Airport Profile: Grissom ARB

 - November 3, 2008, 10:33 AM

The opening of a new runway for civil use is a rare event, but even more unusual when that runway is 12,501 feet of smooth pavement, specifically the joint military-civil-use Grissom Air Reserve Base in Peru, Ind. Grissom ARB, previously available to civil operators with prior permission only, was formally opened to regular public use during a dedication ceremony held on September 17. And earlier this year, the owners of Montgomery Aviation, which runs two other Indiana FBOs, signed a contract to operate an FBO at the airport.

Grissom started as Bunker Hill Naval Air Station in 1942, serving as a training base for Coast Guard, Marine and Navy pilots. The airport closed after World War II, but reopened during the Korean conflict, eventually becoming a significant KC-135 tanker base. Bunker Hill was renamed in 1968 to honor Virgil “Gus” Grissom, the Mitchell, Ind. native who died in the catastrophic fire that destroyed Apollo 1 on the launch pad at Cape Kennedy, Fla., on Jan. 27, 1967.

Montgomery Aviation already operated FBOs at Indianapolis Executive Airport and Frankfort Municipal Airport when two years ago the Miami County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) broached the idea of opening an FBO at the newly named Grissom Aeroplex development at Grissom ARB. “We did some research,” said vice president of operations Andrea Montgomery–she and her husband, Dan, own the three FBOs–“and last February signed a contract.”

The county is offering incentives for businesses to move to Grissom Aeroplex, including lower sales tax on utilities, reduced corporate income tax and property tax rates or abatements and special deals on cost of land “determined by the positive economic and community impact of the project.” According to MCEDA executive director Jim Tidds, for the right amount of job creation, no-cost land and hangar space is available, too.

For companies looking at expanding to a new airport, Grissom offers a big advantage, available former military empty hangar space, some large enough to accommodate widebody jets. Three hangars are currently available, from 6,000 to 129,000 sq ft. MCEDA owns about 400 vacant acres that border the Grissom runway, Tidds said, “and 260 acres of that is certified shovel-ready with new infrastructure in place.” The authority also owns more than 1.2 million sq ft of no-weight-limit ramp space and many other buildings that are available for maintenance back shops or other business development.

Montgomery Aviation took over one of the large four-bay hangars, then remodeled the facility and started FBO operations in July.

Montgomery Aviation offers full FBO services at Grissom, including maintenance and oxygen servicing and all the typical amenities. A&P mechanic Jerry White and his wife, Brooke, run the Grissom FBO, and they live in former military housing on the airport. “If someone comes in after hours,” Montgomery said, “they will be there within three minutes.” As of the middle of last month, jet-A sold for $5.40 per gallon (retail), while avgas was priced at $4.86. Montgomery Aviation is an Avfuel dealer, and Avfuel contract pricing is available, too. U.S. Customs is also available at the airport, by prior arrangement with the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based customs office.

Peru, Ind., might not be exactly a major destination, but Montgomery is promoting Grissom ARB as an excellent cross-country fuel stop, with little traffic, a variety of instrument approaches (including ILS and GPS approaches for both ends of the runway) and a control tower open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Grissom ARB has its own attractions, including the Grissom Air Museum, featuring a variety of military aircraft on outdoor display. Some of the rare aircraft on display include a B-58A Hustler, KC-97L Stratofreighter and a Grumman F11F-1 Tiger, the Navy’s first operational supersonic fighter.

Grissom airport is ideal for corporate flight departments, with plenty of land available to build new facilities or existing hangars that are ready for use, according to Montgomery. “This will bring some economic development into Northern Indiana,” she said. “To have this available for general aviation is a huge success; it’s wonderful. This is another example of our military cooperating with general aviation, taking existing facilities and reusing them for general aviation opportunities.”