A surprise ceremony for the groom
On April 1, 2014, Bill Thornton knew he was marrying his longtime sweetheart. He just didn’t realize where.
“Bill thought we were getting married at my grandmother’s house. But, on the way, I told him his longtime friend and former co-pilot, Dale Arnold, was having car trouble after a flight back to Jackson and had to be picked up at the airport to attend the wedding,” said Shelby Thornton, who hatched an entirely different plan behind the scenes.
Bill and Shelby Thornton said “I do” at 7,500 feet AGL, nearly a mile and a half high. The pilot flew the couple over their home as they exchanged their vows.
When the couple arrived at McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport in Jackson, Tennessee, some 25 cheering friends and family greeted them at the gate – even Jackson Sun reporter Josh Lemons attended to capture the story. Arnold had a Beechcraft® King Air® fueled and ready for the airborne nuptials.
"I was absolutely surprised and shocked. I really had no idea at all. When we rounded the corner and I saw everyone standing at the gate, it took a moment for the reality of the situation to set in. It was so surprising that it took me a moment to recognize the faces of our loved ones,” said Bill Thornton, a former corporate pilot who recently graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in biology. He holds private, commercial and instructor certificates as well as instrument and multi-engine ratings.
While the couple may have met at a friend’s bachelorette party 10 years ago, they wasted no time in tying the knot once the decision was made. Just two weeks separated popping the question and the wedding.
“I was flying by the seat of my pants when I proposed to him,” said the bride. “I wrote ‘always and forever’ next to an airplane on a card, laminated it and cut it to look like a wedding band. That’s what I gave him.”
When the newly-married couple landed, friends and family tossed tiny paper airplanes rather than rice.
After their big day, the whirlwind continued. Two weeks later, the Thorntons hosted a wedding reception with 50 guests. The venue was decorated in airplanes as well as Coca-Cola memorabilia in honor of the bride's passion for collecting.
"It was a great experience. Getting married in a King Air made our day even more special," said Bill Thornton.