Sunny Sunday Easter Airport Survey

By Scott Spangler on April 22nd, 2019

Survey-17Spring in Wisconsin came with the Easter Bunny. With sunshine and temperatures climbing above the 40s for the first time, and shooting for the mid 70s, it seemed the perfect day to go flying. Curious to witness whether others were so inspired, after lunch I set out on an impromptu Sunny Sunday Airport Survey.

Riding a 120-mile triangle, I’d visit Brennand Airport (79C), a privately owned, public-use airport in Neenah. Then it was off to the Waupaca Municipal Airport (PCZ), with a finish line at the Wautoma Municipal Airport (Y50). They had three things in common: no control tower, paved runways, and service to a small town. They also had one more thing in common; as I approached each of them in turn, I saw no airplanes flying to or from them.

Brennand Airport

Survey-1Nearly a dozen cars filled the parking spaces outside the two-story airport office with its unique twisted brick pillars that support the second-floor deck. The only person I saw was a young man, MJ, sitting in an Adirondack chair out front. With self-service fuel, I didn’t think he was a line person, but maybe he was one of a dying breed, the airport kid. His answers to my questions whether anyone had gone flying today led me to believe this was not the case, but he thought he’d heard an airplane takeoff earlier in the day.

Heading to the far end of the line of hangars in search of other aeronautical humans, I passed the airport’s open maintenance hangar. Perched in the doorway was a flashy RV-10. Behind it was a Robinson helicopter, and behind that a decowled Cessna. As I passed, a gentleman said I was welcome to come in and look around. I promised to stop in on my way back.

Survey-3Only two of the 25 hangars had their bifold doors lifted slightly to form ventilating isosceles triangles that seemed to be pointing at the windsock on the other side of the runway. Both of them were homes to Cessna 150s whose owners were silently at work. The second 150 was wingtipless, and it shared the space with on old Cessna 172. Through the door’s open apex I could see that it was red and white and that it wore two venturis on its right flank.

There were cars parked between two other hangars, one a Ram pickup with AOPA Aircraft Owner sticker on its back window, which suggested that its owner was winging his or her way to an Easter assignation. There was no car next to the door with the hangar nameplate that bore the resident’s name and the lithographed scribe of a homebuilt Acro Sport II. Pity. Today was prime open cockpit biplane flying weather.

Survey-8Stepping through the maintenance hangar to the office, to my right was a magnificent two-lane aviation-themed bowling alley. To my left, just past a short alcove, was an open-plan lounge and commercial kitchen, with an island covered with a tasty looking meal. A crowd three generations strong were making their way to the ally, when a kind woman said hello. Colleen Mustain, who owns the airport with her husband, Keith, said the gathering was an Easter party with their kids and grandkids. After introducing me to her husband as he passed, I said I didn’t want to intrude. It was no problem, they said, and I was welcome to come back any time. You can count on that.

Waupaca Municipal Airport

Survey-10A Cessna 172 and Piper Tomahawk were tied down on the ramp at Waupaca, and the pilot of an old straight-tailed Cessna 150 was reading the instructions at the self-service fuel island. While he was reading, a bright yellow Stinson 108 with red trim worked its way around the island and found a place on the ramp, taking the Tomahawk’s place as the man and women in it taxied to the other side of the fuel island. Finally, someone was putting the beautiful spring day to proper use.

In the terminal, a young man with long hair sat looking out at the ramp from the office’s bay window. Patrick, who works for Beth, the contract airport manager, had the weekend duty. He’s been working at the airport for about a year, and when he’s not working, he’s “doing homework.” Such is the life for a student at Weyauwega High School. His dad, Brian, has the contract to plow the ramp and runways, and made the suggesting that a job was a productive use of free time.

