Arizona's Premier Model Aviation Flying Field
By Curt Thomas
The very beginnings of the club started on September 11, 1980. Ten men, of the twenty-two whom had expressed an interest, got together for an organization meeting at the Transformer Shop Crew Room at the Arizona Public Service Deer Valley Facility. These people had two things in common, they were all employees of the APS, and they were all interested in building and flying radio-controlled airplanes. We organized as an employee club, sponsored by APS.
We needed three things to get started, a name, by-laws, and a place to fly. A by-laws committee was setup and Bill Goren, the clubs first secretary, came up with the name Arizona Model Pilots Society, which tied directly with our company’s business. I worked in engineering and had direct access to maps of all lands held by different government agencies. I became Vice-President and took on the responsibility for finding a flying site.
We contacted the City, County, State and Federal Governments. The City of Phoenix quickly gave us, “No model airplane flying is allowed inside the city limits. “Developers like John F Long, Dell Webb, and Margaret Hance (then Mayor of the City of Phoenix) tied up all useable, accessible Federal lands. Finally, we found useable state land out by Lake Pleasant. We cleared, graded, covered with decomposed granite, watered and rolled the site. We began to fly there and invited guests to fly with us. We soon learned that our field had some major drawbacks. It was a long way out, it was situated north and south, it had a power line to the east, and the south turnaround was over the intersection of Lake Pleasant Road and 99th Avenue. This was not an ideal situation, so we continued to look for a better site. This is when Adobe Dam Recreation Area came to our attention. We contacted the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department’s Superintendent of Recreation, Mr. Howard Gilmore. He pointed out some problems to us; 1) the park was still under the control of the Army Corps of Engineers, 2) the park was supposed to be for picnics, hiking, and horseback riding, and 3) most of the park, over 2400 acres, had been given in a use permit to the Arizona Livestock Exhibition Association. I obtained a map of the proposed park with its users. I had to see if I could find any unclaimed useable space. I thought that a little strip between the south boundary of the Arizona Livestock Exhibition Association and Skunk Creek Wash might be useable.
Then the real fight started. Mr. Gilmore suggested that we might want to contact the Central Arizona Model Advisory Council. The objective of the CAMAC was to give central Arizona modelers a single voice to deal with different government agencies in acquiring and keeping flying sites. The first real use of CAMAC was to deal with Ruth Chase, head of the Western Division of the Army Corps of Engineers. Ruth Chase did not feel that a model airport fit their concept for the park. So, CAMAC requested that Senator Barry Goldwater write a letter to Ruth Chase on our behalf. He did so, and that particular obstacle disappeared (I think a copy of this letter is in the club files).
About this time, I began to doubt that a small 15 to 20 member employees club would have the resources to acquire and develop a first class flying site. In a meeting, we decided to invite non-employees with us in our quest for a flying site. So I contacted George Sing and Clair Sieverling and asked these two long time modelers to assist us.
A question came up as to whether saddle horses and noisy model airplanes could coexist. The wife of Bill Goren had a show horse and they belonged to the show horse association. He prevailed on the Secretary of that organization to a write a letter for us to the County. The letter stated that any good saddle horse would ignore non-threatening noises, even model airplane engines.
Next, we had a meeting at Deer Valley Airport with Ed Gilliam, Airport Manager, Stann Watt, FAA Tower Manager, CAMAC, and Maricopa County Parks. We discussed our needs, our request, the concerns of the airport and the Private Pilots Association. We reached no conclusions, but arranged a flight demonstration. The following week, Clair and George flew from a level site just northwest of our current site. Both Ed Gilliam and Stan Watt were allowed stick time and Stan really enjoyed it. At the end of the demonstration, Stan Watt indicated that he and the FAA had no problem with our proposal, but Ed Gilliam was still against it.
We persevered, Clair, George, or I or all three of us were at every meeting of the Maricopa County Parks Board. Finally, they gave in. In June of 1983, we received a temporary special use permit. A short time later the word went out and we held a meeting at the site. Forty-three people signed up and paid $25.00 dues. We had a start.
I had once worked within the APS Survey Department, so I was able to coerce the supervisor into sending a crew out to our site. They surveyed our site and grade staked it. Next came the grading and the leveling. Ken Shaver, one of our members, was Foreman of the Tool Shop and all of the Heavy Equipment Operators worked for him. Since the company only paid the operators truck drivers wages, he was constantly having to train new operators. As soon as the operators became proficient they would leave and go into construction to receive operators pay. Therefore, our field was an ideal place to train new operators. A place where they were not likely to hurt themselves or destroy anyone’s property. The day they started, I got a frantic call from Ken. It seems that nobody bothered to inform the Park Ranger that we had a permit and were going to start work. The Park Ranger shut them down. After a few hectic calls, everything was running smoothly. However, just to be safe, either George or Clair was on site all day and every day until grading completion. Next, we spread, watered and rolled many truckloads of decomposed granite for the runway surface.
In August of 1983, APS donated eighteen thirty five-foot poles. Guy Laine, one of the early club officers and founding fathers, got one of his buddies on a line crew to bring their line truck with an auger on it and process holes for the ramada support poles. That weekend every member showed up and in one weekend, the ramada was almost completed. The original snack bar was made of wood, but vandals burned it up along with the west-end of the ramada. We extended the ramada and rebuilt to its present form.
We now had a flying field, but the pit area was somewhat dusty. George Sing took up a collection and had the concrete pit pads poured. Later, we extended these pads on each end and flew from the field at this stage until spring of 1985.At this time; the club began contemplating a hard surface runway.
At this time, it became unwieldy to have part of our membership sponsored by the company while the vast majority was not. We had grown to 160 to 170 members of which only 15 to 16 were APS employees. Therefore, we voted to withdraw from APS sponsorship. This made the company none too happy; after all, they had donated many resources to the field. I appealed to them by pointing out that the same employees were still benefiting from their donations.
Once more, I approached the County Parks Department. I informed them that we planned to hard surface the runway but could not undertake such a large financial burden with only a temporary use permit. So on April 15, 1985, I signed a ten year special use permit with a promise of at least another ten year extension on the end of that.
With a long term use permit in hand, Clair Sieverling, the financial wizard that he is, came up with a plan to pay for a 600’ X 75’ paved runway. I should also note that Clair was also responsible for writing the clubs by-laws, getting the club incorporated, getting the club's IRS tax free status, and protecting the officers. According to Clair’s plan, each member was to be assessed $50.00, and limited lifetime memberships would be available for $250.00, with special exemptions made in hardship cases. We lost fewer members due to the assessment than we figured, and more people took the lifetime membership than we thought. We sent out bidding invitations, selected a contractor, and signed a contract. You can see the results for yourself.
When the County Parks Department gives you a special use permit, you have a specified length of time to start improving your property or you loose the permit. The north edge of our runway was only 25 feet from the south property line of the Arizona Livestock Exhibition Association. Despite numerous prodding’s, ALEA failed to meet their time limit and thereby lost their permit. As soon as I learned of this, I petitioned for additional area for over-fly. The County Parks Department granted us a quarter of a mile in each direction from the center of the runway and 500 feet in front.
We added safety barriers, spectator fencing, water, electricity, and grass. Thanks mostly to Jim Trainor, Jake Frizzel, and Howard McClanahan. Another work party installed the tables and benches. Members of AMPS acquired, bought, paid for and/or built every addition to the field.
We do owe a big vote of thanks to Mr. Bill Ritchwine and Mr. Howard Gilmore; both have since retired from the Maricopa County Parks and Recreation Department. Everything else we owe primarily to the first forty-three members, of which there are still about fourteen or fifteen still alive and active.
I will not tell you that it has always been smooth sailing. There were a lot of bumps, potholes, and disagreements along the way. Mostly, I think it was worth it.
Copyright © 2023 Arizona Model Pilots Society - All Rights Reserved. AMPS a Concessionaire of Maricopa County at Adobe Dam Regional Park.