Wichita, KS—June 28, 2006—Yingling Aviation, which is marking its 60th anniversary in 2006, was the first fixed base operation to be named a dealer by Cessna Aircraft Company in 1946. The company’s long association with Cessna is a major factor in its impressive history, but its six decades on the Wichita aviation scene have also been filled with lots of other interesting—and sometimes surprising—milestones and facts, as well. A number of the firm’s long-term employees recently shared some of their memories, going back to Yingling’s early days at what is now Wichita’s Mid-continent Airport.
Yingling Aircraft was originally founded early in 1946 by Vic Yingling, Jr., an Army Air Corps captain, returning from World War II. The son of a prominent car dealer in Wichita, the younger Yingling recognized the potential for general aviation in Wichita as military contracts at Beech and Cessna gave way to more post-war commercial pursuits. He set up shop in the terminal building at Wichita Municipal Airport and, according to the morning Wichita Eagle, took delivery of a Cessna 140 single engine demonstrator in March of that year from Cessna CEO Dwane Wallace.
“Mr. Yingling gave us jobs that we could count on,” noted Red Phillips, who joined the company in September of 1957 and has worked in the firm’s propeller shop for nearly 50 years. “He was a flying buff and he started out selling Cessna 120s and 140s. He sold a lot right away—many of them to foreign buyers who would come to Wichita to accept delivery of their airplanes. They would come to Yingling to pick them up. They would bring big wads of cash…and their own bodyguards with them. Before they left, they would buy lots of items. Then they’d take the airplane, taxi it away from the dealership and stuff their purchases into every available free spot in the airplane. They would be so stuffed with things they’d bought that they couldn’t get the doors closed. Once, some South American customers loaded a Cessna 310 so full that it was sitting on its tail until they powered it up and could get the tail off the ground,” he recalled.
Once the operation had moved to its present location at Wichita’s new Mid-continent Airport, the Yingling car dealership influence became obvious. “We had a big showroom in the front of the building and people would come in and look at the airplanes,” remembers Bruce Hogan and Jim Uttinger, both of whom came to Yingling in the mid- ‘60s.
It was in the early ‘60s, too, that Yingling nearly became the principle sales representative for the revolutionary new Lear Jet. “Bill Lear chose Wichita to build his jets and he had a lot of influential and famous friends who wanted one, but he really didn’t want to be bothered with all of the paperwork and bureaucracy that goes with selling airplanes, so he made a deal with Mr. Yingling. We were going to be Yingling Sales and Service and become the official sales department for Lear Jets—they even went so far as to have stationery and envelopes printed with ‘Yingling Learjet Inc.’ on them. The deal fell through because Mr. Lear just wanted to build the airplanes and then sell them to us. We would have to set the prices and take all the responsibilities. That wasn’t acceptable, but we came pretty close to becoming a competitor of the Citation, even before it was introduced,” Uttinger added.
During its history, Yingling has served a variety of famous customers, too. Actors Kurt Russell, who owned a Conquest, Tom Selleck, a Cessna 210 owner, and Patrick Swayze have stopped in for fuel. Tom Cruise and Kirsty Alley have made appearances, as have country singers Reba McIntyre and Martina McBride. Other noteworthy musicians have also stopped at Yingling, representing virtually every genre from rap (Kid Rock) to rhapsody (Wayne Newton). Actor Mickey Rooney and weatherman Willard Scott visited Yingling and the singing group Aerosmith actually partied in the customer lounge with free popcorn while waiting for their airplane to be serviced.
Even Willard Scott couldn’t help when the fickle Kansas weather—and wind would decide to target Yingling’s facilities, however. “We were always looking for innovative ways to deal with the challenges posed by the weather,” Hogan and Uttinger pointed out. “In the 1980s, we had canvas roller doors in Hangar bays 1 and 2 and they would get cold and wouldn’t seal properly or they would rip in the wind and have to be patched. In Hangar Bay 3, we addressed that problem by having steam heat in the floor and it would get so hot you could work in that hangar with the door open in the winter. That lasted for about 10 years until we remodeled,” they noted.