Survey-14Patrick said the airport had a pretty busy weekend, with more than a dozen visiting airplanes. Most of them, he guessed, had flown into town for Easter visits. While we talked, a man entered the lounge and stretched out on the couch. Bob Harvey was local, he said, having flown in from his home strip in the Stinson. He has a Piper Vagabond there to keep it company. “I’ve also got an RV-10 that I keep here in the northwest hangar.”

Out for a short jaunt because it was a nice day, in chatting about flying he said that one of his flying friends had just passed. We agreed that in this chapter of our lives, this event was becoming more common and it made our adventures even more special. The loss was particularly poignant for Bob because his friend joined him for extended trips to the mountains and other regions in the RV. Quickly turning to happier topics, he gave me a bundle of other airports and activities to investigate on my next airport survey.

Wautoma Municipal Airport

Survey-28The airport is just past the south edge of town. A large hangar with a For Sale or Lease sign greets those heading to the terminal. The parking lot was empty. Walking back to the hangar for sale revealed that at one time it was home to an operation that catered to ultralight and light aircraft. The middle section of the sign, bearing the majority of its name, was missing. On the left third of the sign was a single-seat ultralight pusher, a make and model unknown to me. On the right third was the image of a composite Quickie Q2.

Continuing my circumnavigation of the hangars, I passed the EAA Chapter 1331 hangar with its covered grill and open picnic tables, and crossed a newly asphalted ramp and a new self-serve fuel island. Walking among the cluster of new and well-kept hangars, I saw only two vehicles. I met Larry, the owner of the late-model white pickup, in the terminal’s flight planning room. He said he was “a snowbird from Florida.” He was dropping a load of stuff in his hangar before he returned south. Asking what he flew, he said a Cessna 172.” Wishing him a good flight, he said he was going commercial. “I leave the airplane here.”

Survey-30Asking if there had been any activity at the airport this day, he said it was a sleepy town, and “no one is flying today—it’s Easter. Besides, it’s too windy.” Pointing at the weather station screen over his head, the wind was blowing a steady 14 knots from the south. It wasn’t much of a crosswind component, but maybe if you hadn’t flown all winter….

It was a semi-sad finish to my survey. Surely there was more activity than this, and if not, I wondered about the economic sense of each airport’s aircraft owners. Maybe it’s just my frugal tendencies, but I can’t see the fixed-cost rationale of hangar rent and insurance for an airplane you rarely fly.

Survey-36A more positive observation is that all three airports are tidy and well kept. Given the harsh winter and an April snow dump, patches and mounds of which are just now returning to grass greening liquid, this surprised me. Despite the lack of sunny Sunday activities, each of the airport’s operators is keeping their aerodrome in top shape, ready to welcome all comers. –Scott Spangler, Editor

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6 Responses to “Sunny Sunday Easter Airport Survey”

  1. Todd McClamroch Says:

    I stopped by the viewing area of Palwaukee / Chicago Exec (KPWK) for about 15 minutes yesterday between events and enjoyed seeing a fairly active pattern. Based on the pattern work and radio communications on Live ATC is sounded like most of it was training and recreational flying.

    That Brennand Airport (79C) looks like a hidden gem.

  2. Brad Launchpad Marzari Says:

    Rob, as always very nice piece. But take a moment and look in the mirror for some self reflection. Why did you drive to these airports and not flying into them? I in no means to imply you are part of the problem. What are you part of the solution?
    Keep writing well my friend

  3. Scott Spangler Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Brad, but if you noticed the byline at the end of this piece, Rob didn’t write it. For a number of reasons, I traded flying for a motorcycle, so using what was available to me, I put it to good use.

  4. Scott Spangler Says:

    Brenand is a gem, and I’m going back for the rest of the story, if the Mustains agree to chat.

  5. Jen Niffer Says:

    Nice post! Empty airports always seem sad to me and if they continue to stay quiet I worry that the businesses there will suffer. Hopefully the warmer weather will bring more airplanes out to play. Stop back in a month or two and give us an update!

