Middlebury — A 1968 T.V. commercial, aimed at a target audience of young women, used to say: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” Well, that old catch phrase, created by Manhattan Madmen, works just as well when applied to the Middlebury State Airport.
As the Henry Sheldon Museum, area pilots, and local aviation fans, prepare to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Middlebury’s first airport July 31 (see related story in this issue), the current Middlebury airport is in the midst of a renaissance.
Last month, the Addison County airport’s operator, Chris Beitzel, stepped up to assume the leadership post at the Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport—fondly known by pilots as “RUT”—while Brian Pinsonault moved in to take over Beitzel’s former management position in Middlebury.
Both men are native Vermonters and represent an infusion of fresh, young blood in the aviation field in the state.
After Burlington International Airport, the airports in Rutland, Middlebury, and Springfield are seeing an uptick in usage and increased interest by speciality aviation services.
“I started as the airport operator here in June,” Pinsonault said. “But even before I started, there has been a lot going on at the airport.”
Pinsonault, who studied flight operations at Daniel Webster College and multi-disciplinary studies at Castleton State College, said that the biggest and best improvement at the airport—at least from an aviator’s perspective—is the addition of the new AWOS or Automated (Airport) Weather Station.
The new AWOS antenna of the robot weather station stands at the northeastern edge of the airport’s 2,500-foot-long runway.
“Middlebury has never had a weather station,” Pensonault said. “Pilots had to rely on Burlington or Rutland reports; that’s not very accurate since conditions here could be different from the other airports. Some pilots were even a little unsettled by that fact—but that’s changed now, for the better.”
Pinsonault explained that AWOS stations, which appear as a modest-size barber-stripped pole, are really sophisticated, automated sensor arrays.
“AWOS stations provide all the data you need to fly safely,” he said. “Pilots receive constant weather forecasts and climatology details from AWOS.”
In fact, AWOS stations are fast becoming the ideal automated weather observers at small- to medium-sized airports worldwide.
Pilots can receive AWOS weather reports during pre-flight planning or while in route.
An AWOS station is accurate and cost-effective, according to Pinsonault.
Few towerless, rural airports of its class, like Middlebury’s, can brag about having such a system in place.
According to the FAA’s AWOS website, the station includes “a computer-generated voice message which is broadcast via radio frequency to pilots in the vicinity of an airport. The message is updated at least once per minute.”
Pinsonault said the 156-acre airport is also host to a few expanding businesses.
First, Green Mountain Avionics, founded in 2011 by owner Bill Hanf, is an FAA Certified Repair Station.
“Bill’s business specializes in avionics system installation, troubleshooting, and inspections,” Pinsonault noted. “He’s an active member of the Aircraft Electronics Association and an AEA ambassador to our local FAA Flight Standards District Office in Maine.”
Second, J&M Aviation, a long-time resident at the airport, has expanded from doing only aircraft maintenance to include professional, and award-winning-level aircraft painting and restoration services.
“Word of mouth gets around about J&M and pilots from around the U.S., but mostly here in the northeast, have been bringing their planes to Middlebury for painting.” J&M have a creative team and the planes that roll out of the hanger are sharp and eyecatching.
J&M’s handiwork can be seen around town at the American Legion Post on Wilson Road.
J&M restored and repainted the classic Vietnam-era A-4 fighter jet trainer on display on a pylon outside the Legion.
Green Mountain Avionics and J&M Aviation are just like the anchor stores at a shopping mall. In the case of these airport anchors, they tend to attract other aviation-related businesses.
Pinsonault hopes this “anchor” effect will rub off—like with the duster aircraft of the Lemon Fair Insect Control District.
The District is comprised of Bridport and Cornwall and was established in 2006 for mosquito spraying.
With the steady increase of infectious diseases carried by Addison County insects, the district now employs an aircraft in collaboration with
During Beitzel’s tenure as airport operator, Middlebury’s aviation fuel farm was upgraded. This recent upgrade and modernization has attracted more aircraft owners for one-stop avgas shopping. Now you’ll even see the flight crew of popular Vermont Sky Diving Adventures of Addison refueling their “Flying Tiger” jump plane at the airport.
What’s next for the Middlebury State Airport?
“We have lots of plans,” Beitzel said. “Brian will be reaching out to the community more; many folks don’t even know the airport is here. He’ll host more fly in events, more fun and educational public gatherings—all will showcase general aviation here. And there are more improvements to come, too—including replacing a storm-damaged hanger—and some terminal interior upgrades.”
Beitzel said the airport’s master plan also includes an increase of runway length to accommodate private and small commercial jet aircraft.
Both Beitzel and Pinsonault are pushing to bring a flight school back to Middlebury. Several certified flight instructors in the area are also excited about the return of flight instruction at Middlebury, according to Pinsonault.
So, happy 85th birthday to the soaring field of aviation in Middlebury—you’ve come a long way, baby.