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Archive for Friday, December 10, 1999

AIRPORT TO CELEBRATE NEW HANGAR

December 10, 1999

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Airport officials hope a new hangar and other improvements will launch the old airport into a new age.

It has been almost 90 years since the first attempted airplane flight from Topeka to Kansas City ended abruptly -- and unexpectedly -- in a bean field north of Lawrence.

And it has been 70 years since Lawrence built its first hangar and runway near that same field.

So, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Lawrence Municipal Airport on Saturday will have a touch of history.

Those early attempts to bring aviation to northeast Kansas had the same goals in mind as Saturday's dedication of a new community hangar, officials said: providing a base for local aviation businesses and connecting the city to the rest of the region through air service.

"The motivation was to make Lawrence a metropolitan city with air service that would help grow the city and attract businesses," said Rick Bryant, chairman of the city's Airport Advisory Board.

Lloyd Hetrick, president of Hetrick Aircraft Inc., the fixed-base operator of the airport, said the new community hangar replaces an old hangar that was recently taken over by Dream Wings, a company that manufactures ultra-light aircraft.

The new building, Hetrick said, is considerably larger and has a higher doorway to accommodate larger planes.

It also provides aviation companies like Kohlman Systems Research with an opportunity to offer more services and expand their businesses, Hetrick said

Kohlman is a company that does testing and certification for certain kinds of aircraft.

The new, larger hangar will enable Kohlman to test more kinds of aircraft at the Lawrence airport instead of transferring that work to other airports, company officials said.

Getting a new hangar is just one part of a larger master plan for improvements at the airport.

City commissioners this year approved a new long-range capital improvements plan calling for a longer runway, additional "T-hangar" space for lease to individual owners, and other improvements aimed at bringing more traffic to the airport.

One of the reasons, officials have said, is that the NASCAR speedway under construction in Wyandotte County is expected to bring significant air traffic to Lawrence on race weekends.

According to Bryant of the Airport Advisory Board, that's the same kind of motivation that led Lawrence to build the original airport, which was dedicated Oct. 13, 1929.

"The motivation for the airport stemmed from some sort of Midwest aerial tour that was going on at that time," Bryant said. "Lawrence didn't have an airport, so it was out of the picture."

"The city fathers and the chamber of commerce people got together with Kansas University, which owned the land, to lease about 60 acres. It was used as a 'flag stop' to transfer passengers flying out of Kansas City to Topeka," Bryant said.

A few years later, with the airport in place, Lawrence began getting air-mail service twice daily from a company based in Indianapolis, Bryant said, and in the 1940s the airport housed one of the largest pilot-training programs in the Midwest.

At the same time, Bryant said, the challenges facing the airport always have been similar to the challenges it faces now.

"The problems we face at the airport have been consistent since day one," Bryant said. "Hangar space and runways. Only the dollars have gotten bigger."

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is phancock@ljworld.com.

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