MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — When Aero-Smith bought the 60,000-square-foot former Tiger Aircraft manufacturing building at a public auction in May, it not only got a good buy, it gave the civilian side of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport an economic boost, Airport Authority Chairman Rick Wachtel said last week.
“It’s going to have a positive impact in the short and long run,” Wachtel said. “We are pleased they bought the building. Aero-Smith is a quality fixed-base operator.”
Aero-Smith provides aircraft management and maintenance, hangar rentals, charter flights in its eight-passenger King Air 200, pilot training and fuel service for general-aviation planes and occasionally for commercial jets that fly in and out of the airport.
“We sell about 8,000 gallons of fuel every other week,” said George Smith, 71, Aero-Smith’s founder.
In 2003, Tiger Aircraft began making single-engine planes and Sino-Swearingen Aircraft assembled SJ-30 corporate jets in their respective buildings at the airport. Both went bankrupt within seven years.
Smith kept his eye on the larger Tiger Aircraft building to expand his business and put in a bid when it came up for auction May 15 on the Berkeley County Courthouse steps.
Until May, Aero-Smith operated in a 20,000 square-foot building that it still uses as an aircraft maintenance facility. Its hangars can handle larger aircraft, said Aero-Smith spokesman Henry Willard.
Smith said the cavernous Tiger Aircraft building will enable him to expand his aircraft-management and storage business. He also wants to lease office and work space to airport-related businesses such as avionics and engine repair.
“This new space will allow us to do things we’ve been unable to do before,” Willard said.
Aero-Smith has 20 full-time employees, including two in aircraft maintenance, five in administration and nine pilots, Smith said.
Smith started Aero-Smith with a partner at the Hagerstown Regional Airport in 1993. In 2002, he took over the company and moved it to Martinsburg.
The Waynesboro, Pa., resident grew up in Northcentral Pennsylvania and can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to fly.
Smith soloed in high school, then joined the Navy and became a crew member aboard an anti-submarine patrol plane. After his discharge, he enrolled in a flight school in Florida on the GI Bill.
He taught flying for more than a year, then flew passenger jets for Allegheny Airlines from 1965 to 1971. He took a job flying corporate jets until 1990. He returned to commercial airline flying until he quit flying for good in 2002.
Smith, recalling a philosophy that carried him through life, said, “Nothing ever happens quickly or easily. You achieve only as you are determined to achieve, and you keep at it until you have achieved.”