New airports were going up all along the coasts as civilian pilot training programs began to crank out new pilots for a war that would surely be won or lost in the air.
In the middle of all this, Lantana Airport, then just another military auxiliary field, was born.
The Civil Air Patrol used the airport to patrol for U-boats off the Florida coast, and gained fame as the home base of Zack Mosley, the cartoonist who until 1973 wrote the cartoon column, Smilin' Jack." All of the characters in his comic strip were real people at the Lantana Airport.Fast forward 50 years. Lantana Airport, now officially named Palm Beach County Air Park but still universally called Lantana (LNA), is a thriving general aviation airport. Its location, just 5.5 nautical miles south of the West Palm Beach International Airport (also a former military base, Morrison Field), puts it in the heart of one of the fastest growing counties in the country.
It wasn't always thriving. Lantana Airport, which now has almost 400 based aircraft, close to 60 privately owned hangars and several dozen businesses, is the vision of one man Owen Gassaway.
Gassaway is the owner and operator of Florida Airmotive, the sole remaining FBO on the airport. He has been there since 1945 and is the driving force behind the transformation of Lantana Airport from an under-utilized, undeveloped airport to one of the premiere General Aviation sites on the East Coast.
"Lantana is primarily a propeller airport," says Gassaway "although we [do] sell a fair amount of Jet-A for turbines and helicopters. At $1.49 a gallon for Jet-A, it kind of makes me wish my airplane could burn it."
We are one of only two airports in the state that has a prop shop on the airport." he continues. "Palm Beach Propeller, run by Mike O'Neil and Larry Harris, operates a complete prop and governor repair station and have a certified non-destructive testing facility on site."
"In fact, there are dozens of businesses on Lantana, which make it a one-stop shopping mall for aviation." Gassaway concludes:
We have a new Pilot shop at LNA .
Indeed, you get the impression that your will find whatever you want when you derive through the main gate and see the signs for the various businesses on the field.
Lantana Airport also features a paint shop and an interior/upholstery shop. The interior shop is run by Tony Dubek and his brother-in-law, Mike, who is an A & P. The shop has earned a well-deserved reputation for quality, especially with its interior and sound-proofing packages.
There are several flight schools on the field, but only one is a Part 141 school, Kemper Aviation, Inc. They are a full service flight school with 141 authority as well as an aviation degree program in conjunction with Palm Beach Community College. They also have visa authority for foreign students.
There is no shortage of talented mechanics at Lantana Airport. The newest facility is Windward Aviation. Windward owners are Jim And Reese.
Also at LNA Aircoastal Helicopters offers Bell Jet Ranger helicopter Instruction along with Tours and Aerial Photography.
New is Palm Beach Flight Training and Palm Beach Helicopters, they offer helicopter training!
Lantana Airport is just three miles from the beach, and there are plenty of hotel rooms, restaurants, rental cars and places to go things to see.
Owen Gassaway is the driving force behind the success
of the Lantana Airport. In an industry where the number
of competitors is less than half of what it was in 1980,
Gassaway has much to be proud of in his transformation
of Lantana Airport into the success story that it is.
"Palm Beach County has become a vacation Mecca," says Gassaway, who has lived in the area since 1933. "We've got zoos, museums, the Kravis Center For the Performing Arts and more golf courses than any other county in the United States. There is something here for everyone."
You don't even have to leave the airport. Warbird rides, biplane rides, helicopter rides
at the airport.
Lantana is an uncontrolled field, 5.5 nm south of PBI vortac. The unicom frequency is 122.7 and is manned from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m. seven days a week. AWOS is on 119.55
Lantana is a busy airport, with banner operators, an occasional blimp, mixing it up with flight school and regular traffic. Pilots should exercise their best traffic pattern etiquette.
Hangar space, tie-down and fuel are readily available, as well as food and rental cars.
The concept of Palm Beach County Park Airport started in the late 1930's when it became obvious that aircraft maneuvers, as a result of agreements between the U.S. and other allies to be, would be saturating the available sizable airports. The Office of Defense Preparedness, along with very influential local aviation interests, quickly targeted the airport's present location because the property was owned by a small group who had already considered dedicating the property for serving the public. The western portion of the entire 800-plus acre site was deeded to the county (previously by the State of Florida with provisions) prohibiting any sale of the property along with other limiting factors.
A large Palm Beach philanthropic, aviation-oriented family donated a portion of the land as did the John Prince family, who were among the early settlers of the immediate area of John Prince served on the County Commission in the early history of the County. Both of these parties attached certain limiting provisions to their donations to protect the future of the site. Service to the community was the guiding factor.
An agreement between the county and the U.S. Government was concluded, whereby the county undertook the responsibility of dredging the swamp slough area immediately west of the ridge, a north/south sand dune of considerable age and length. The entire airport site was very low and required intensive dredging from what is known as Lake Osborne.
The U.S. Government built the airport, including a parallel taxiway and considerable ramp area, for $199,000. The airport immediately became known as Lantana Airport because of the proximity of the town of Lantana and Lantana Road paralleling the south border. The first airplane to land on the paved area (August 20, 1941) was a student of Morrison Field, starting the designed role as a reliever airport. It is no surprise that this project moved swiftly as the county engineer was a pilot, aircraft owner and avid supporter of aviation projects.
The fixed base operator at Morrison Field, Palm Beach Nero Corporation, along with other necessary service facilities furnished by Gulf Oil Corp, quickly erected a large hanger and installed wells and septic systems. Because of the fierce submarine activities along Florida's coast prior to Pearl Harbor, an aviation home guard unit had been formed. This immediately moved to Lantana from Morrison Field. On Dec,1, 1941, six days prior to Pearl Harbor, the Civil Air Patrol an auxiliary to the Air Corps, was formed, The War Department directed the three experimental bases be set up, Lantana being the only one in Florida.
These same local influential aviation interests who foresaw the need of the airport but a scant few months prior, now utilized their aircraft in the defense of their country. Their experiments quickly became the basis for a very viable shore defense system for the entire East coast and Gulf of Mexico. Courier duties, air patrol, shore patrol and target towing for the Signal Corp. were just a few of the activities carried out from Lantana.
The Civil Air Patrol is still active a the airport which houses the Group 5 Headquarters. This is an excellent youth program for Palm Beach and Lantana, in addition to a Search Unit for the U.S. Customs Department.
The War Department leased the entire airport for the duration of WW II as a naval auxiliary training field, building a shack house and temporary facilities in addition to basing several observation planes. After V E Day, the airport took on civil operations with the start up of flight school activities catering to Veterans Administration flight training. Morrison Field remained closed to civilian traffic until 1960, except for a two-year period when it was opened to all civil operations.
Between 1945 and 1960, when Lantana was supplying practically all of the general aviation activities for East Palm Beach County, yearly operations peaked to 115,000. All of the large aircraft iron of the prestigious companies of this country spent some time each year in Lantana. Ex military aircraft included converted B-17s, B-24s, B-25s, b-26s and B-47s. One evening over 20 DC-3s were counted on the airport along with 36 Beechcraft Model 18 aircraft.
Many converted civilian airlines were also utilizing the airport at Lantana: Lockheed Constellations, Hawker Sidleys, Dart Herald, British Viscounts, etc. There were no noise complaints, even with this heavy iron operation, because the area was sparsely populated around the airport until 1956. Developers, however, told new home owners the airport was going to be moved. This effort was made in the late 1960s when a local county commissioner joined with the Sherbrook six miles west of the airport.
During this period, Lantana Airport presented a sub-standard aviation picture to those who visited Palm Beach County as Boca Raton was not opened until 1961. Operators could not make meaningful investments because of the reluctance of the county to make long-term leases available. At one time, there were four separate operators on the south side of the airport. After the heyday of the 1950s only two operators remained until 1964, when one remained. Again, only modest improvements were needed as Palm Beach International was opened to all general aviation. Boca Raton Airport, 18 miles south, also became operational, catering to south county aviation needs.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a series of executive jets used the airport. The county commission, with intense neighborhood pressure, passed an ordinance banning all jets. Since that time, the airport has become a very good neighbor with intense aviation committee activities to educate the surrounding inhabitants. For example, letters in a file indicate junior college, located on the northern portion of the county park, has no concern of the noise impact of the airport.
The planning of a South County airport to replace the existing Boca Raton Airport had a very direct effect on Lantana Airport. When site selections were being made for the south county airport, opponents pointed out that the community was not going to allow the county to build and manage an airport when they had shown a lack to true interest or ability in the managing of the airport system. They concluded Lantana was a disgrace with worn out buildings and inadequate facilities. This spurred the county to upgrade FAA applications for federal aid for ramp and infrastructure improvements, including landscaping.
