In the early ‘70s a young Gunnison attorney/pilot discovered a mile long
runway hidden under trees, rocks, brush, and alfalfa on a flat topped ridge
west of Crawford
F. Lynn French, a now well known pilot/FAA examiner who had been
flying since his mid teens, purchased the ranch which held this hidden
jewel. He then began a 25 year
long effort developing one of the most interesting airport/airparks in the
state and listed on the charts as 99V.
Today it boasts 5,000 feet of blacktopped runway, VASI and lights,
Unicom, courtesy cars and the luxury level French Country Inn B&B.
It also offers all levels of flight instruction and FAA check rides
for airplanes and gliders.
There are now eighteen on-field residences with direct taxi access to the
runways and around thirty aircraft on the field, a bit of a change from the
days when we had to chase cows off the runway and at times use the John
Deere to pull a plane out of the mud after a winter thaw.
The maintenance work and related services now are shared by the
pilots who live around the runway and the field has a high level of care
without any government help.
The original 2,400 foot dirt strip in the middle of a hay field was
built by Lynn in 1974 and was improved with a five
phase series of improvements over the years.
These included the difficult 1,320 foot long east end extension into
the trees in 1978, followed by the western 1,280 foot extension built in
1986 prior to the development of the Crawford Airpark, again requiring
considerable fill and clearing.
That was followed by the installation of a 24” deep base and seal coated
gravel. The final phase was
completed around 2000 with the hard surfaced runway and parking aprons in
General knowledge of the history of 99V now rests with the French
family who owned the ranch and cleared the first runway, and the Geddes
family who subsequently operated the ranch and helped develop the airport
over the years. The Geddeses lived in the old ranch house and was the first
flying family to own land having physical access to the runway upon purchase
of lots in the Grandview P.U.D. in 1979.
The original dirt strip was listed on early charts under ‘French
Cattle Company’. It was still called that at the time of development of the
Grandview P.U.D. finalized in 1976.
When the Grandview P.U.D. was platted, it was a semi-airpark with
taxi rights on all interior roads,.
The main access to the French hangars was built circa 1979.
The taxiway and apron on
Lot 18 were built in 1985 for access to the new Geddes home. The
law office taxiway and parking were cleared and built in 1986 and heavily
used during major glider operations during the 1987-88 seasons with
continuous use since. At that time there were actually five totally separate
runways, three of which were subsequently restored to agricultural use. The
present runway 07-25 was the main runway, and at that time, the adjoining
parallel 100-foot wide grass strip was also in use and referred to as ‘two
five grass’ for takeoffs and ‘zero seven grass’ for landings as it still is
today. It was used for downhill
plane takeoffs and uphill landings for gliders if another glider or plane
was on the main runway. Few remember
another runway 24-06 in line with the south end of the law office building.
There was so much glider activity in those years that it was necessary to
have a separate runway for tow planes to land on while gliders were being
positioned on the main runway.
This provided the capacity for one tow plane to keep two gliders operational
in the pattern at the same time.
There were times when the tow plane never stopped except to hook up
the tow rope. An old Geddes Aviation business card and an old air photo each
show all those runways. Eventually the glider operations offered additional
training in the form of winch launch and auto tow.
The acceleration off the numbers in a Blanik hooked to a wide open
Buick 350 winch tow was an experience to be long remembered.
that time there was also a moderately used crosswind runway running from the
utility pad west of the B&B directly across Runway 25 to what is now the
Jensen Ranch driveway. That, in
turn, was kept clear as an emergency overrun area once badly needed by a
too-long landing glider. Runway
10 was frequently used by Colorado Fish and Game planes making daybreak
landings because it was directly into the prevailing morning winds, and not
into the sun. It and Runway 28
were both also used by Geddes’ students as a final pre-solo challenge before
their first solo flight to prove they could handle the main runway with a
safe margin. There was also an additional 900 foot long runway 14 for
emergency use in extreme crosswinds. It was used when crosswinds went up to
30-40 mph on 07-25 and crossed that runway, although with those winds nobody
ever made it to the crossing.
An old Geddes log entry notes a 75 foot landing roll in a Cherokee 180 into
an extreme wind. The notch in the rim trees cleared for a safety zone for
the short runway is still visible. The Geddes hangar was too close to the
runway when it was extended west and was removed to provide more runway
clearance. That hangar had been
at the end of the original runway when the Geddes lived in the ranch house,
and there were haystacks and corrals in the present runway area. In those
days hazards included deer, elk, cattle, and irrigation pipes that actually
crossed the middle of the runway at times with posted NOTAMS. The deer still
require attention, as well as vehicles and pedestrians, at times.
