Just four and a half miles from downtown Goshen—a nine-minute drive from the Goshen College campus—lies a 6,000-foot sod airstrip, where 68 aircraft reside, including seven private company jets. As I drove up to the main terminal, a small yellow Arrow-Trek aircraft flew overhead and touched down on the landing strip.
The Goshen Municipal Airport is the “best well-kept secret” in Goshen, according to Randy Sharky, manager of the Goshen Air Center.
Sharky, who flies about 400 hours per year in both jets and helicopters, has managed the Air Center for 22 years. “People tend to think of a municipal airport as a rich man’s playground,” said Sharky, “but that is so untrue.”
It is true that flying out of the Goshen Airport is expensive. A trip to New York may only take a couple hours, but it will cost about $14,000. Because of this price, the main use of the airport for travel is by private business charter. When a local business needs to send representatives across the country for a meeting on short notice, chances are the Goshen Air Center can get them there within a few hours.
However, since many aircraft are constantly flying from place to place, there is occasionally a chance for the everyday person to experience flight in a private jet. Grace Weaver, a sophomore English major at Goshen College, had just such an experience when her uncle, Mark Myers, offered to fly her to her grandmother’s house for Easter. Myers was already flying to Springfield, Ohio, via the Goshen municipal airport for business, so taking Weaver along was no extra hassle.
The trip, which would usually have taken three and a half hours, took only 45 minutes. They took a small jet, which comfortably seated Weaver, Myers, and the pilot and co-pilot. “I expected it to be bumpy and not very enjoyable, but it was fun,” said Weaver. “By the time I thought we’d reached altitude, we were there.” They landed in the Grimes Field Airport, a small local airport just 20 minutes from Grandma Myers’ house.
When they took a trip to the nearby Champagne Aviation Museum, Weaver found out that her grandma had actually flown one of the planes on display.
“She was just this little Mennonite lady who flew planes,” said Weaver.
Weaver appreciated the fast trip by aircraft because it gave her the chance to see her family and her new baby cousin, Rachel.
What most people don’t realize, Sharky told me, is that many business owners from elsewhere also fly into Goshen because of the access point created by the airport. As I sat in the Air Center office talking to Sharky, a party of eight business reps from Homecrest had just arrived on a mid-sized jet. “We have an economic impact of $15 million annually,” said Sharky. Incoming business reps spend money in Goshen and make deals with local owners, which boosts Goshen’s economy, but that $15 million also includes the 50-plus people employed at the Goshen Air Center. On top of the 18 full-time pilots employed there, the Air Center also employs a full staff of flight instructors.
Despite the frequent use of the airport for private charters, the Air Center’s largest contributing factor to its 26,000 flight operations per year are the private fliers and student pilots in training.
Justin Wenger works for New Horizons Aviation, housed in the Goshen Air Center complex. Here, community members can learn to fly aircraft and earn various levels of flight licenses.
“We have some students who will learn for a career,” said Wenger, “but most are people who have a real interest…it’s their dream to fly and they fly mostly for recreation.”
The different licenses students can earn include the sport license, which requires 20 hours of training and allows the students to fly the smallest size plane with some flight restrictions; the private license, which takes 40 hours and removes the flight restrictions; the instrument rating, which requires 40 more hours and certifies for flying slightly more complex aircraft; and the commercial license, which requires 250 hours total (including hours for other licenses) and certifies the flyer for commercial and a complex aircraft.
Students who plan on aviation as a career must attain the commercial license, for which the training costs between $25,000 and $30,000.
However, those who are interested in flying for fun can spend as little as $7,500 for a private license.
“Most people think getting a pilot’s license is hard,” said Wenger, “but if you come out here a few hours a week for a couples months, it’s not that difficult of a process.”
Wenger said he flies for a living, but he also enjoys flying for the beauty of it.
“You can go up and see your house—your whole town from the sky. I’ve flown up to see the Chicago skyline at sunset.” He and his wife even took a trip to Mackinac Island as a day trip instead of a weekend vacation. “Flying makes the world smaller,” he said. “You can see more things, go more places.”
Wenger has been a flight instructor at New Horizons Aviation since he graduated from the New Horizons program himself and was recently employed as a charter pilot for business trips.
“I started with my private license and I was hooked,” said Wenger. “Leaving the ground for an evening is just so relaxing. You leave everything on the ground and just float.”