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Meadow Lake Airport, Colorado aviators' favorite hangout

aerial view, Meadow Lake Airport
aerial view, Meadow Lake Airport

Falcon, Co. May 31, 2014 - Every day, small airplanes buzz in and out of a little airfield on the eastern plains of Colorado, where scurrying jackrabbits outnumber pilots. Retired pilots – a lot of them former military – as well as new pilots, and aircraft enthusiasts, are calling Meadow Lake Airport home.

The Grumman at Meadow Lake
Bill Williams

Located on the outskirts of Falcon, Colorado, the 48-year-old airfield offers flight training, aircraft rentals, maintenance and hangars for rent. And for the hardcore enthusiast, you can buy a lot and build your own home adjacent to the taxiway and walk to your hangar.

“I fly the Airbus for Frontier,” said Meadow Lake Aviation President Dave Elliott. “I’ve been flying 39 years. Why wouldn’t I want to live near my plane and not have to drive to it? If you own a boat, don’t you want a house near the boat?”

Dozens of pilots who also store planes on site own a home to the east of the airstrip and walk to get their planes out of their hangars. And some of those planes aren’t exactly “normal.” Veteran pilot Ed Sweeney stores the original 1950s Aerocar, designed by an inventor in Washington state but built at Sweeney’s house in Black Forest, Colorado – you guessed it, it’s a car that can drive down the street with retractable wings, and then take off if the street, er, runway is long enough.

There are 446 “normal” planes such as Piper Comanches, Cessna Skyhawks, Skylanes and Stationairs, and even the 170s – built in the 1940s. It was Meadow Lake founder Bruce McCombs who “opened” the original dirt strip on January 1, 1966 by taking off and landing a Cessna 170.

“The number 446 is how many N-numbers are in my database,” said Elliott. “There are several others still under construction or built but not flown.”

One of those is Sweeney’s airplane-car built out of a Lotus body and airplane wings. It never flew, so it does not need a N-number, which is the tail number registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Many weekends, from miles away, you can hear the roar from bi-planes sporting Pratt & Whitney 985 radial engines belching up to 450 horse power. Some are very functional such as the yellow Grumman G-164 crop duster featured in the photograph. Back in the 1950s Leroy Grumman was getting real creative with single-engine biplane agricultural aircraft. He knew America needed the planes but couldn’t settle on a name. He wanted “The Grasshopper” but his partners argued him out of that, saying the lineage was all about cats; they had the Hellcat, the Wildcat and so the 164 became the Ag-cat, because it was to be used for agriculture, such as on the hayfields, corn fields, horse ranches and cattle ranches that surround Meadow Lake Airport.

Bruce Beighlie of Saverna Park, Maryland has been flying, commercially for 38 years, mostly for U.S. Air. When asked what the lure of flying after retirement is, and what a little airfield is for pilots he said, “It’s the air they breathe, it’s the blood in their veins, it’s all they know, it makes them whole, it calls them home and it is home to those who hear the calling.” Beighlie trained for his pilot's license at Falcon Field, Arizona.

Meadow Lake airfield also features Zenon Turbocoptors, experimentals, powered hang gliders and home built kits and ultralights such as the Stinger Cozy III.

You don’t have to live on-site. You can rent a sixty-by-sixty foot hangar for about $900 per month, and some hangars come with insulated workshops.

But it’s not all fun and games. This is Colorado’s largest pilot-owned and pilot-controlled airfield, and it’s a non-profit. It is also a “reliever airport” which means if Denver International or Colorado Springs Municipal airports are congested with small planes, they can divert to Meadow Lake. Aviators there are involved in several charitable and non-profit programs that will be reported in Part Two of this feature. Part Two will also describes the type of “birds” that are for sale.

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