By Spencer Crawford
Stockmar Airport began with the dreams of the Stockmar family and that legacy was continued by Dodgie Stockmar. When he died, Earl Small built on the dream to create his own legacy.
Just east of Villa Rica is what was once one of the area’s main attractions, but with the influx of growth to the area the past 10 years many of the new residents are unaware of its existence.
It’s seclusion is one reason late owner Earl Small purchased the Stockmar Airport property in 2000 from the Stockmar family. The airport had previously been owned by Dodgie Stockmar, who died in a plane crash in 1999.
The airport was the original dream of the Stockmar family, stretching back to the 1940s when Dodgie Stockmar was just a little boy. The Stockmar family owned and operated The Flying S Dude Ranch, which included an airport on the property now adjacent to the Mirror Lake subdivision. The Flying S Dude Ranch consisted of a 2,000-foot grass strip where visitors could fly in, rent a little cabin, take hay rides and enjoy a communal dinner.
Though Dodgie’s father, Buddy, start the airport in Villa Rica, it was Dodgie who built the airport across the street where the Stockmar Airport now sits. However, the current Stockmar Airport has been vastly improved over what Dodgie Stockmar left behind.
“When Dodgie passed away, I took over and completed the dream they always wanted: a general aviation airport out here,” Earl Small said before he was killed on Oct. 19, 2008, in a helicopter crash.
Upon purchasing the property, Small shut down the airport for nearly five years. He reopened it in October 2005 after a few major renovations, including taking a 23-foot hump out of the middle of the runway and removing a street that passed through the runway that required motorists to stop at stop signs before proceeding to make sure there were no planes taking off or landing. In total, Small had more than 378,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock removed.
Today, the runway is 4,500 feet long by 50 feet wide with pilot-controlled lighting. There have also been 40 T-hangars built that are nearly leased out and a fuel system for self-serve Chevron fuel has been added.
“We’ve improved everything,” said Peggy Small, Earl’s sister and manager of the airport. “Dodgie had this out here and there was just one big hangar and the runway was a mess. So, what Earl always said was he fulfilled Dodgie’s dream. Hopefully, we’ll just keep adding.”
The airport is mainly used by weekend aviation enthusiasts from the surrounding area and as far away as Marietta, but there are some that use it for business. Among other services and amenities offered by Flying S Aviation, the business arm of the Stockmar Airport, are flight instruction, fuel, pilot services, restroom, showers, a courtesy car service and a part-time mechanic that works as needed helping maintain planes.
“On the west side of the state, there are not too many airports out this way to help the general aviation guys, guys with small plans,” Earl Small said when he reopened in 2005. “I felt like Stockmar Airport was just the nice, normal general aviation airport that we needed – that’s the bill we’re trying to fit.”
The pilots who use the airport and store their planes there are basically a big family, often hanging out in the office together, having cook-outs and groups of them will go on weekend fly-in trips together. That’s the atmosphere Small was trying to create when he purchased it.
“Earl’s main thing was he wanted to keep this a small town community airport and he wanted to keep the community happy. If we started bringing in a bunch of jets or something like that people would start getting upset,” Peggy Small said.
“The guys who come out here think this place is a gem because most places end up getting commercialized. Like over at McCollum (Airport in Kennesaw) a lot of them basically got kicked off. They’re hangars were torn down and they were asked to leave.”
Though Small’s name is still iconic in the motorcycle industry for his Harley-Davidson dealerships scattered throughout metro Atlanta, aviation was in his blood with his father owning his own plane. Earl, too, fell in love with planes and flying, storing his own planes at Stockmar Airport before Dodgie died.
“Earl has always dabbled with anything with speed,” Peggy Small said. “When he was younger it was cars and then he went to the motorcycles and airplanes and boats. With boats he liked sailboats because of the peace and tranquility and that’s what he loved about flying. Being a major business man like he was, that was his haven. When he was in the air he didn’t have a thought.”
Small was also a collector of vintage war planes and has several that are still stored in the hangars at Stockmar Airport that he had restored. His favorite was a Beech 18.
Small’s dream was to give up the Harley dealerships when he turned 60 and retire to the airport full-time, which would have been this year. His wife, Rhonda, who now owns the airport, and his sister, Peggy, are keeping his dream alive much like Small continued the dream of Dodgie Stockmar.
“The Harley dealerships have all gone to Earl’s right-hand man, so I think the airport is his legacy,” Peggy said. “I think it will remain here for a long time.”