Monday, June 19, 2017

Yates City, Knox County, Illinois: Tri-County Airport (2C6) embraces the public

YATES CITY — Dave Shipley was happy to share a view he knows well. After taking off from his airport, he looked down at rolling farmland and small strip-mine lakes that sparkled in sunshine just breaking through morning clouds.

“I love flying,” he said while about 900 feet above the ground in his single-engine Cessna. “I could do this all day.”

That’s not always possible, considering he is a Caterpillar Inc. engineer who works in Mossville. But the time he puts into the Tri-County Airport, which he owns with his wife, Cathy, has brought recognition from the state.

Last month the airport, off Illinois Route 8 just west of Yates City in Knox County, was named the 2017 Private-Open to the Public Airport of the Year by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

According to IDOT, there are 438 privately-owned airports in the state. Of those, 29, including Tri-County, are open to the public.

“The airport has a long history of working with the department,” said IDOT spokeswoman Kelsea Gurski, adding that private airports, like larger ones, are inspected every three years to make sure they meet state and federal standards.

“And they did a really good job of engaging with the community in terms of aviation,” encouraging the public to visit the airport and share the experience, she said.

The award announcement cited the airport’s cooperation with IDOT, safety record, service to the community and general maintenance.

Cooperation with IDOT does not include any government money for the airport, Shipley said. “This is all financially by me, personally. Every bit of this. I have never received a dime from the state or the feds.

Shipley is one of four men who bought the airport in the 1980s from Peabody Coal, which operated a strip mine in the area and leveled the land for the airport in the 1950s. Tri-County refers to Knox, Peoria and Fulton counties.

The Shipleys are now the sole owners of Tri-County, which also was named private airport of the year in 2008 by IDOT.

At that time, Dave Shipley expressed his desire to promote general aviation and his belief that flying should not be only for the rich. “Everybody should have the opportunity,” he said.

His philosophy has not changed. “Some of these ultralights you can get for $15,000. That’s cheaper than a Harley-Davidson or a Honda Gold Wing,” he said.

Permanent based radio control airplanes are popular at Tri-County, Shipley said, and because it is far from city lights, the Illinois National Guard and LifeFlight like to fly helicopters there to practice nighttime takeoffs and landings.

Shipley said the airport has gone from 11 hangars in 1987, when it opened to the public, to 31 now. It houses about 30 aircraft — experimental aircraft, ultralights, single-engine planes, even an electric glider.

Over the years he has used vacation time to drive to other airports and obtain those additional hangars, which he would dismantle, haul back and reassemble himself.

Doing that kind of work himself kept costs down, he said. “Otherwise it would have died years ago,” he said of the airport. “The only business I have is the hangar fees.”

The airport’s grass runway, which is nearly 3,000 feet long and 175 feet wide, is a special point of pride to Shipley. “This runway, I keep it rolled and mowed like a fairway on a golf course,” he said.

That grass runway also appeals to pilot Gayle Lewis, 80, of Galesburg.

“It’s easier on the airplane. Easier on the the tires, easier on the brakes. You don’t roll as far,” Lewis said.

Lewis, who has four planes “and one on the way” — a home-built Thorp T-18 — keeps a couple of planes in Kewanee but plans to move them to Tri-County.

It’s closer to his home, and “I like the idea of the grass runway and the security — the fencing coming off the road, and now with Dave and Cathy living right on the premises, it really makes it secure.”

The Shipleys used to live in Elmwood, but now their home is a building that also contains a pilots lounge and a hangar where they keep their Cessna and other vehicles such as motorcycles, a dune buggy and a four-wheeler. Other attractions in the hangar include a bar, and the hood of a 1957 Chevy that hangs on the wall and raises by remote control to reveal a 70-inch flat screen TV.

“This is our retirement home,” said Shipley, who is 59. “I’ve got a little bit of work to do, but eventually I’ll get there.”

That combination home, lounge and hangar is one of the biggest changes at Tri-County since the previous award year of 2008. The other, Shipley said, is his effort to open the airport to fly-in fishing and camping.

He put a 1-acre lake in the front yard and stocked it with croppie, bluegill, redear, and catfish. He plans to introduce bass in the fall. Next to the pond is a cabin.

“I built the cabin for the grandkids to sleep over, and for people to do fly-in camping. Hopefully, they’ll do that,” he said.

While thinking about the future, he does not forget to savor the present.

“When I designed this house, I told everybody that one of my goals was to be able to taxi up to my own bar,” he said as his Cessna came back to earth after a brief flight. “And I made it happen.”

Original article can be found here:

No comments: