The Liberty Gazette
February 10, 2009
February 10, 2009
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Mike: Not long after becoming a licensed pilot I was hired by a defense department manufacturer that happened to be really close to the airport in Fullerton, California. I joined a flying club there, and working the swing-shift gave me mornings to either fly or hang out watching airplanes take-off and land, hangar flying with other club members. The club had a patio with a shade tree and picnic tables, inviting us to share in the joy of each other’s flying experience when we gathered. It also served as a great place for this kid who was soaking it all in to relax and read aviation books, magazines or newsletters.
On the other side of the airport, across the street from the air traffic control tower and the airport café, was a pilot supply shop called Fullerton Air Parts. When I wasn’t at the flying club, I was perusing the wide selection of aviation books the shop had in stock. This shop, owned and operated by Bob and Flo Irwin, was like many aviation businesses in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a family owned business. Like the many Mom-and-Pop operators in those days, the Irwins loved airplanes. I helped support them with my many book and airway chart purchases all the years I flew out of that airfield.
Consolidation being popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s (thanks much to the greed that nearly killed general aviation until tort reform), the flying club became part of a larger aircraft dealership and eventually it would cease operations. While a lot of other aviation businesses were struggling, ownership of the pilot supply shop was transferred to the Irwin’s son, Jim, who took it and did something remarkable with it. Relocating off the airport into an old citrus warehouse, Jim Irwin began offering everything pilots and aircraft homebuilders needed. He added a mail-order business and then when the Internet came along, he was one of the first to jump into that form of marketing. The name has been changed, and today Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Company (www.aircraftspruce.com) is the largest provider of pilot supplies and aircraft parts in the country. Jim recently wrote me about the company’s three facilities located in Corona, California, Peachtree City, Georgia and Brantford, Ontario, Canada totaling more than 120,000 square feet. His business employs 90 people in California, 45 in Georgia, and about 15 more in Canada.
Linda: Mike took me to Fullerton Airport, and he noted that while many things have changed, some things have not. People still come to watch airplanes take-off and land, they still read aviation books sitting at picnic tables and chat with total strangers about flying. That field is home to more than 600 general aviation airplanes sitting on about three-quarters of the acreage that Liberty Municipal has. He also pointed out a building across the street, its architecture similar to Liberty’s downtown shops, and said, “That was Fullerton Air Parts, where I bought a bunch of my flying books.” I loved the nostalgia. It was all new to me.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com