In Part 2 of this series, The Aero Experience will take a look at this Midwest airport and its impact on central Illinois. The airport offers a 5000’x75′ E/W runway, low self-service fuel prices, and a pilot’s lounge. There is ample apron space and hangars available for home-based and transient aircraft. Airport services include aircraft maintenance by Keith Aero, agricultural application by Brian Agricultural Aviation and Holzwarth Flying Service, and aerial imagery and survey services by Cruce Aviation. Established in 1964 to serve the Pekin and neighboring Peoria areas, Pekin Municipal Airport reported that it supports over 10,000 aircraft movements (takeoffs or landings) per year, hosts 55 aircraft and occupies 215 acres of land. It is also reported that at least 16 businesses use the airport on a regular basis. According to the Illinois Department of Transportation, the airport supports 26 related jobs and a total annual economic output of $3.1 million.
The Aero Experience spoke with Pekin Municipal Airport Manager, Clayton Stambaugh, during a short break in the action on Saturday. This was his 4th Wings and Wheels event of the six such events, and he gave some context to the day’s activities. “This event was an open house to get people accustomed to the airport and to understand it,” he said. “We slowly added more. We invited South Pekin to come in and add venders. The car show was added to attract more people.”
Even though the airport is owned and operated by the City of Pekin, IL, it was not always seen as a valuable resource. The Airport was previously managed by Byerly Aviation as mainly a paint facility until 2008. When they moved their operations, the city now had to be closer to the daily operations. The Airport Commission realized that the community was not engaged with the airport, and it was time to make the case of its value. Even with the annual Wings and Wheels event and the known economic impact of the airport, there are still some who need to be won over. “I go to the Council meeting and I just state the facts: $3.1 million every year to the local economy on aeronautical activities alone,” Stambaugh continued. “We have a federal prison, and many of the businesses in town that are only here because they can come in and out via aircraft. We operationally only cost about a dollar per year per citizen ($30-35,000).”
As with any property asset, maintenance of the grounds and facilities is an on-going need. The all-important pavement on the runway, taxiways and apron is in good condition. The grass is mowed and healthy. A full-service maintenance shop has moved into the main hangar and can support the aircraft based at the airport. These are all positive developments. A number of improvements will be necessary in the near future to make the airport an even better asset to the City of Pekin. Topping that list are the outside of the main terminal and the maintenance hangar, which are beginning to show their age. The new maintenance business and flight training services will begin to add to the economic impact of the airport, and possibly more events and business traffic will add to the airport’s value to the community and to the state of Illinois. The case for these capital improvements to the airport may well be self-evident in the not so distant future.
There are several unique aircraft based at Pekin Municipal Airport. A rare 1943 Piper L-4B Grasshopper with the Brodie System
retrieval hook attached to the top of the wing was on display along with a large radio-controlled aircraft in the same likeness. The L-4 was used mainly for U.S. Army artillery spotting and liaison duties wherever the Army was deployed. As the U.S. forces moved across two theaters of war, they had to wait until airfields were captured or constructed before making critical observation flights. A way to get the aircraft flying sooner came in the form of a launch and recovery system using cables strung along an LST boat. The concept was invented by U.S. Army Transportation Corps Captain James Brodie. Eight LSTs were converted for “carrier” use and were deployed on a limited basis in Europe and in the Pacific. Information panels next to the aircraft on display explained the system.
Another interesting aircraft in residence at the airport is the McDonnell Douglas F-4C Phantom II jet (s/n 64-0911) on display at the entrance to the road leading into the parking lot. The F-4C model was a first generation USAF Phantom II interceptor that would soon become the standard jet fighter and tactical bomber of the 1960s and serve during the Vietnam War. This aircraft flew with the 92nd TFS at RAF Brentwaters in the early 1970s and later in the Oregon Air National Guard. It was flown in by a Skycrane helicopter in the late 1980s and is currently sporting the SI tail code of the 183rd TFW of the IL Air National Guard for display purposes. It is owned by the National Museum of the USAF and is on loan to the airport.
The Aero Experiencethanks the staff and volunteers that made the 2016 Pekin Municipal Airport Wings and Wheels an outstanding Midwest Aviation event. We will continue with our coverage in Part 3, where we will focus on JAARS and the flights they gave on Saturday.