By Eric Proulx
Citizen Chronicle Writer

Earlier this week, The Citizen Chronicle highlighted the Southbridge Municipal Airport and improvements completed under Airport Manager Ron Plouffe. Among the improvements at the airport is a renovated restaurant, the Red Baron Diner, and a new flight school, Norby Aviation.

Red Baron Diner serving up success

For the last six months, James Dhembe and Richard Galli have owned and operated the Red Baron Diner at the Southbridge Municipal Airport. The Red Baron Diner opened its doors on June 13, 2017, and has been serving both pilots and local residents with exceptional food and service since. The duo is well known in the community through their other respective business ventures, with Mr. Dhembe owning Jimmy D’s in Sturbridge, and Mr. Galli owning Fedele’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant in Southbridge.

The Citizen Chronicle sat down with Mr. Dhembe to get an update on how business is going, and the unique qualities of the Red Baron Diner.

Although there are surely new customers who have never been to a restaurant at the Southbridge Municipal Airport, most of the diner’s customers are have frequented the previous incarnations next to the airport runway.

“They realized that it was open again, so they started coming back”, said Dhembe.

While many locals have had plenty of delicious meals with a clear view of airplanes taking off and landing from within the diner, or outside on its deck, the diner, however, is far more that a local attraction. According to Airport Manager Ron Plouffe, pilots from all over will fly to Southbridge for a bite to eat here.

“It’s their hobby,” Plouffe said. “They’ll fly somewhere 150 to 200 miles away to go and have a hamburger.”

With future expansion plans for the airport, the Red Baron Diner is poised to take off as developments unfold.

Though the airport restaurant has historically shuttered over the winter, the Red Baron Diner currently remains open on Thursdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition to the full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus, the diner specializes every Thursday night in prime rib. Other specials include meat pie, shepherd’s pie, lasagna, stuffed peppers, whole bellied clams, scallops, and more. In the spring, the diner also plans to extend its hours to be open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. For more information, call the Red Baron Diner at (508) 765-5800.

Norby Aviation is prepared for take off

The newest improvement to the airport, Norby Aviation, started offering flight school services on January 1. Owner Kevin Norby has amassed more than 3,900 flight hours over about 30 years, but has been operating his flight school full-time for just the last few years. Prior to moving his operations to Southbridge, Mr. Norby provided flight training in Marlboro. The 1,600-foot runway at the Marlboro Airport limited their flight training to private pilot training, Norby said. He noted that he is very excited to now call the Southbridge Municiapl Airport home, as it boasts a 3,500-foot runway, with plans of adding another 500 feet.

Kevin Norby now trains pilots in Southbridge.

Mr. Norby said he has signed a lease with the airport for three years, with an option to renew for another three years. He hopes to be here for the long haul.

“Our goal is to generate enough excitement and growth in aviation at Southbridge so that we are around many years beyond that,” Norby said.

The pilot cited support for the airport from the citizens of Southbridge as a significant factor in feeling comfortable to make a long-term commitment. Asked about the Southbridge Municipal Airport, Norby added: “It’s a pleasant place to spend a day with all the conveniences needed to run our business.”

The flight school will have to promote their business a lot to let the community know what they have to offer, he said, but they will be instrumental in teaching the youth to fly. Airport Manager Ron Plouffe asserted there are a lot of commercial pilots that are getting close to retiring, making teaching the next wave of pilots very important.

Norby Aviation offers a wide variety of services and plans to expand those services even more now that they have a bigger runway to work with. The two planes that are currently being used for training are a Cessna 150 and a Cessna 172.They most common training, Norby said, is the $99 Introductory Flight where students get to fly the plane and learn the basics. Mr. Norby said the flight school sold quite a few gift certificates around Christmas, and suggested they would also be a great gift for birthdays or for any plane enthusiasts.

In the future, Norby said he has a mission of being a safety resource for all area pilots by hosting FAA Safety seminars and various other aviation events. Norby Aviation is planning to offer free information nights where people can learn what it takes to become a pilot. Training hours may vary by season, but generally the hours will be weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call Norby Aviation at (774) 224-2335 or e-mail them at norbyaviation@gmail.com.

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