The county also became aware that long-term leases were necessary to get capital interests into joining with the county to upgrade the airport. The period d between 1984 and 1985 brought intense public interest. Plans promulgated by the engineering consultants were flawed in that the users were not included in the eh early stages.
The current finished layout is the result of a series of compromises. Again, an aviation-minded county engineer stepped into the breech and brought stability, with the only major defect being the utilization of a prime commercial area used for a retention pond when the center of the airport could have served this purpose well. The runway taxiway configuration is a first laid out.
The entire airport received a sand seal treatment in 1954. Since then, runways 9/27 and 15/33 have been repaved. The airport has three runway lighting systems, the original being flush lights on all runways. The next, installed around 1970, was a modified "flying farmer" system the last system serving runways 9/27 and 15/33.
The air right of ways over the west approach, runway 9, were given to the county by the developers who were aviation enthusiasts. The air rights on the approach to runway 27 were obtained through court action, giving the County the right to trim any trees growing in the right away. The cost to the County for the rights alone was over $8,500 in the early 1970s.
A VASI system was installed in 1973 on runways 9/27 and 15/33. The operator at the airport started in early 1968 to request a VOR instrument approach to runway 15/33. This was completed in early 1969.
As of this writing and for the last nine months, the volume of water supplied by the county on the airport system is termed inadequate by the Palm Beach County Fire Department, further inhibiting the airport form fully performing it's function as a "reliever airport". As attempts to receive building permits have been turned down and the great majority of the space yet to be built is targeted for airplanes currently based at PBIA, the Department of Airports has responded favorably in an attempt to shoulder their responsibility to provide adequate utilities.
Since 1980, operations have experienced little growth. A 60 percent increase in tied-down aircraft has taken place since 1980, but during the same time period fuel sales decreased almost 14 percent, with the last few years being flat.
The new facilities at the airport have spurred quite a few new businesses. There are seven service shops with most of this business coming from other areas. There are three valid flight school activities located at the airport with indications that this activity will increase. There are two valid air charter operation s on the airport: one catering to the U.S. military for personnel movement utilizing nine, 16, and 30-passenger airplanes, and the other operator serving the needs of the power line patrol. A very popular glider ride operation is located on the eh airport form Thanksgiving through Memorial Day. The airport infield also plays host to a banner towing advertising business, the only one between Stuart and Fort Lauderdale.
The airport has had three fatalities in it's history: an air show accident, pilot error, a fighter trainer, pilot error; and the heart attack of a multi-engine pilot on take off. There have been seven mid-air strikes with six destroyed aircraft. There were no injuries as a result of these mid air strikes two were training operations and two involved helicopters. Interestingly enough, all but one involved an aircraft or helicopter who were not based at Lantana Airport. In no case has the design or facilities played a part in the cause.
The airport in the past has played a considerable part in the emerging development of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands north of Haiti. It has also been an important jump-off place for general aviation activities through these islands and further into the Caribbean. Over the last 10 years, this activity has reduced for the entire seaboard due to the drug activities and the positions taken by adjacent governments in regards to the controversy over property ownership. Several committees assist the FBO and the Department of Airports, including: the Lantana Airport User Committee, a chartered non-profit corporation; the Lantana Airport Safety Committee, formed under the auspices of the FAA; and the Department of Airports, Lantana Airport's Noise Committee was formed by local interested parties and authorized by County Commission action.
There is a large contingency of members of the AAAC (Aviation and Airports Advisory Committee), a committee reporting directly to the county commission who have roots that stem from Lantana Airport, even though they have county-wide responsibilities to all airports. The future of the airport appears to remain primarily a recreational facility with a few small executive operations along with on-demand charter services. It is planned to again offer kerosene on the probability the on-going hanger construction will bring a contingency of turboprop aircraft. Service facilities will continue to grow, bringing outside aircraft to the airport. It has been planned to structure these facilities of such a size that the owner is the chief service personnel striving to eliminate middle management so more efficient service can be provided to the "flying public" and the community.
The Lantana Airport is used by many none-based operations. These itinerant training operations mostly take off and land, bringing pressure from the neighborhood on occasion. These aircraft have not become aware of the unofficial noise abatement procedures, such as using least sensitive runways and no touch and goes at night. A constant awareness program is attempted by the various committees.
An emerging small parcel carriage business, along with fast carriage documents and checks, utilizes the airport because of the close entrance off the I-95 Interstate and a landing take off operation can be accomplished quickly.
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Thursday March 15, 2007
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