|Owner||City of Big Rapids|
|Serves||Big Rapids, Michigan|
|Location||Big Rapids, MI, 49307|
|Elevation AMSL||990 ft / 302 m|
Roben–Hood Airport (IATA: WBR, ICAO: KRQB, FAA LID: RQB) is a public airport located two miles (3 km) northwest of the central business district of Big Rapids, a city in Mecosta County, Michigan, United States. It is owned by the City of Big Rapids. It is included in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems for 2017–2021, in which it is categorized as a local general aviation facility.
If one looks at the total historical progression of the airport, one is struck with the impression that this airport has gone through a series of up and down cycles that occurred generally because of forces and opportunities that were external to the area, such as grants from State and Federal sources. The first recorded Pioneer article located is dated June 8, 1929, and entitled “Club sponsors local airport”. In 1929, there was an “Exchange Club” and “Exchangites”, which decided to promote interest in an airport for the city. The American Legion had expressed interest in a joint promotional effort, but pulled out, believing that “the solid support of the one organization would prove more beneficial than the haphazard efforts of two”.
Four months later in October, the paper reported “Big Rapids Air Line starts December 15.” Jack Byrne of the Furniture Capital Air Service of Grand Rapids planned to stop at Big Rapids on his Grand Rapids to Harbor Springs (Michigan Air Express) route, “providing a suitable landing field is purchased and placed in shape”. In February 1930, members of the Exchange Club were donating money to pay for the monthly rent of the airport property, insuring continuation of the Michigan Air Express service.
On 2 July 1930, it was reported that a landing field had been purchased 2 weeks before due to “efforts by the American Legion”. in the same article were all the plans being made to dedicate “Roben–Hood” landing field in honor of the two Big Rapids men, Major Douglass Bennett Roben and Lieut. Daniel George Hood, who lost their lives while connected with the air service during the war”. Numerous events would be taking place on Saturday night (July 26) including an Aviators’ Banquet and Ball, and American Legion drum corps parade, during which Governor Fred W. Green would be present.
On Sunday, 27 July, 20 aircraft were entered in several entertaining events including speed races before an estimated crowd of 7500! A formal dedication of the field was postponed until Armistice Day because Governor Green was called away to Detroit. It is not known at this time whether the postponed dedication ever took place.
In the months following the dedication there appears to be a renewed interest n obtaining a larger parcel of land (200 acres) for the airport, spearheaded by the Rotary Club, American Legion, Exchange Club, and the Big Rapids Board of Trade. After much discussion, meetings, and soul-searching, on December 17 it was reported that those groups had withdrawn their support in favor of “the securing of permanent options on at least 80 acres of the one approved site near Big Rapids”.
For the next 4 years, there was no reported activity regarding the airport or its users. On a review of the deed transfers that occurred during that period, it was found that the land for the field was probably rented or leased until 1934 when the City of Big Rapids bought it from Mr. Cyrus A. Durfey for $1000.
In the fall of 1935, there were several articles regarding WPA projects to build an airport on “70 acres of land purchased for that purpose by the City Commission” Work progressed through 1935 and was concluded in 1936 with 2 runways that were in excess of 2000 feet each. In the late 1930s there was some activity at the airport, and airport area, including the training of pilots. Ferris Institute had a flying school and Howard Travis was providing flight instruction. Three early students from Big Rapids were Earl Duffie, Barry Mitchell, and Walter Bentley.
In 1940, some woods were removed on the northwest portion that allowed an increase of 400 feet to the “EIW” runway to 2400 feet. Also in 1940, 12 students signed up to get flight instruction. The big news in February was the purchase of a 1940, black (with red trim) Taylorcraft, to be used by the Ferris and Meceola Flying clubs in addition to their Cub trainer. It, like the Cub, was equipped with skis.
In the spring and summer of 1940, “air minded citizens” of the area pursued improvements to the airport, but were told by the City that monies were not available. This prompted proposals to transfer the airport to an entity that could provide financial help for improvements, such as the County Road Commission. After much discussion, and a federal aid financial carrot of $47,000 “to provide intermediate fields suitable to military uses as well as to assist civil aviation” resulted, on March 1941, in the transfer of the airport to the Mecosta County Airport committee for $1.
In mid 1941, the Civil Aeronautics Authority (CM) was still considering the airport as an “auxiliary field” according to Earl Bender, airport manager. The plan included a 3500-foot runway and navigation and meteorology stations, but would require the acquisition of additional 35 acres of land surrounding the airport to make it a class 3 airport. In July, the County Supervisors agreed to the plan, and with the help of the City, acquired an additional 5 acres, with $7000 from City and County funds. Those developments cleared the way for the CM to propose the expenditure of roughly $30,000 for runway development field drainage, 51 foot beacon tower, field shed, 51 boundary lights and a 64 by 80 foot hangar to house aircraft, as well as a classroom, office, and workshop space. Work was started in October, 1941, but no details are available on the completion of any of the items.