  6. Kevin Says:

    I enjoyed this very much. I’d like to share with anyone reading as I haven’t many people to talk to where I live, I’m a disabled vet and I learned to fly before I learned to drive many moons ago but never got the PPL.

    Northern Vermont isn’t exactly a hotbed of GA, alas. In the temperate months (all four or five of them) I will go a week sometimes without seeing and hearing a GA aircraft in the sky. For reference, I live in what we call the “Northeast Kingdom” of VT, and immediately near me are KEFK and KCDA. There is an EAA chapter at KCDA but I wasn’t interested in the activities after all, so although I joined, I stopped going. No fault of theirs. I use KEFK as my “base” for “flying” using X-Plane, a highly advanced desktop flight simulation software package of considerable capability. I also have all the hardware peripherals to imitate a small GA plane. This is so much less expensive than “real” flying!

    Of course, KBTV is about 50 miles to the WSW of us and is a beautiful, intimate and easily navigated (as a passenger) airport. I took some flying lessons at the local aviation academy and it was easy to use this airport, and the area around Burlington is beautiful. One of the flying practice areas is near an enclave of wind turbines, so it is easy to find.

    Somewhat more of a hike is KMPV, Knapp State airport, near our capital Montpelier, which is extremely lightly used except for a daily small cargo ferry which looks to be a rather old King Air. In fact, that airplane is “modeled” in X-Plane’s geographical and topological emulation of that airport!

    There is an FBO for KEFK, a friendly fellow who offers “airplane rides” and while not a CFI, has a contact locally who is usually too busy building hours for his next step up the corporate flying ladder. He rents a few singles of various builds and configurations and a Piper Comanche twin and the airport got a large gov’t grant a few years ago to upgrade everything, like big-airport looking signage and lighting. It has an RNAV approach, but no ILS elements, while Knapp has a localizer approach. KCDA I believe also has an RNAV approach.

    I resonated to this article because I learned to fly at a New Jersey airport which was closed and demolished years ago. You can find it at that wonderful web site detailing lost airports… . The airfield was known as 2N8. I sent him a lot of photos of that place as it is now after my two recent visits there. All the buildings are gone, but the foundations remain and the runway is probably usable in an emergency, although it is short! I soloed there in 1976…before getting my driver’s license!

    But what most captured me was the sense of nostalgia. I imagine many of us who read this column are my age – I’m almost 59. A few years ago I asked the FAA for a third class medical, but they demanded too much information I wasn’t comfortable giving to bureaucrats who wished to sit in judgement on me. So I gave up that late-life dream, which was especially precious to me. I had done a bunch of flying lessons within the last three years and the skills came back pretty easily. Flying above Burlington, VT, at sunset and looking west over Lake Champlain toward the Adirondacks and then dealing with a most accommodating controller at the KBTV tower for landing was a most pleasant memory.

    So I miss flying. We are planning to move to Canada at the end of this year when my wife finishes GI Bill schooling because we are afraid of the direction the US government seems to be taking. It isn’t the way we wish to go.

    So I perhaps will try to re-learn to fly by Canadian rules in the near future. Who knows. The most obvious problem though is simply the cost of GA. It isn’t for everybody, much as people in the business try to make it more appealing. And I for one feel the 1500 hour requirement toward the ATP is ridiculous when it seems some programs in other countries put pilots in the right seat after a commercial, instrument and appropriate multi after 500 or so hours. I envy those countries and people because that’s how they are addressing the pilot shortage. Here bureaucracy decided to draw it out to interminable lengths requiring exorbitant cost. There are better ways, but, alas, symptomatic of the way things are right now, better, logical, sensible and pragmatic are now longer M.O.s people in positions to make change seem to use.

    So when on those rare occasions I hear the sound of a GA engine powering a propeller I look up and try to see it, and engage in a reverie of time past, experiences profound, and the hope that before my time is up, I might experience it again.

    Peace to you all. Safe travels.

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