Benton Airport's Makeover Continues

In the last year and a half, the Benton airport has undergone many changes, and there's more ahead.

They've torn down old hangars and built new ones, widened and repaved the runway and built a large new building for their fixed-base operation, which provides services for pilots and aircraft owners.

"How far it's come... is just amazing," said Julie Clemens, a pilot and one of the airport's owners.

Three couples -- Greg and Debbie Largen, Julie and Dwayne Clemens and Victor and Tammy Riffel -- bought the airport in May 2004.

With the permission of the Stearman family, they recently changed its name to Benton Airpark Lloyd Stearman Field, in honor of the Wichita aviation pioneer. They also added a 24-hour credit card fuel operation and a 10,000 gallon fuel tank to help sales.

A $138,510 state grant paid 90 percent of the cost of widening and repaving the runway.

Additional grant money is being sought to add a full-length taxiway, and more hangars are planned for the south end of the airport, Julie Clemens said.

The airport offers aircraft rentals, repair, flight training and ground school. It also administers Federal Aviation Administration testing as well as testing in other fields, such as medical, meteorological or construction.

The Clemenses are dealers of Aviat Aircraft's Husky model airplanes. Diamond Aircraft dealer Mike Cranston operates his business from the airport as does Prairie Air Services, which offers multi-engine flight training.

The airport's new name, however, highlights the owners' interest in Stearman aircraft.

It's home to six Stearman bi-wing airplanes. And the owners are in the midst of planning the airport's first Stearman fly-in, Clemens said. It will be held in May or June, though an exact date has not been set.

Hanging on the wall inside the business are the fronts of nine T-shirts commemorating their wearers' first solo flights.

One belongs to Alex Clemens, Julie Clemens' stepson, who flew the couple's 1943 Stearman for his solo. The younger Clemens took his solo flight on his 16th birthday earlier this month, the youngest age federal regulations allow a person to solo a powered aircraft.

Wichita Eagle

Knight Ridder content Copyright 2005 provided via The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

News stories provided by third parties are not edited by "Site Publication" staff. For suggestions and comments, please click the Contact link at the bottom of this page.