Heber Valley Airport Revamp

Return of the Classics

From its humble beginnings in 1947 until today, Heber Valley Airport (KHCR is its national identifier) reflects pioneering aviation history, growth, change and a whole lot of flying. In its early years, KHCR was known for a diverse collection of classic general aviation and warbird aircraft and their pilots. Russ McDonald and a few partners bought the land, developed a 3,300’ runway and started a fixed base of operation (FBO) they called Heber Valley Flying Service (HVFS). HVFS began with a small (45 x 60 feet) hangar with adjoining office space and a 1945, 65HP, single-engine “taildragger” called an Aeronca Champion. On 7 September 1947 Russ McDonald began teaching folks to fly — he also fueled and fixed the Champ and ran the business. Russ added three more taildraggers, using skis instead of wheels in winter to fly from a field with no snow removal equipment. By 1948, catering largely to WWII veterans using the GI Bill to take flying lessons, the Heber Valley Airport was a busy airfield. In the 1950s, with GI Bill flight training winding down, HVFS had to shut its doors and Russ McDonald went to work at United Airlines. He still flew his Pitts biplane and P-51 Mustang from KHCR, and other folks flew gliders. For a time, the airport was almost exclusively a glider airport, and at one point, the glider community saved the airport from extinction (a story for another day). In 1991 David Robinson started the gliding club, Soar Utah, which is still thriving today.

Heber City completed a new airport master plan in 1984. According to this master plan the FAA was asked to significantly increase the length of the runway from 4,400 ft long and 100 ft wide to nearly 6,900 ft long and 75 ft wide. This request was made in order to “make the area more accessible to recreationalists” and to realize additional income. While the airport already had “twin engine aircraft and occasional Learjet and turboprop planes”, they wanted to increase their jet fuel sales by accommodating jets and overflow traffic from the Salt Lake and Provo airports (See Heber City Airport 1984 Master Plan). Once the new 6,900’ runway was paved with parking, and taxiways completed, new hangars, buildings, and fuel, oil, and other services were added creating a full time FBO. Although there have been multiple FBO’s at the airport, the original FBO’s helped create contracts and lease agreements that made sense back in their day. However, after a few decades it became clear that these agreements were out dated, and needed to be significantly changed and updated. During the past few years, the city has been thoroughly committed to creating a new Airport Master Plan, a new Airport Layout Plan, and new legal agreements/contracts between them and the current FBO, OK3 Air.

Today the Heber Valley Airport and OK3 Air have a new breed of customers — corporate and private jets, turboprop aircraft and even helicopters. Each of these aircraft can be fully serviced at the airport. The airport also currently has over 75 hangars, which house a variety of aircraft. Unfortunately, jet and turboprop aircraft customers demand more complex and expensive services, including jet fuel (Jet A). Some pilots consider OK3 Air’s fuel prices and services to be too expensive. Because of high costs, some general aviation and classic aircraft operators have chosen to leave KHCR for other airports in the greater Salt Lake area including Ogden, Logan, Provo and Spanish Fork. The current FBO (OK3 Air) has invested considerable resources to handle the larger and faster aircraft that have begun frequenting the airport. Because of these investments, they have become the leading private and commercial air traffic servicer in the Heber Valley-Park City-Kamas area. Fuel prices at OK3 Air are sometimes among the highest in the nation — a cost associated with a sole, full service FBO and maintenance provider. Many non-pilots in the valley wish OK3 would increase fuel costs in order to discourage more air traffic, but most pilots would obviously like to see a reduction. To its credit, OK3 Air does a quality job catering to its target audiences aircraft and aircrew of many types, and it is an official, Part 145 certified aircraft repair station with FAA-licensed technicians, many of whom live in Heber City. OK3 is a big part of our city’s gateway to world-class skiing, dining, and cultural events in Heber Valley, Sundance Resort, and historic Park City, Utah. OK3 Air is a factory authorized service and warranty center for some of the aerospace industry’s top manufacturers, including: Pilatus, GARMIN; ASPEN Avionics; COBHAM / S-Tec; PS Engineering; Honeywell; L3 and Trig Avionics.

