by Grant Boyd
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2018 issue
Whether you rate an airport by the quality of the food at its restaurant, the variety of aircraft that fly in and out, or the people “bumming” around, Lloyd Stearman Field, also known as Benton Airpark in Benton, Kansas, caters to even the most discerning aviators and non-aviators, alike.
Conveniently located within miles of the air capital of the world, Wichita, Kansas, Stearman Field (1K1) has a storied history, years before it was purchased and turned into one of the most sought-after airparks in the region.
Originally opened in 1947 as Benton Airpark, the municipal airport was quiet, even with a steady flow of traffic, originating from the variety of aircraft manufacturers in Wichita, Kan.
Even in the early and “slow” days, the airport had its fair share of media attention, as the 1969 American drama, “The Gypsy Moths,” was filmed there. The film starred three Academy Award-nominated actors – Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Gene Hackman – and covered the story of three barnstorming skydivers and their effect on a Midwestern American town.
Certainly, the airport has affected Benton and Wichita in many ways in the years following the movie. Since then, the airport has adjusted and undergone changes with the most evident occurring after Dwayne Clemens and his wife Julie (along with two partners, who the couple later bought out) purchased the airport. It has subsequently undergone a drastic transformation, becoming “Stearman Field,” a shining example of airpark living and good quality airport fun for the whole family.
The airport offers a variety of services that cover a wide breath of interests, including biplane rides, aircraft management, Beechjet fractional ownership opportunities, King Air charter flights, an on-field award-winning restaurant, and hangar homes. Everything listed here, and many more, collectively add to the uniqueness of the location and contribute to the popularity of the airport among local and national aviators and aviation lovers.
Immediately prior to the penning of this article, it was a warm Saturday morning in early March, where the rising mid-morning Kansan sun heated the cold-winter earth. The sights and sounds of a vibrant airport that all have come to know and love, were just beginning, as the morning’s first airplane’s tires kissed earth with a smooth and concise “erggh.” Not long after, dozens of other pilots followed suit, with a good assortment of aircraft playing in the pattern or landing during the next two hours. All said and done, there were six RVs, five Cessnas, four Pipers, three Stinsons, two Beechjets, and one King Air. (You read that in tune with 12 Days of Christmas, didn’t you?)
While the preferred form of transportation by most is by air, flying is not the only transportation method used by visitors who flock to the airport. On the morning in question, there was a gaggle of bikers, almost 30 in total, who came to the airport to get some pictures of their iron hogs next to iron birds and to enjoy the restaurant.
Let’s Fly & Dine!
The eating establishment, “Stearman Field Bar & Grill,” serves a variety of American fare and other select items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also has a full bar for those pilots not flying. Menu items can be found on the restaurant’s website www.stearmanbarandgrill.com with fan favorites, including the Stearman Burger, Pilot’s Fried Pickles, Hot Link Pizza, and Brownie a La Mode. The drink menu is as equally diverse and includes aviation-inspired cocktails that range from the “Deadhead” to the “Aviator” to the “Mile High Margarita.”
No fine airport dining establishment is without a view and Stearman Field Bar & Grill is no exception. Located near Runway 17/35 (5,100 x 75 feet, with an adjacent 2,500 ft. grass runway), there is both indoor seating with large picture windows to take in the view and outdoor seating that includes covered and uncovered options. Aircraft parking is situated between the runway and the restaurant and can accommodate dozens of planes and helicopters.
Among Fellow Flying Friends
Whether it is at the 24-hour self-service fuel pumps, right next to the ramp, or at any one of the hangars that stretch for almost a mile along the runway, a friend (whether you knew him before or not) is never more than a few feet away. As with any airport, congenial conversation ranges across a complete gamut of genres that always seem to come back to airplanes, which is not surprising, when there are so many near you. No matter the conversation, it is always happily interrupted, with all parties adjusting their gaze, to any airplane that takes to the sky – piston or turbine, high-wing or low-wing.
Airport residents and frequent visitors, alike, state how spoiled they are by the wide variety of aircraft that call the field home or fly in as transients, serving almost as a daily airshow. Stearman Field is not just a cool sounding name after Wichita aviation pioneer, Lloyd Stearman; there are almost 10 Boeing Stearman biplanes based on the field. On any day of the week, you and your guests may be dazzled by one (often more) of such aircraft buzzing the runway and smoking the area with Corvus Oil.
Airpark residents are fortunate enough to have this activity and excitement literally almost in their backyards. The residences on the field take on a variety of architectural styles, but all have a common feature – a hangar! While the homes seldom come up for sale (why would you leave paradise?), there are currently a few lots remaining to build your own slice of heaven on Earth. Take it from EAA Chairman Jack Pelton, who has a home on the airport: “Stearman Estates is airport living at its finest!”
There are 219 aircraft based on the field, and an average of 124 aircraft operations per day.