By Thomas Garcia: Quay County Sun
A new business coming to town is hoping to fill some of Tucumcari’s airspace.
Retired helicopter pilot Vic “Span” Spankowski is working on opening a private ultra light aero park on an 80-acre site, called the Flying S Ranch, south of the KOA campgrounds.
Anchoring the facility will be a maintenance shop, a hangar for 10 to 15 ultra lights and gyrocopters and two runways, said Spankowski. Instruction will also be provided, he said.
In addition, clients will be able to buy the aircraft from Spankowski and build and house them at the aero park’s hangar. Gyrocopter enthusiasts usually build their own aircraft, he said.
Spankowski has already laid two runways and is hopeful to have the rest of the aero park completed within a year, he said. His investment in the project is about $150,000, said Spankowski, who moved to Tucumcari about a year ago with his wife, Marge from Las Vegas, Nev.
“The aircraft are small and light and can be flown by just about anyone,” said Spankowski. “The people who take the courses required to fly the small aircraft will be able to come out and fly when the conditions permit.”
Also, “We intend to give the airport a wide berth and stay out of the way of incoming planes and other commercial aircraft’s as they have the air right of way,” Spankowski said.
Spankowski said he has over 10,000 hours in his piloting career which began in 1968 when he was 19 and served a 21 month tour of duty in Vietnam. His earthbound education has included a bachelor’s degree in communications and associates degree in aviation mid-management from the University of Wisconsin.
“I was serving on a boat at Yankee Station in Cameron Bay. I was so tired of being sea sick from the boat that ,when an opening for a gunner’s mate on a helicopter opened up, I was all but too willing to take it,” said Spankowski. “I was part of a unit called the Sea Wolfs attached to the seventh fleet. Once I was on that helicopter I was hooked. From that point on I was a rotor head.”
After returning home from Vietnam, Spankowski completed college in 1974 and soon after acquired all of his commercial pilots ratings for both helicopters and airplanes. His first jobs were at the bottom, he said, where all pilots start. He gave helicopter tours and took aerial photos of his home town of Lake Geneva, Wisc. He eventually was hired as a charter pilot for the Playboy International company. Playboy magazine had one of their largest resorts and club located in Lake Geneva. Spankowski said he had the rough task of piloting passengers such as Playboy bunnies and stars such as Z.Z. Top, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Willis to and from the resort. Spankowski smiled as he said, “It was a tough job but someone had to do it.”
The resort closed in the mid-1980s and Spankowski took a job as a Grand Canyon tour pilot in Bolder City, Nev., working his way up to the rank of captain for the Los Vegas-based Desert Southwest Airlines.
In 1998 he started his own business when he bought his own F28c helicopter and built a small runway and hangar in Death Valley. While he ran his own business from 1998 through 2005, he gave tours and contracted his piloting services out to different organizations and worked with search and rescue.
“I volunteered as a helicopter pilot for the Nevada Law Enforcement system and began to fly as part of the Scorpion Drug Task Force,” said Spankowski. “I also gave Death Valley Tours and worked for the media outlets when they needed a pilot. I also did some stunt flying for a James Bond movie. The best part of all that I did was working with search and rescue. There is a lot of land to get lost in out there. And reuniting a family with a lost loved one was what the gave me the best feeling of all.”
Spankowski retired in 2005 and he and his wife began to look for a place to settle down.
“I was not about to go back to Wisconsin to face the 20-degree below zero winters. And and my wife and I had had our fill of 115-degree summers in Nevada,” said Spankowski. “We came to Tucumcari and fell in love with the climate and when we met Betty Ditto at the Chamber of Commerce, we instantly thought that if all of the people of Tucumcari were as nice as she is then we wanted to move here.
“Tucumcari also has an incredible airport with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. A lot of small country airports are going downhill or out of business due to lack of air traffic, but not Tucumcari’s. They have beautifully paved runways and their facilities are able to accommodate small aircraft up to a $10 million corporate Leer jet. I feel that having a first class airport close by is very important.”
Vic Spankowski is a dealer for Challenger Ultra light airplanes and Sport Copter Gyro Copters. A Gyrocopter is an ultra light aircraft with the flying characteristics of both an airplane and helicopter. The gryrocopter has an airplane engine mounted to the rear of the aircraft which pushes it forward to take off and to push it through the air, he explained The rotor blades fixed atop of the craft are propelled by the air passing through them from the forward motion of the airplane engine giving the craft the lift it needs to take off and stay in the air. The gyrocopter takes off like an airplane but can land on a dime like a helicopter. The minimum altitude recommended for flying an ultra light and gyrocopter is 500 feet and some models have a maximum ceiling of 10,500 feet.
A gyrocopter can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000, depending on the model and design, said Spankowski. The out-of-pocket expenses to fly is roughly between $8 and $10 an hour versus $300 an hour for a small piston helicopter. A pilot’s license is not required to fly a gyrocopter. However, a 20-hour hour training course to familiarize the person with the aircraft is requied.
There are organizations that have additional information on gyrocopters such as the Popular Rotorcraft Association located in Menitone, Ind., with chapters thoughout the United States. There web site at http://www.pra.org has information on upcoming conventions, safety, dealers of rotor craft, maintenance and informational background on rotor craft.