Yingling Aviation has had its share of memorable events over the years, and there have been times that they would just as soon forget. Among the latter was the time the Paint Shop located in Yingling’s Hangar Bay 4 was fitted with a new curtain to shield the rest of the facility during paint spraying operations. The hangar was vented so that the overspray was vented to the outdoors. Unfortunately, prevailing wind conditions caused it to settle in the parking lot, all over a number of cars. “A couple of us ended up going down to Yingling Chevrolet and buying a bunch of polish to use on the affected cars,” Uttinger said.
Yingling has always been customer service oriented, too. On one occasion, Bruce Hogan, a 40+ year aircraft mechanic and shop foreman, had to make a trip to Jamaica on New Year’s Day in order to deliver an ignition vibrator to a customer airplane grounded there. He had arranged to fly back with the owners on their airplane, so he bought only a one-way ticket. When he arrived, however, Jamaican authorities almost didn’t let him deplane from the airliner on which he had arrived because he didn’t have a return ticket. “I almost ended up making that long trip to Jamaica just to turn around and come home. The customers would have been stranded, too, because they weren’t going to get another ignition vibrator down there any time soon,” Hogan explained.
For the most part, the working relationships at Yingling have been more like those of family members than employers and employees. “We’ve had our share of hard times, and we even had a couple of times when organizers tried to get us to create a union, but we never did. During the oil shortages in the early ‘70s, we knew Mr. Yingling was facing some financial challenges. We voted not to take raises. When things got better, he gave us a raise halfway through the year. And, we had good relationships with the factory, too, because we’re so close in proximity. We had people in our Parts department that had worked for Cessna and knew folks there and it almost seemed like we were the training academy for Cessna, at times. We had a lot of mechanics and even pilots who trained here and then went to the factory,” Hogan pointed out.
Yingling’s veteran staff members also remember fondly when Cessna created an incentive program to stimulate Conquest sales. Most of the Conquest dealers considered the goals unreachable, but Yingling not only surpassed their targets, they did it twice. “Everyone and their spouses got to go to Las Vegas and we were given a couple of hundred dollars in spending money, too,” Marilyn Willaby remembered. “We flew to Vegas on three different airline flights, but they were delayed in Denver by a blizzard. Once we arrived, we got three days and two nights at the Flamingo Hilton resort. One employee, Steve McNew, even got married while he was out there.”
Even incentive programs and creativity couldn’t stimulate sales enough to keep the 1980s from being a very challenging decade, however. In 1982, Jerry Vanier, a Salina businessman, purchased the operation. The growth and expansion of previous eras stalled as the entire general aviation industry endured a protracted period of hardship brought on by the onslaught of product liability litigations. Cessna quit producing its venerable line of single engine airplanes altogether and Conquest sales virtually dried up, as well. The company weathered the downturn for nearly a decade until an improving economy and the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 stimulated business.
On January 1, 2000, Lynn Nichols purchased Yingling Aviation. In 2001 and 2002 he invested more than $1.7 million in renovating the facilities, adding a new Completions hangar in 2005, as well. Today, Yingling is a full-service fixed base operation providing 24 hour line service. It has maintained an affiliation with Cessna Aircraft Company throughout its 60 year history and is the largest Cessna parts supplier in the world. By leveraging its proximity to the factory, Yingling offers fast worldwide delivery and competitive pricing, with A.O.G. orders received before 11:30 AM shipped the same day. Yingling’s FAA/JAA-certified aircraft maintenance department performs annuals, repairs, servicing and pre-purchase evaluation for all aircraft, specializing in turbine and twin inspections.
A Cessna Pilot Center with a full fleet of aircraft and state of the art computer-based instruction for primary, instrument and advance ratings, Yingling has rental aircraft available to qualified pilots and offers professional sales representation for buyers and sellers of pre-owned aircraft. Yingling is an authorized partner for most major brands of avionics, offering instrument and autopilot upgrades, installations, repairs and panel reconfigurations.
Cessna has also selected Yingling to design and build executive-style Oasis interiors for its line of Caravan single-engine turboprops. The company has recently added international aircraft shipping to its impressive list of services.
With more than 40 employees dedicated to serving customers, a spacious pilot’s lounge, and an outstanding selection of equipment, specialty items, and gifts at its Aviator’s Attic, Yingling can provide exceptional hospitality and service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Yingling Aviation can be reached by calling (316) 943-3246 or on the web at www.yinglingaviation.com.