Other than a reported visit of 30 Civil Air Patrol (CAP) airplanes on 13 July 1942, there is little reported activity at the airport until June 1950 when the County returned the field to the City because of CAA urging and other factors. Howard Travis, airport manager and flight instructor since 1941, reported that the City would inherit about $50,000 worth of equipment in that transfer.
In 1958, the City purchased, or secured options on, property at the southeast and northwest corners, with money donated by W.C. Taggart to the tune of $27,500. This allowed for expansion and asphalt paving of the 50 by 2500 foot northwest to southeast runway, connecting taxiway, apron, fencing, drainage, and a parking ramp in front of the hangar.
In 1960, the big topic of discussion, spearheaded by Steve Bordano and Lewis Turco, was the possibility of additional hangar construction, to prevent overcrowding and wing-tip damage in the main hangar. This produced many ideas and proposals, but little action. Also in 1960, the runway was lengthened and widened to 75 by 3500 feet, as well as a new beacon and runway lights, with the City share of funding again being paid for by W.C. Taggart On August 21, 1961 the City officially named the airport Roben–Hood.
Nothing appears in the paper again until November 1970 when there was agreement between city officials, Ferris personnel, County officials, and IDC members, to improve the airport, including a 5000 runway, and the Brewer Engineering firm was hired to affect a feasibility study. On March 8, 1972, it was reported that the engineering firm suggested several things, including an East-West runway of 5400 ft, the acquisition of an additional 450 acres, a non-precision approach system, and completion of the project before the development of the US- 131 expressway in order for the project to qualify for the 1974 Development Aid Program. There is no follow-up information whether any part of that proposal was accomplished, as the next and last 3 articles from 1974 only deal with possibilities for commuter flights in and out of a new regional airport built in the area. In the '80s, the “Big Rapids Airport Safety Committee” was established, with Linda Hathaway as Chairperson. This committee presented a 5-year improvement and expansion plan to the City Commission that included construction of a new 5 thousand foot East-West runway in 1988 costing 2.5 million dollars, with the Federal Government picking up 90 to 95% of the total cost. On March 5, 1984, the City submitted a “Roben Hood Airport 1983-2003 Layout Plan Report, and 5 year Capital Improvement Plan to MDOT, Bureau of Aeronautics. In December of 1987, the City started annexing additional property for building the new EIW runway, the runway and many improvements were built between 1988 and 1990.
As the 20th Century came to an end, several significant events occurred which destined Roben Hood Airport to grow in a negative fashion. The first of these was the end of Linda and Chuck Hathaway’s airport management contract with the City. After that point, there was no contractual arrangement for airport management, with Bernie Johnson, Dave Bordano, and others working on handshake agreements. Sometime in the '90s, the City appointed John Griffith as Airport Manager, in addition to his duties as Transportation manager, primarily for DART. In that time, the number of operations at the airport declined from 6180 in 1990, to 2540 in 2000.
In contrast to this decline, a new contingent of aviators became active at the airport, and increased the level of interest in that facility. The Balloon Fests of the '80s turned into the Airfests of the '90s, sponsored by the Big Rapids Flying Club. In 1995 a large corporate hangar was built on the North end by Big Rapids Products to house their twin Turboprop. Also, a group of 6 “T” hangars was built by the Club and soon filled with aircraft. A new grass strip was built on the southwest side of the field for the use of a growing contingent of ultralight “Powered Parachute” pilots. A new terminal building was completed in June 2002, and the City contracted with Ottawa-Kent Flying Service for FBO (Fixed-Base Operator) services on 18 June 2002. Plans are currently underway for a 700' expansion to runway 9/27 with a parallel taxiway.
Facilities and aircraft
Roben–Hood Airport covers an area of 629 acres (255 ha) which contains two asphalt paved runways: 9/27 measuring 4,300 x 75 ft (1,311 x 23 m) and 14/32 measuring 2,700 x 75 ft (823 x 23 m). For the 12-month period ending December 31, 2012, the airport had 5,000 general aviation aircraft operations. The airport is staffed Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is accessible by road from 18 Mile Rd, and is close to Business US-131.
- FAA Airport Master Record for RQB ( PDF), effective 2007-12-20
- "List of NPIAS Airports" (PDF). FAA.gov. Federal Aviation Administration. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
- Great Circle Mapper: WBR / KRQB – Big Rapids, Michigan (Roben–Hood Airport)