Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: If You Build It…

...will they come? Time, work, imagination, and location, location, location will tell.

How close? The 04/22 runway's south end is perhaps 200 yards from S.R. 149. Still, an entrepreneur needs a hook to bring in the crowds. "And we have it all going on, right here," says Bruce. "LSA flights and training, skydiving, helicopter scenic tours, food…a bit of everything. That's what you need today to make anything work: diversification."

Watching a fluorescent-orange Quicksilver two-seater float through the bright blue sky or a clutch of rainbow-colored square-rig canopies glide into land alongside the runway are powerful motivators for parents or adventure seekers to stomp the brakes and detour into Harris Airport.

"Like every business," adds Chris, "You need to appeal to the general public. Canopies opening will bring people in just to watch. What's the attraction at an average airport, other than seeing the occasional airplane take off and land?" And let's not forget the forbidden zone-like rebuff that's the norm for most airports.

It's a Sunday. I've just taken a delightful spin with Chris in his two-seat Sprint, where all my ultralight joys flooded back into memory. Climbing out at a leisurely rate, a fresh, 70-degree breeze in our faces, the emerald fields and farmhouses of the pocket valley dropped gradually away. Perfect little clouds dotted the deep-blue afternoon sky. We tooled around for a while just taking in the expansive joys of open-cockpit country flying, then settled in for a gentle touchdown at 35 mph.

My wife Tomma went up with Chris next. I'm not sure whose smile was bigger after landing, hers or mine.

"This was our first weekend open," says Chris.

"How many people showed up?" I ask.

"Hundreds, it was a great turnout."

When's the last time other than at an air show you heard the word "hundreds" attached to the phrase "foot traffic" at a little airport?

Harris Airport will have services, too. "We might do aircraft maintenance, and do plan to build more hangars next to the runway: We own 175 acres in all. A nearby airport just closed down, so those displaced airplanes need a new home."

Flight instruction should be a principal revenue source, along with Bruce's already thriving helicopter business. Retired from his custom-home business, he'd like to build custom homes on that beautiful 160-foot ridge across the runway. Meanwhile, he's busy giving rides in his sleek Robertson R-44, the four-seat helicopter that's a perfect aerial sightseeing platform.


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