The former exclusive contract between the City and OK3 Air prevented competition in the form of a smaller, general aviation-focused FBO with lower cost / lower octane general aviation fuel and maintenance services. This situation very recently changed with the approval of a new Airport Master Plan signed by the City and the Airport, which allows OK3 Air to continue services as usual while also providing an opportunity for a new, general aviation-focused fuel and services provider (FBO) to set up and operate at the airport. The Heber City Council vote to approve the plan secures critical FAA funding and safety oversight of the Heber Valley Airport and established a long-term (20 year) airport development strategy. The Wasatch Wave published a detailed article on the Master Plan adoption in their July 5, 2023 newspaper2. A few highlights include: Provision for a new FBO that caters to light general aviation aircraft; Areas designed for existing and new community events like aviation and car shows, and expansion of the current Commemorative Air Force Museum; Relocation of runway, taxiways and some structures to increase the safety area bordering the runways / taxiways, and opportunities for more hangar space which is in big demand at KHCR. Final FAA approval of the operations infrastructure is evolving. All this means that not only will Heber Valley Airport continue to serve its current customer base, but that our local pilots, who would like to once again experience affordable flying in classic and general aviation aircraft, from Heber Valley Airport, once again, have a bright future at KHCR!

So, what is already going on at the airport in the wild world of general aviation? Heber Valley Airport manager Travis Biggs’ mind and hands are full of plans and improvements. One project he helped start is a mural painting program on the back of existing hangars on the north end of the airport. The murals,  created by local artists (many are high school and college students), depict legends of flight, and the history of flight.  Travis is also thankful for the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) who runs a great little air museum that opened in May of 2002. The museum hosts many well-attended community events each year and is located in the last hangar on the South-East corner of the field. The CAF is a national organization that rebuilds and flies WWII and other military aircraft called “warbirds” at their various “Wings” across the USA. The Utah Wing, located at Heber Valley Airport has its own Stearman Biplane and other on-loan aircraft. They host an authentic WWII Hangar Dance and Classic Plane-Car Show every year. You can even bring your car and snap a photo of you with your family and friends with either the Stearman or a visiting warbird. Anyone can join the CAF and help run the museum and other events — we are all “CAF Colonels” for an annual membership fee that supports the CAF warbird maintenance and flying operations.

Also calling KHCR home is the local Chapter of the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA), the same folks who host the world-famous, annual Oshkosh fly-in, featuring hundreds of aircraft from around the country. The EAA supports local pilots flying their own aircraft from Heber Valley and features guest speakers at their meeting on the second Monday of each month in the KHCR airport managers building. The EAA has also provided hundreds of free “Young Eagle” flights for kids between the age of 8-17. Adults 18 and older that want to learn what it takes to get a pilot’s license can also experience free flights with the EAA through the “Adult Eagle” program. EAA members donate their time, fuel, and airplanes, simply because they enjoy sharing their love of flight. Additionally, Heber Valley Airport is home to Soar Utah, which offers glider / soar-plane instruction. Travis also expressed excitement abouth the balloon flights and future balloon festivals that Heber Valley Airport will host. Finally, KHCR is home to several private aircraft owners, including respected aerospace engineers and a champion Reno Air Race pilot-engineer. There are a few WWII and later era “warbird” pilot-owners, several “taildragger” and classic aircraft owners, world class sailplane pilots, and some classy turboprop and jet aircraft owners. This population of general aviation pilots and aircraft owners will likely expand as Heber Valley Airport, along with its surrounding community, grows. A handful of our current local residents learned to fly right here at our Heber Airport. Today they are pilots flying for the airlines, as corporate pilots, or as search and rescue pilots etc. This tradition continues today. Dozens of our local youth have and are preparing for careers in aviation. Some of them are obtaining flight experiences right here in the valley through private flight instructors or through Utah universities like Utah State and Utah Valley University. Perhaps someday we will get another flight school here. So buckle up your seatbelts and we’ll see ya soon as we soar above Heber Valley!

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