flyer, an image representing the Salina runway, lines representing the flight path around the world, images of postmarks representing the letters he mailed from the Salina post office the day he began his flight, and the day he ended the flight, and other symbolic images representing the help he received from around the world which made his feat possible. A notation of the time, over 67 hours, spent in the air is also included. Three rippling American Flags, their stars etched in steel and cut out to reveal the black, representing the continuous days and nights Fossett spent in the air provide underlie the entire graphic story.
The Steve Fossett Sculpture Plaza will provide travellers with a welcome destination to visit during fuel stops, Bitter said.
“They can walk, sit and relax, enjoy the Fossett project and learn more about the airport and the Salina Air Base,” he said.
It is believed Fossett, a businessman and adventurer, died Sept. 3, 2007, after he disappeared while flying a light aircraft over the Great Basin Desert, between Nevada and California. His disappearance led to an extensive but unsuccessful search of the area. Then, in September 2008, according to an Oct. 3, 2008 report by CNN, “a hiker found Fossett’s identification cards in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, leading shortly after to the discovery of the plane’s wreckage. Fossett’s only known remains, two large bones, were found half a mile from the crash site....”
The Steve Fossett Sculpture Plaza will be dedicated March 22.