By Mike Taylor
LAKEVIEW — Since the dawn of time, man has dreamed of flight. From the wax wings of Icarus to the first fleeting leap of faith that briefly separated Wilbur Wright from the fields of Kitty Hawk, men have yearned for the sky and the stars beyond it.
In modern times, air travel has become so commonplace that the sheer wonder of it is all but forgotten. But for a group of pilots and support personnel at Lakeview’s Griffith Field Airport, the wonder endures.
One of the area’s busiest airports, Griffith Field, serves two crop spraying businesses and the planes of many private pilots. The 3,500-foot runway is large enough that a Lear jet can land there. Moreover, the facility provides significant tax revenue and employment to the community.
According to Roy Matthews, the fixed base operator who manages the airport, Griffith Field is an important part of the village’s economy.
“This has been a busy little airport,” Matthews said. “A lot of people don’t realize it, but the airport is not just a good old boys’ club or a hobby place for the rich. There are several businesses operating out of here that employ people from town and a lot of money from here gets spent in the town. It’s a real asset to the city.”
In addition to owning and operating RM Aviation Inc., Matthews also hires out to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and law enforcement agencies to conduct aerial wildlife surveys and perform other duties.
“In the spring of the year, I’m usually doing fire patrol stuff,” Matthews said. “I’m up there watching for smoke.”
Retired dentist and private pilot Jim Draper, who has three small planes hangared at the airport, has been flying since 1974. His home is on the west side of the airport, within clear view of the activity there.
“The airport gets a lot of use,” Draper said. “We’ve got crop dusters, two services with five or six planes. It’s busy all the time. Every day that’s not too windy they’re coming and going. A lot of times, Aeromed comes in here picking people up from the hospital, and the Civil Air Patrol is always in and out of here.”
Not all airport personnel are pilots. Airplane parts and maintenance businesses call Griffith Field home — ground crew workers perform tasks from cleanup of the terminal building to servicing the fuel equipment.
In recent years, the airport has undergone a host of improvements, made possible through state and federal grants, as well as funding from the village of Lakeview.
According to Village Manager James Freed, Griffith Field is among the first airports in the state to employ LED runaway markers.
“We were the first for runway and taxiway LED lights,” Freed said. “We were also the first in the state to have an LED wind cone. For a little airport, we’re probably one of the most cutting edge.”
Though the village in part supports the airport, the facility gives back to the town in the form of lease agreements on the hangars there.
“We’ve got, on average, about 100 aircraft at the airport,” Freed said. “We have four corporate box hangars and we always have a waiting list for them. A lot of people don’t realize we have one of the busiest airports in the region, for sure the busiest airport in Montcalm County. The amount of bang for our buck is great.
“It’s a hidden gem,” he added.
Even those who have no real connection to the airport may still appreciate the beauty and grace of the small planes taking off and landing there.
Also, Griffith Field plays host to an open-to-the-public fly-in pancake breakfast each June, scheduled to coincide with Lakeview’s Summerfest.