By MIKE SELLERS
Earlier this year, on Feb. 25, 2016, Univair Aircraft Corp. celebrated its 70th anniversary as part of the aviation community.
Reaching this auspicious milestone means Univair has entered an exclusive club made up of a small group of companies with a long history and the same family ownership.
Since 1946, the company has been working to keep GA flying, specializing in manufacturing replacement parts for out-of-production aircraft, including Aeronca, Bellanca, Champion, Luscombe, Taylorcraft and more. The diversity of the product line led to the company’s motto: “All Parts for Some…Some Parts for All.”
It also holds the Type Certificate for several models, including the Stinson 108 series, Ercoupe, Forney, Alon, and Mooney Cadet.
Meanwhile, the company’s in-house print shop fulfills an important function in the aviation industry by publishing many previously out-of-print service manuals, owner’s manuals, and parts catalogs for out-of-production planes.
Many times I have been asked how did the company begin?
In 1945 J.E. “Eddie” Dyer, the grandfather of Univair’s current owner and president, Jim Dyer, was released from the U.S. Army Air Corps and came to the Denver area looking for some sort of living in the airplane business rather than returning home to Missouri.
In February 1946, he teamed with fellow veteran and Denver area used car salesman, Don Vest, to form the Vest Aircraft Company. This organization would eventually become Univair Aircraft Corp.
In the early days of the company, there were two divisions of Vest Aircraft and Finance Company: The Aircraft Sales Division and the Aircraft Repair and Parts Division. Don Vest managed the aircraft sales and flight department, while Eddie Dyer organized and operated a maintenance and repair facility. The company also offered CAA and GI Bill-approved flight instruction from ground school through advanced instrument training.
The Vest Aircraft Company began operations at Hayden Field in a now industrialized area of northeast Denver. Upon the company’s arrival, the airport was renamed Vest Field.
Soon after the company was established, the business was successful enough that it was apparent that it had outgrown the Vest Field facilities.
In the early 1950s, Eddie Dyer began a search for a new location for the company. That led him to an Army Air Force field that was built as an auxiliary field for Denver’s Lowry Air Force Base. Because it was completed so late in the war, it was never used by the military.
Renamed Sky Ranch Airport, Vest Aircraft Company relocated to this essentially brand new airport, northeast of the Denver suburb of Aurora in early 1953. It remained there until 1971.
FINDING A NICHE: ORPHAN AIRCRAFT
In the years right after World War II through the mid-1950s, many light plane manufacturers expected many returning servicemen to purchase one of the available small aircraft that were being manufactured in huge quantities. This booming post-war market never materialized and the industry suffered a devastating glut of aircraft. Many of these manufacturers were subsequently bankrupted and went out of business. Even a few of the manufacturers that currently exist today nearly failed.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s there were thousands and thousands of essentially new aircraft that had been orphaned by their recently defunct manufacturers. Eddie Dyer realized there was a great need to support the civilian aircraft industry, which included many of these recently “orphaned” aircraft.
He evaluated the nationwide potential for business and believed one of the easiest ways to acquire spare parts was to establish a salvage yard, which he did at Sky Ranch Airport. Wrecked and damaged aircraft were purchased and disassembled for useable parts.
The used aircraft parts division filled a need and became very successful, but it soon became evident that the aircraft salvage business alone would not supply sufficient replacement parts. Commonly damaged parts such as landing gear, cowling and control surfaces remained in short supply. New manufactured parts would be necessary to keep the fleet of post-war aircraft flying.
By 1956, the Aircraft Repair and Parts Division had grown to the point that Dyer established a separate aircraft parts manufacturing and maintenance company, Universal Aircraft Industries.
The new Universal Aircraft Industries Manufacturing Division purchased the manufacturing rights, tooling and remaining inventory from several bankrupt post-war aircraft manufacturers for the Ercoupe, Taylorcraft, Swift and Stinson 108 series aircraft. It also purchased the Flottorp and Aeromatic line of propellers. In these early days, if you wanted to make a replacement part, you just made it.
