Central Oregon: A hotbed of GA activity

One of the perks of this job is that I get to travel. Mostly it’s to fly-ins and conventions such as AirVenture, Sun ‘n Fun or AOPA Expo, but sometimes I get to make a trip to meet and greet the players in the aviation industry. May of this year took me to central Oregon.

I’d had a standing invitation from Carrie Novick, manager at Roberts Field, Redmond Municipal Airport (RDM), whom I met at a regional aviation conference some years ago. RDM is an old B-17 base that was converted to civilian use after World War II. Commercial operations and general aviation coexist peacefully, but it is a challenge, according to Novick.

“It’s a balancing act to make sure everyone’s needs are met,” she said.

On her wish list is developing a piece of property on the GA side of the airport as an aviation business park, hotel and golf course.

Lancair, manufacturer of the slick kit planes, is based at the airport. In the Lancair hangar new aircraft owners work side by side with company technicians who help them to build quality airplanes quickly, while meeting the FAA’s 51% rule for homebuilt aircraft. It kind of reminds you of Santa’s workshop, except the elves are tall and wear safety glasses.

Across the street from Lancair is Mountain High Oxygen. It’s a good location, because many of the folks who buy Lancairs want an oxygen system. The collection of old O2 systems in Mountain High’s lobby is worth the visit in itself.

The company is committed to using local vendors, said Mountain High CEO Robert Jamieson.

“We have a policy about buying from Oregon first, the Pacific Northwest second,” he said. “Our products are made in America, for pilots, by pilots,” he added, noting proudly that Patrick McLaughlin, inventor of the company’s first oxygen unit some 20 years ago, is still part of the Mountain High team and quick to share his knowledge.

“The biggest mistake pilots make with supplemental oxygen is saving it for when they think they need it, as in when they are starting to feel funny,” said McLaughlin. “If you realize that you are feeling funny, then you are already debilitated and your performance is reduced. You can remedy that by taking oxygen, but still realize that you are behind the curve.”

Further down the ramp a pair of DC-7s caught my eye. They belong to Butler Aircraft Co., an FBO owned by Nan and Travis Garnick.

“The FBO has been at the airport since 1946,” Nan reported. “I have worked here since 1975 and my husband and I bought it in October 2006.”

Many of the pilots the FBO trains eventually fly DC-7s for the state department of forestry, during fire season.

Some of the World War II era buildings are still on the GA side of the field. DC-7s needing work are eased nose first into a hangar and their tails hang out over the ramp, poking through a hole cut in the door.

A few miles from RDM lies Bend Municipal Airport (BDN), home to three composite aircraft manufacturers: Epic; the manufacturer formerly known as Columbia, now owned by Cessna; and Windward Performance, which builds gliders and sailplanes.

“The area is very popular for gliding,” said Duane Cole, who runs Windward with his son, Greg. The company has a close relationship with Mountain High Oxygen, because of the need for supplemental O2 when flying gliders.

I got quick tours of all three facilities, then dropped in on the folks at Precise Flight, which makes after-market parts for high-end singles like Mooneys.

BDN was built as a training base during World War II. In the hallway of Professional Air, the FBO on the field, there are photographs of the airport in its early days. On the opposite wall are artists’ renderings of hangars that are to be built someday.

The staff of Professional Air recommended I try Café 3456, the restaurant upstairs. There is a great view of the runway and the yak burger is not to be missed. The name of the restaurant comes from the field elevation.

The airport is growing, noted Professional Air’s General Manager Butch Roberts. The company provides flight training as well as corporate operations.

“The city of Bend has lots of festivals that attract people from out of town,” he said. “The climate and recreation opportunities make the Bend and Redmond area a popular retirement community.”

For more information: ci.Bend.or.us, ci.Redmond.or.us, ButlerAircraft.com, MHOxygen.com, Lancair.com, Cessna.com and Windward-Performance.com.

Meg Godlewski is GAN’s staff reporter.

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