Randy Long’s career in aviation “wasn’t planned,” he says, “it just happened.”
Not only does he own Long’s Aviation Services at Coleman Municipal Airport, he’s also the airport manager.
Long, who grew up south of Coleman and attended Santa Anna schools, was involved in his family’s farm equipment and automobile dealership when someone traded an airplane for some used cars.
“But we didn’t have anyone who could fly it,” he said.
Long earned his pilot’s license in 1976, and he’s been looking skyward ever since.
He learned the art of aircraft restoration and the love of airplane maintenance while employed by the Coleman War Bird Museum, an opportunity he credits the late Bill Laws for giving him, according to his firm’s website.
Then, in 1986, Long “started fixing other people’s airplanes too.” The rest is history.
Since 1994, Long’s Aircraft Service has specialized in repair and maintenance as well as aircraft restoration out of his facility at Coleman Municipal Airport.
The services his family business offers have become increasingly important especially for pilots who pursue flying as a hobby, rather than as part of their businesses.
As Long walked through his hangar, he pointed to different airplanes benefiting from his company’s maintenance and restoration efforts.
“If you bought this airplane new today, it would cost over $200,000,” he said, stopping at one aircraft. “Some of them, they don’t make any more.”
Many of the general aviation airplanes flown today for recreational purposes are from the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, and a few are from the 1950s.
Affordability of many of those older single-engine piston aircraft from that era make them ideal for pilots on a smaller budget than those industries and businesses can justify.
The Coleman airport began as a military training strip in 1941 during World War II, much as airports in Brownwood, Brady, San Angelo and others in this part of the state did. West Texas was an area with good weather for most of the year and, perhaps even more importantly, with lots of open spaces.
When the war ended, those airfields reverted to city ownership.
The three dozen aircraft based at Coleman Municipal Airport keep the 4,500-foot runway busy enough, but operations get especially busy on weekends during hunting seasons.
“We have a lot of corporate aircraft fly in with groups going hunting,” Long said. “Coleman is known for its hunting. Those airplanes don’t usually stay here. They will land and let the passengers off, and then come back for them when they’ve finished hunting.”
Refurbished and updated in 2003, the Coleman Municipal Airport offers pristine ramps and runways, convenient fueling stations, a comfortable passenger terminal, a pilots’ lounge, and a weather computer. That was the year the airport terminal was named in honor of Bill Laws, who died in 2006.
Meanwhile, the adjoining Coleman Industrial Park features approximately 75,000 square feet of building space adjacent to the tarmac. Approximately 30,000 square feet remain available, as are some nine acres of land. The industrial park provides an ideal location for businesses — especially for those wanting to be situated near an airport.
After World War II when the airport became municipal property, several county residents were responsible for maintaining the airport’s development and growth.
With an eye on improving the airport to create more employment opportunities in Coleman, and with matching grants from the Texas Department of Transportation, plans for airport expansion and improvement became an ongoing process.
The airport’s facilities and services make it an ideal airport for businesses, both aviation-related and otherwise, to utilize for shipping and transport needs, civic leaders say.
“For a town of this size to have an airport like we do, it’s definitely as asset,” Kim Little, executive director of the Coleman Economic Development Corporation, said.
Not only is it a plus for business and industry, but it’s also a draw for hunters and property owners.
“It’s definitely a good location with space available for businesses interested in being near an airport,” she said, “but we also have hunters and absentee landowners who use the airport. They will fly in and park there for the week or the weekend, and do what they need to do. The airport serves a lot of purposes — business and pleasure.”
The aviation services that Long’s Aviation provides also attract area pilots to the airport, and that is another aspect of the airport that Little described as “a huge asset” to the community.