On June 21, 1986, in
conjunction with Crawford Pioneer Days, there was a fly-in arranged by
Geddes, French and the EAA Chapter with all runways active. Resident High
School Junior Mike Black, now a well known western slope Landscape
Architect, had carved out a beautiful grassy campground in the trees and
brush on the canyon rim area across the runway, complete with restroom and
solar heated shower. This area has
now been cleared, but over 50 people were camped out overnight there for the
two-day show, responding to the promotion of the airport as a recreational
treasure sporting hiking trails, fantastic views, wildlife, and flying
activities, refreshingly free of the restrictions necessary at virtually all
other airports. In place were strictly enforced mandatory cautions as a
trade-off. The fly-in was an overwhelming success attended by well over 400
people. There was a classic car
exhibit along the campground, food and concession stands, and around 50
planes parked between runways 14 and 10. A
portable FAA control tower was located mid-field with two controllers, and
two additional FAA safety officers during Saturday operations.
Simultaneous glider, helicopter, and airplane rides were in
operation. Don Geddes, in his
Comanche 250, logged 43 flights carrying 129 passengers on Saturday and
another 49 passengers during 19 flights on Sunday.
Other planes, gliders, and the helicopter carried another 40 people,
around 30 in the Hughes 500D alone.
There were people and vehicles all over, one auto crossing near the
barn and considerable foot traffic, all assisted by crossing guards.
Even with this unusual level of activity no incidents occurred during
one of the most complex activities possible on this size field. The tower
operators said this was the busiest shift they had ever logged, with around
340 movements that day, more than Grand Junction normally
logged. There have been several successful fly-ins since but nothing matches
two days of fun on a remote strip at the edge of the mountains in western Colorado, sort of a micro-mini Oshkosh.
In the ensuing years the airport has undergone a major operational
transformation with the addition of thirteen more homes and many more
aircraft. There is now much
less primary student activity but a higher degree of business operations
from residents. It still
retains a major ‘fun’ factor with recreational flights virtually every day
of the year. Although it is not
likely the activities will ever reach the excitement level seen in the ‘80s,
the fun level is still way above average.
Aerobatics, glider rides, and daily proficiency landing practices are
still common. Pilots love to
radio in and buzz the runway while residents race out with cameras to log
the event. One of those was an
unidentified B-17 at 50 feet agl allegedly driven by a local pilot not
identifiable from the ground.
At least three locals are qualified in TBM bombers, and several in Stearmans,
T-6s/SNJs, T-38’s and other military aircraft including a Navy J-3 Cub based
have been around ten incidents involving damage in 37 years, with one
fatality attributed to a Parkinsons medical incapacitation during an
attempted landing, but no other injuries. That is remarkable considering the
once high daily level of instruction and check rides taking place. Many
transient glider crews would spend week-ends here, sometimes camped out, and
there were three resident gliders.
Many entries in the Geddes logbooks show 20 to 40 landings routinely
per day on the gravel strip. At that time the USAF
was sending its CFIG candidates here for final stage check sign offs with
Geddes, followed by the CFIG rating ride by Lynn French. Of the young
students trained here, at least three went on to the USAF, one to
West Point, and one to airlines, now a captain. All state that
Crawford prepared them well because of its unusual characteristics and
challenges that demanded a very high level of situational awareness and
assessment of potential problems. That group of students involved eleven
alone from the Geddes and French families who soloed airplanes, and three
who soloed gliders. Six of
those later achieved private or higher ratings and 14-year-old Jeremy Geddes
soloed a glider on his 14th birthday.
Another, Wes French, treats us to a military legal altitude flyover
in an F15 from time to time.
Local residents accept responsibility for safety concerns that must
be balanced against the pleasure and freedom associated with a private field
conceived in a vision of recreational flying and activities, and having the
attributes that attracted nearly every current resident in the first place.
Those attributes are what sets Crawford apart from other airports,
especially those with public control and paranoia about liability.
It is also noteworthy and interesting that Crawford has a very
unusual variety of airplanes flown by pilots who collectively have an
extremely high experience level. The total experience on this field is
possibly proportionally higher than any airport anywhere in the world and
includes virtually every rating there is. When a pilot with all instructor
ratings for airplanes and gliders, past helicopter ownership, logs showing
7,000 hours and 20,000 landings in 80 different aircraft is a LOW-time pilot
on the field, it puts things into perspective. Crawford students easily
handle very challenging mountain airports with little concern and many
pilots come here for mountain checkouts.
Airpark life has few equals and 99V has even fewer.
Fly bys and visitors are
always welcome. Unicom is 122.8,
transient parking is near east end by flagpole and courtesy cars are always
available. Drop in.