More than $1.5 million worth of work scheduled for airport

Airport Manager Eric Vences points to a stop on the map of the Rantoul airport. More than $1.5 million in work is planned at the facility in 2019.

RANTOUL — Site prep work is expected to begin this month for a $1 million taxiway-alignment project for one of the two runways at Rantoul’s National Aviation Center.

Also in the works: Phase 3 of a wildlife-deterrent fence that will cost an estimated $600,000.

Pilots using the airport’s east-west runway will be less likely to be involved in a collision — much less get a crick in their neck — as a result of the taxiway-alignment  work.

Airport Manager Eric Vences said it was determined a few years ago that the east-west taxiway alignment does not meet regulations. Pilots have to turn their heads more than the optimum 90 degrees to ensure there is no other traffic coming.

The village of Rantoul will receive a 90 percent federal grant for the work. The state of Illinois will pay 5 percent of the project cost, and the village will pay the remainder.

“It’s a safety thing because when you look back like that, ... you’ve got to look up, too, because if a plane is coming, it’s coming from above, not from the ground,” Vences said.

He said airport officials hoped to have the work done last year, but design discrepancies and the cost of asphalt pushed it back a year.

The site prep work could begin in about a week if the village receives a permit from the state of Illinois. The work will require closing of the more heavily used east-west runway. Pilots will be required to use the north-south runway in the interim.

The village will notify tenants regarding the construction and give a 30-day advance notification of runway closure.

About 16 aircraft are based at the airport, with planes housed either in the main hangar or t-hangars.

Vences said the construction won’t hamper the agricultural planes which use landing pads at the airport. Like the other tenants, they will be required to use the north-south runway.

Installation of the phase 3 portion of the wildlife-deterrent fence will take place near the Prairie Pines Campground as well as an area extending from the FBO building to the old runway and across.

“Wildlife is always a concern for any airport,” Vences said. “Birds, coyotes; anything you might consider to be a small animal can cause serious damage.”

He said the village hired state specialists a couple of years ago to hunt deer that were congregating in the area. They never did cross the runway, but officials opted to err on the side of caution.

“Thankfully, we’ve not had any wildlife strikes that I’ve seen on our paperwork,” Vences said.

Another airport project will involve adding self-service fuel. The existing tank location will be used and pavement rehabbed to make it wide enough for planes at a cost of $180,000, with the local share being $9,000 for the pavement modifications only, Vences said.

Originally, the village had considered buying new tanks, which, with the pavement rehab work, would have cost up to $600,000 and would have taken about five years for the village to save up for using its entitlement money. The new plan will be much less expensive and will involve retrofitting existing tanks for self-serve use.

The self-serve tanks would have to be paid for with airport money. The Federal Aviation Administration/Illinois Division of Aeronautics would pay for the card reader but not the new hoses or new electric service, security camera or security lights.

One of the biggest area events is coming this August — the biennial Half Century of Progress farm show, billed as the “largest working antique farm show in the U.S.” It is held on airport grounds.

The I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club, which sponsors the show, has used Hangar 2 at the airport to store equipment and for other uses. The village, however, is close to finalizing a deal with Los Angeles businessman Jack Van Der Velde, who will buy all four hangars at the airport.

“They’ve always been at the forefront of our mind when we’ve been negotiating” the sale, Vences said.

The club will now use Hangar 3 for storage and was given the OK by Van Der Velde to use the ramp of Hangar 2 for displays.

For past shows, there has been a partial closure of the north-south runway so the show could be set up. Vences said the club has requested a full closure for a longer period so it won’t be necessary to station personnel at areas to make sure the public doesn’t walk across the runway.

A BUSY PLACE

The Half Century show is just one of the activities held on the airport grounds. Most of the others don’t require runway closure.

Vences said the village was close to landing a Spartan race for the airport, “but at the last minute they chose a different site. We put together proposals, and it ended up not working out.”

Vences said the race would “have brought a lot of people” to Rantoul.

On May 31, a Crown Rally vehicle event will use the airport as a checkpoint in its event, which begins in Chicago and then heads to Indianapolis.

The event is not a race.

“They will drive Porsches, Lamborghinis, customized vehicles,” Vences said. “They have hundreds of dollars in these cars, so they’re not going to be racing down the pot-holed highway.”

Instead, a pace car will travel the route first at the legal speed limit. One lap will be made around the runway. The goal is for the participant cars to travel the route at the rate as the pace car.

The event is closed to the public this year.

Vences said the goal of the village is to make Rantoul either the starting point or ending point of the rally in the future.

The annual TopGun Largecar Shootout is tentatively scheduled to return despite the death last year of its founder, Tom Reitz.

A variety of other events will also be back, including events held by Corvette groups and the Champaign County Sports Car Club.  

“Those are weekend events. Usually you have to be part of the club” to participate, Vences said.

A drag-racing event will also return.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com