History - Intent - Philosophy – Future, By Don Geddes, Resident & CFI
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 CO. 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 place.
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.
At 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 here.
There 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 Academy 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.