The aviator: Local businessman earned his wings as teen

Lloyd Hetrick, fixed-base operator at Lawrence Municipal Airport, verifies with Janice Smith that a part has been ordered for an aircraft undergoing repairs.

Lloyd Hetrick, 52, is a high flyer. Flying is in his blood.

“I flew solo on my 16th birthday and received my private license on my 17th birthday, which was the youngest age you could get it,” he says. “My parents (in their late 70s) still fly planes, my wife, Jeanie, is a pilot, and my two daughters plan to fly as well.”

Hetrick, president of Hetrick Air Services at Lawrence Municipal Airport, grew up in and around planes. His father, a National Guard aircraft mechanic at Topeka, started the family business, Hetrick Aircraft Inc., at Topeka’s Philip Billard Municipal Airport in 1967.

“My mother took me and my younger brother to the airport every day after school,” he recalls. “We washed the planes and were the go-fers around the airfield. When I graduated from high school, I became a full-time apprentice mechanic at the airport.”

After his three-year apprenticeship he received his airframe and power license and went on to become an aircraft inspector and a certified flight instructor. He received his helicopter pilot’s license in 1971.

“Getting the helicopter license was one of the highlights of my career,” he says with a smile. “It’s much more fun flying helicopters because you can take off and land anywhere. We’ve landed in my dad’s backyard, and I’ve flown over Chiefs and Royals games to take photographs. Once I was asked to hover over a baseball field to help dry it out after it was flooded.”

Even though some consider helicopters more dangerous to fly, Hetrick has never had an accident in one. But he’s had two near misses when flying planes.

“In 1975, my brother and I crashed in bad weather,” he recalls. “The plane overturned, but we walked away relatively unscathed. It didn’t put us off flying.”

The second incident scared him more.

“In 1977, I was pulling one of those banners behind the plane. You have to make the upward turn pretty slowly,” he explains. “The plane stalled, and that really scared me. It took me awhile to get used to flying slowly again. Flying faster is much safer.”

As the family business expanded in Topeka, Hetrick and his wife started a satellite operation in Lawrence. The city contracted with them as a fixed-based operation to provide fuel sales, flight instruction, hangar storage and plane maintenance. When his parents retired in 2003, the family business was divided. Hetrick’s brother remained at Billard, and the Lawrence operation, which is a Cessna-authorized service center and an FAA-authorized repair station, became Hetrick Air Services.

These days, Hetrick leaves flight instruction to others. He still performs flight tests and ferries customers’ planes to and from surrounding areas.

He never tires of climbing high.

“Everything looks different from the air, and it gives you a different perspective of how things look,” he says.

He admits flying used to make him queasy.

“When I was a child and my parents were flying, they’d put me in the back of the plane, and I got really sick,” he says with a laugh. “It’s never happened since I’ve been at the controls myself. I love every minute of flying.”