In 1958 the Federal Aviation Act was enacted. Among the many things it did was establish the procedure for parts approvals and the manufacture of FAA certified replacement aircraft parts. Universal immediately responded to these new demands and received some of the first FAA Parts Manufacturing Approvals (PMAs) issued under the authority of the new Federal Aviation Administration.
On April 25, 1963, Eddie Dyer died. On his instructions, his wife Veda sold the company. In 1964 under new ownership, the company floundered. Unwilling to see Eddie’s hard work destroyed, Veda bought the company back in 1965.
In the 17 years prior to Eddie’s death he had taken the company from an obscure aircraft maintenance facility to a world-renowned parts manufacturing company. Universal Aircraft Industries was re-organized in August 1965 and its name was shortened to the current registered trade name of Univair Aircraft Corp.
The company was back in Dyer hands. Veda became general manager and CEO. After the debacle of the previous year, she found the need to narrow the focus of the company and concentrate on areas that were more profitable and where the company was more efficient.
Some of the Type Certificates were sold, most of the specialized maintenance shops were closed, and the salvage yard was sold. Under Veda’s capable management, the company continued to expand its presence in support of the worldwide light aircraft industry. In her 11 years as CEO she set the course that Univair follows today.
In the early 1970s, the cities of Denver and Aurora began encroaching on Sky Ranch Airport. There was talk of selling the property, closing the airport, and industrial development.
Steve Dyer, Eddie and Veda’s son, took on the project of moving the company to a new facility just off the airport property in 1972. This is where the company is based today.
When Veda retired in 1976, Steve Dyer took command of Univair as general manager and CEO. In the 30 years under Steve’s watch the plant grew from 44,000 square feet to 62,000 square feet. More importantly, under his leadership, Univair held more PMAs for out-of-production aircraft than any other company in the United States.
In 2006, Steve turned over the operation of the company to the third generation of the Dyer family, Jim Dyer.
THE THIRD GENERATION
Jim Dyer maintains the legacy left by his father and grandparents. The company has evolved from being housed in a half dozen war surplus hangars and various outbuildings to a single purpose-built 62,000-square-foot facility.
Jim has overseen major developments in technology and the efficiency resulting from these changes. Univair now operates three CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) turning centers, two CNC vertical milling centers, one CNC laser center, one CNC high definition plasma tube contouring machine, and two CNC press brakes.
Today, Jim is maintaining the family commitment to keeping these older airplanes flying with a blend of craftsmanship and technology.
The company holds thousands of PMAs for Aeronca, Champion, Citabria, Decathlon Scout, Cessna, Luscombe, Piper and Taylorcraft.
It also currently owns three aircraft Type Certificates: One for the Stinson 108 series and two for the Ercoupe series — one for the two earliest models of the Ercoupe and the other for the later models of the Ercoupe, Forney, Alon and M-10 Cadet.
In the case of the Ercoupe Series and Stinson 108 Series, company officials note they are “fortunate” to have most of the original engineering and tooling.
Company officials acknowledge that many of their customers assume or have been led to believe that it also has the Type Certificates, engineering and tooling for all the older aircraft Univair supports, including the older Pipers. Unfortunately, this is not so.
However, Univair’s Piper inventory is one of its largest. Over the years, company officials note they have been able to purchase a few foreign military inventories and numerous parts directly from Piper or its distributors.
However, most new Piper parts have been added to the Piper line by Univair.
“We’ve done all the necessary work to make them one part at a time,” company officials noted. “It is a slow process of drawing up blueprints, doing engineering reports, making tooling, inspecting and working the paperwork through the FAA, but we’ve been doing it for the better part of 70 years. After a while, it all adds up to several thousand parts.”
The Dyer family leadership and vision has been vital in the company’s success. However, the success of the company is not due to the family’s efforts alone. Without the hard work and dedicated efforts of many employees who cared about their work and the welfare of the company, none of this would be possible, the Dyers say.
Univair has made an effort to recognize and reward these individuals. Consequently, about half of the employees have been with the company for more than 10 years.
One of Univair’s greatest assets is the collective knowledge of its employees. Univair’s entire staff is dedicated to supporting the “Classic Aircraft” fleet.
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