DeKALB – Many people dream of an office with a view. Tom Cleveland’s office has one of the most unique views in DeKalb.
Though large wall-to-wall windows, Cleveland, the manager of the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, can see the takeoffs and landings of both small and large aircraft, from single-engine planes to corporate jets.
Cleveland, also the assistant director of public works for the city of DeKalb, oversees the day-to-day operations, safety and security at the airport. He is the president of the Illinois Public Airports Association, a board member of the Chicago Area Business Aviation Association, an advisory board member of the Kishwaukee College Aviation Program, and was inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013.
Cleveland met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to talk about flying.
Milton: How did you first start flying?
Cleveland: My father was an instructor pilot in World War II. He flew corporate aircraft after that. My father started me flying when I was 14. I have been flying for 42 years now. I still fly small single-engine aircraft as much as I can. My two younger kids may want to learn to fly someday, and my wife is a flight attendant for Delta Airlines.
Milton: Where does the “Taylor” in the airport’s name come from?
Cleveland: Pete Taylor was a pilot, aircraft salesman and aircraft mechanic from DeKalb who had a flying business on the airport and was influential in the airport’s and community’s history. In 2000, Pete Taylor was inducted into the Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame and in his honor, the city of DeKalb renamed the airport to DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport.
Milton: Tell me the history of the airport.
Cleveland: During World War II, the Navy built the airport. During the 1940s, Wurlitzer and GE built twin-engine armed drones here. The drones were remote controlled, had a TV camera in the nose, and a rotary dial was used to steer them from another aircraft. The drones were built, tested, and boxed here and were shipped to the South Pacific, where they were used against the enemy during World War II.
Milton: What makes the DeKalb airport different from other airports?
Cleveland: The airport has no control tower. It’s all air-to-air or air-to-ground communication. More than 100,000 operations a year are needed to have a control tower. …It is estimated that we have 25,000 operations per year. The airport has approximately 900 acres of land, 58 small T-hangars, and 13 corporate-sized hangars for larger aircraft.
Milton: What kind of planes can be seen at the airport?
Cleveland: There are 87 planes based here. Many different kinds of planes land at the airport, from small single-engine planes to DC-9s and 737 aircraft. We have a long enough runway to handle large aircraft. We actually have a longer runway than Midway Airport. The runway’s weight bearing capacity, or the depth of the asphalt, limits us on the size of the aircraft that use the airport.
Milton: Have celebrities flown into and out of the airport?
Cleveland: There have been many famous people that have traveled using the airport. I can’t think of all of them right now, but Cindy Crawford, Blake Shelton, Amanda Lambert, Bill Cosby, Cheap Trick, and Zac Efron are some. Sometimes, limos come, and we don’t always know who is coming. They usually call ahead, though. They call asking for catering, fuel, and a car to rent. They charter companies want their clients/passengers to be taken care of. …We also have had air ambulances fly into the airport and teams of doctors fly in to harvest organs at the hospital.
Milton: Do businesses use the airport?
Cleveland: Many local and regional businesses use the airport for transportation, including Target, Walmart and 3M. That’s the beauty of general aviation: it takes you exactly where you want to go. Planes take cargo and passengers point-to-point, directly to the local community. Having an airport located in the community can bring business into DeKalb County from anywhere in the world. It makes me think of a saying, “If you have a mile of road, you can go a mile. If you have a mile of runway, you can go anywhere in the world.”
Milton: What has changed in aviation over the years?
Cleveland: The biggest change has been the avionics in the airplanes, including the GPS. There have also been changes to the gauges. Nowadays, in the newer aircraft, and sometimes installed in the old ones, there are flat screens and many computers that monitor the systems. Computers are constantly working with you. And not having all of that old equipment in the plane saves weight and fuel. New electronics are fairly light.
Milton: What do you think is the future of aviation?
Cleveland: Although there are pilot shortages, corporate aviation is increasing. …People are still coming in off of the street, wanting to learn to fly. To teach people about flying, there are tours for preschool to college-age students here at the airport. But if you are really interested, I would suggest taking a discovery flight. For 20 to 25 minutes and $65, you are put into the pilot’s seat, giving you an idea what it’s like to fly. It’s something amazing, to jump into a small airplane and just be able to travel to do business or just do some pleasure flying.
Milton: How does somebody become a pilot?
Cleveland: To become a pilot, you need knowledge of math, science, physics, and federal aviation regulations. You have to always pay attention, and there are a number of things to be made aware of: circumstances, situations, and making the right decision. You also need a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. After 10 or 11 hours of flight time, you can fly solo. You look next to you and nobody is there, you’re all alone. It’s quite a feeling the first time you are by yourself. …The total price of a pilot’s license is about $8,000 to $9,000 and can take anywhere from six months to a year and half to complete.
Milton: Are there different types of pilot’s licenses?
Cleveland: It’s all about experience. There are private and commercial licenses and instrument and multi-engine ratings. There is a license for being a certified flight instructor, also.
Milton: Has DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport ever won any awards?
Cleveland: We were awarded the Illinois General Aviation Airport of the Year in 2013. We have won the award from the Illinois Division of Aeronautics three times, also in 2000 and 2006. I have been here for two of them. The award states that we were recognized for our continued efforts in maintenance excellence and contribution to the enhancement of aviation education and community development. It was an honor to win these awards. We are constantly trying to improve the airport to make it one of the finest general aviation airports in the nation.
Milton: Are there any improvement plans in the works?
Cleveland: Every four or five years, we submit an airport layout plan to the FAA. Our plans for the future are to build infrastructure, hangars, and business at the airport. …There is currently a large corporate hangar under construction for a private company, Win Win Aviation. It should be operational by late spring next year.
Milton: How do you promote aviation at the airport?
Cleveland: I try to market the airport every day. Every year, we do events to get the entire community out to see the airport. I try and have military aircraft, old or new, at the airport. Veterans come out and talk about the stories they have of flying. I think that we can’t do enough for the veterans, since they have done so much for us. …There is also a high school aviation program at the airport through Kishwaukee Education Consortium. Juniors and seniors in high school learn about aviation and get interested and thinking about possible careers in the field. The program has eight flight simulators. The students can earn both high school and college credits that are transferable.
Milton: What events do you have planned for this upcoming year?
Cleveland: I have spoken to the (Experimental Aircraft Association) and have requested their Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to come to the airport for a weekend during the summer to give rides and display the aircraft. I have heard that a Ford Tri-Motor was one of the first aircraft to land at the airport in the early 1940s. I have also requested a World War II B-17 or B-25 to visit the airport. The schedule for these aircraft is not complete yet, so I will have to wait and see if we get on their list of airports to visit. We also do the EAA Fly in-Drive in Pancake Breakfast on June 6. It’s a great time to come out, see the airport, and view all kinds of aircraft.