The Illinois Valley Regional Airport/Walter A. Duncan Field is one of 2,834 public, general aviation airports in the United States.
Located in Peru on Ed Urban Drive, just 10 minutes from Spring Valley, Oglesby and La Salle, the city-owned airport opened in November 1985 as a public use airport, offering charter flights, aircraft maintenance, tie-down spaces for 60 planes and flight instruction. According to Peru Public Works Superintendent Gary Bleck, it’s often referred to Walter A. Duncan Field because the Duncan family lived in Peru and owned the land before donating it for use as an airport.
“The airport was originally built as an economic development tool,” Chuck Studer, the airport’s general manager, told The Times. “There has been an increase in manufacturing businesses north of Interstate 80 just because of the airport. Corporate jets from companies like PetSmart in Ottawa and Pioneer Seed in Streator use our airport and the Life Flight helicopter is based here.”
Studer, promoted to his post the first week of April after serving as maintenance director, said small single-engine planes as well as corporate jets use the airport, but it is hard to estimate how many flights it handles in a year, saying “perhaps 15,000 a year take off and land.”
Two runways, Runway 18 (6,000 by 100 feet) and Runway 7 (4,000 by 75 feet) handle those flights. Runway 7 was completed in December.
“We used local contractors to complete Runway 7 at a cost of about $3 million, but 97 percent of that was federal money,” Studer said. “While the runways will never expand, we are thinking about new taxiways and other possible improvements that will also bring in federal dollars.”
The airport takes up several hundred acres of land – 230 of those are grass.
The manpower includes six full-time and two part-time employees. Four mechanics run the shop and all of them are licensed pilots, Studer said. “Being licensed is not a requirement, that just happens to be the case here.”
The airport may have been developed as an economic tool, but it benefits the community in many ways. There is an auto weather system used for weather flight information.
“People in town can and do call us for weather information,” Studer said.
The airport is home to the Illinois Valley Flying Club, a big help when it comes to educating the community. Organized in 1987 by 25 members who bought a Cessna 172, they formed as a nonprofit corporation with a goal of making the flying of a plane affordable for people in La Salle County. Now, the group has 70 members and owns three planes.
When the weather is nice, teachers at local schools can schedule a time for their students to spend the day learning about planes.
“The club does a lot of educational things for both adults and children here at the airport,” Studer continued. “Last month we had three tours that included the Boy and Cub Scouts. The club also participated in Illinois Valley Community College’s Career Day for the last two years.”
Ottawa resident Jane Goetz is treasurer for the Illinois Valley Flying Club. She got her flying license 17 years ago.
“We lived in Bloomington and when our family was younger, I would always drag them out to the air shows and spend the day,” she told The Times. “About 18 years ago we went to a show in Bloomington and while I was walking around, there was a booth offering flying lessons. The first one was free and I thought it would be a good opportunity to see if I was as interested in flying as I thought I was. I always thought it would be fun but I had never been in a plane and I hate roller coasters. Well, I took the free lesson and the instructor had me sit in the pilot seat and I did the takeoff.
“That plane ride was nothing like a roller coaster,” she said with a laugh.
Goetz talked about how the club encourages people to learn about the joys of airplanes and flying. Last year, the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles chapter from Streator requested the club’s help.
“The Young Eagles Club in Streator don’t have an airport, and we don’t have a Young Eagles Club here, so they asked us to help them last May. At these events, children from ages 8 to 17 are given the opportunity to fly in a plane for free so last year was our first time doing that. The pilots volunteer their time and we had a lot of kids participate. The pilots took them up three at a time. It’s just a good experience for everyone.”
According to Studer, the Young Eagles pilots took about 140 kids for rides that day.
Goetz spoke about a plane rebuilding project going on at the airport.
“A group of men who like to rebuild planes are working on a T-83 Avenger, a World War II plane. This group found the name of the actual WWII pilot who lives in Ohio. Our plan is to hold our annual September breakfast (the only fundraiser the nonprofit group has) and sell tickets to take a ride in this plane.”
Studer said the original project started when the owner came in for an inspection.
“The owner originally brought it in to make it flyable. Then he decided to make everything original like the radio and the radar pod. The wings fold like the original and the navy color is original.”
The flying club also offers flying lessons. Studer said it takes “about 60 flight hours and about $6,000 to become a licensed pilot. There are a lot of hobbies that cost more than that and you don’t have to own a plane to learn how to fly. The planes are here.”
Receptionist Linda Kozel has been an airport employee since June.
“I really didn’t know too much about airports or planes,” she said. “But I learned quickly and now I really like this job. It’s interesting and every day is a different learning experience.”
Source: THE TIMES