HEBER CITY AIRPORT (36U)

Russ and Airport History

            In the fall of 1946, the city of Heber acquired land for an airport, but lacked sufficient funding to develop it.  The project was left at a standstill until 1947, when a group of local residents formed Heber Valley Flying Service, Inc.  These original founders were Russell McDonald, Elmo Jacobsen, Guy McDonald, Rex Whiting, Lloyd Lawton, and Sperry Rollins.  All six men were equal partners in the corporation and learned to fly with its help.

            The construction of the airport began when Heber Valley Flying Service, Inc. acquired a $10,000 loan from the bank in Kamas, UT.  Local farmers’ fences were taken down and the purchased property was fenced in by hand. A 3,300 foot runway was graded out and an access road from nearby Highway 189 was constructed.  The new field also acquired a power line from Daniels Road, a 45’x 60’ hangar, and an office building.  A 1,000-gallon water tank was buried nearby; water was hauled in every two weeks.  What was left of the loan went towards the purchase of a 1946 Aeronca Champion, with a 65 horsepower engine.

            The corporation opened for business on September 7, 1947, with Russell McDonald as chief flight instructor, head mechanic, and general manager.  During the next year, another Aeronca Champion, an ERCO Ercoupe, and a Cessna 170 were all added to the flight school.  During the winters of 1947 and 1948, the three planes were equipped with skis, as no snow removal equipment was available for the field.  About 75% of the business conducted at the field during this period came from World War II veterans learning to fly on the GI Bill.

            The first major improvement to the airport came in 1949, when Heber City received money from the Federal Aviation Funding program.  The runway was extended to 4,400 feet and paved.  The taxiway, access road, and aircraft parking areas were also paved. As a replacement for the water tank, a 90-foot will was drilled.  Shortly afterwards, a flying club was formed by six locals with a Luscombe 8, also with a 65-horsepower engine.

            In January, 1952, most of the GI Bill flight training had dropped off, and the field did not have enough income to continue operating. The airplanes and equipment were sold; Heber City acquired the hangar.  Russ went to work for United Airlines as a pilot, retiring in 1987 after 36 years of service.  Until his death, Russ owned a Pitts S-2 Biplane and a P-51 Mustang, both of which he flew at the Heber Valley Airport.

            Despite the end of Heber Valley Flying Service, activity at the airport continued with private airplanes and gliders.  In 1956, the airport once again had a full-time fixed-base operation.  Since this time there have been five airport operators: Larry Winterton, Barry Jacobsen and Dave Farnum, Lee Rowser, and David McCoy.  All of these men operated the airport for five years or more.  The current FBO on field is OK3Air, owned by Nadim Abu-Haidar.

            Gliders and sailplanes have been at the airport since 1955. David Robinson started Soar Utah in 1991 as a full-time summer operation. There are currently over 15 gliders based at the field.

            The most recent airport improvement came in 1992, when the runway was extended to 6,900 feet and the old buildings were taken down for more paved aircraft parking.  The airport can now accommodate most corporate jet aircraft.  Today there are 54 hangars and over 100 planes on the field.  It is now a complete airport for the Heber City and surrounding areas to enjoy for years to come.  The Heber Valley Air Museum opened on May 25, 2002.

            In 1996, the airport became known as Heber Valley Airport – Russ McDonald Field.  He was honored by Heber City for his work in getting the airport started in 1947, for being a partner in the first fixed base operation on the field, and for continuous flying since 1944. From 1992 onwards, Russ served as a member of the Airport Board.

-- As told by Wayne McDonald, Russ' brother

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