Flying high

A cropduster sits at Huggins Memorial Airpark on May 2 in Timmonsville. Like his father, Sonny Huggins cropdusted for years before transitioning to working as a pilot for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division.

TIMMONSVILLE, S.C. – When you live at an airport – whether it’s by choice, some feeling of obligation or a little bit of both – flying works its way deeply into your life. Death, too.

M. B. “Sonny” Huggins III passed away Feb. 14 in a Myrtle Beach hospital. Family members were close by, including his wife of 30 years, Bettie.

“My son looked at me and he said, when he [Sonny] drew his last breath: ‘Momma, it’s 2:10,’ ” Bettie said.

The significance of the time was immediately evident to the loved ones. It was a fitting nod to Sonny’s favorite airplane, the Cessna 210.

Sonny was a pilot through and through. He made his first solo flight when he was 11. His 17,546 flight hours add up to more than two years in the air. He and Bettie got married while in flight. 

“He was something,” Bettie said. “He was my best friend.”

The grass-stripped Huggins Memorial Airpark – described by author, journalist and pilot Bill Walker as “long on flying history and short on formality” – handles a combination of recreational pilots and crop-dusters. Planes sit under corrugated metal hangars, or are secured to concrete pads outdoors. Vines creep into the cockpit of a propeller-less Cessna, parked in a stand of trees.

The airport was founded in 1931 or 1937 (there is some debate) by Sonny’s father, “Dusty,” who earned his nickname during the early days of cropdusting, first in Louisiana, then South Carolina, North Dakota and Minnesota.

“He was usually covered in dust,” Sonny wrote in a biography of his father. “Where his goggles covered his eyes would be the only place not covered in the white dust.”

Dusty would fly in Santa Claus for Timmonsville’s Christmas Parade, a tradition that Sonny kept up after his father passed away.

Also like his father, Sonny worked for the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division as a pilot. For 28 years, he spotted liquor stills, fleeing suspects, missing persons and marijuana plants from the air.

“I just want to fly until I can’t do it anymore,” Sonny told Walker in 2005.

In a few weeks, Bettie hopes to give Sonny one final opportunity to fly, during a celebration of life service where his ashes will be spread from his favorite airplane.

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