Rich Henry lived in a trailer at the Payson Municipal Airport to help pilots in all types of weather. He kept the Payson Municipal Airport open in the winter by plowing the runway with a tractor. Last week, the Payson Town Council linked his name permanently to the airport.
Rich Henry lived in a trailer at the airport to help pilots in all types of weather. He kept the airport open in the winter by plowing the runway with a tractor. Last week, the Payson Town Council linked his name permanently to the airport.
When no one had a helicopter to airlift sick and injured people to the Valley hospitals, he took them there in his airplane.
When the Payson airport had no fuel for pilots, he brought 55-gallon drums up in his truck.
When snow covered the runway, he used his tractor to clear the fields so pilots could safely land.
When a plane needed fixing, he was right there with his toolbox.
When a lost pilot low on fuel tried to land, he would radio to them — day or night.
Rich Henry all but fathered the Payson Municipal Airport. If you don’t fly, you probably don’t know his name. But he left his imprint on every corner of the Payson airport.
For everything he did, Payson honored Henry Thursday night by adding the tag line Rich Henry Field to the airport sign.
To a standing ovation from the huge crowd, Henry, 88, shakily stood with his family by his side. Through tears, he thanked the council and town for the honor.
The council and several pilots agreed the moment was long overdue.
Henry became a fixture at the airport starting in 1977, just after the airport was paved. He and his wife Doris lived in a trailer at the airport for 15 years so they could help pilots at any time, day or night.
Henry would keep a radio by his bed to talk to pilots lost or having difficulty, according to information collected by Marie Fasano, a pilot and friend of Henry.
He was known as the “The Man for All Seasons,” responsible for keeping the airport open year-round, no matter the weather.
He would clear the landing strip of snow and when pilots needed mechanical help, Henry was the man who could fix just about anything. An old green school bus and shed held his mechanic shop. In all, he worked on more than 3,000 airplanes.
He helped get runway lights installed and added painted numbers and tie downs.
For fuel, Henry would haul 10, 55-gallon drums of airplane fuel to the airport. He later repaired a used gasoline tanker from Yuma.
Before the region had a medical helicopter, Henry would fly injured people to the Valley.
In 1983, Henry and several others founded the Payson Pilots Association, which continues today.
In 1988, he started a flight school and through the years, taught 100 people how to fly. He inspired dozens more children to become pilots through the Young Eagles program.
“For many years, he was the first in line to give free flights to youngsters through the EAA Young Eagles,” Fasano wrote.
His greatest contribution, to the delight of many hungry pilots, was the Crosswinds Restaurant, which Henry and his wife opened in 1978.
They opened the restaurant in an old town trailer. Pilots would call in their order and when they landed, their breakfast would be waiting.
To this day, pilots come to the restaurant after a flight for a cup of coffee and slice of pie.
As the airport grew, so did the number of takeoffs and landings, going from 4,000 to 25,000 by 1989.
In 1990, the town officially hired Henry to manage the airport. Before that, he made his living providing airplane maintenance, instruction, fuel and running the restaurant.
Bob Pearson, a pilot who headed up the committee that worked on adding the tag line to the airport, said Henry contributed so much to the airport.
While the airport sign will now read Payson Municipal Airport, Rich Henry Field, the airport name won’t change. Pearson said pilots will still use the same call sign when they radio to land at the airport. The only thing that will change is the airport sign and the tag line on marketing material.
Barbara Underwood, who was sworn in as a new councilor at the beginning of Thursday’s council meeting, made the motion to add the Rich Henry Field tag line. Underwood said she had known Henry for 40 years and she was proud her first motion as a councilor was to honor him.