People and Planes of Creve Coeur
In the department of flood recovery, Noah and his ark got nuthin' on the folks at this little airport-except that many of the aircraft they saved are ones, not twos, of a kind.
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, July 2005
(Page 2 of 6)
Perhaps his greatest work of art is in the hangar next door: a 1952 Rawdon T-1, which he and his brother Phil, today a corporate pilot, helped their dad, Jack, restore in the late 1970s. The Rawdon has won seven awards, including Reserve Grand Champion in the Classic category at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin fly-in three years running. The late Jack Chastain, who worked for Rawdon Brothers Aircraft Company in Wichita, Kansas, had demonstrated a similar tandem-seat trainer to potential customers, including the governments of Colombia and Ecuador in 1952. On that trip, his wife May Belle occupied the Rawdon's back seat. (Colombia bought three.)
As Chastain tells the story of the Rawdon, I'm watching him work on yet another Waco for Cournoyer, this one, Chastain says, for sale, "though John may have seller's remorse. He usually does. That's why we painted it yellow." Cournoyer isn't fond of yellow airplanes, explains Chastain, so it's easier for him to let them go; Stix loves yellow.
Cournoyer is taciturn, Stix is talkative. Cournoyer loves Wacos, Stix goes for Stearmans. Both are married to women named Connie. Connie Stix managed the airport for years and is there every Sunday. She helped Stix, Cournoyer, and John Mullen transform a 34-acre airport into a 285-acre one with a 4,500-foot concrete runway and a 3,120-foot grass strip, which the owners maintain because the airplanes equipped with tail skids can't operate on pavement and because some pilots think it's fun to land on grass. They've built about 100 hangars.
Stix says he and his partners originally decided to sell rather than rent the hangars because they needed the income to make payments on the $540,000 note they took on the airport. It turned out to have been a providential decision.
The 1993 Mississippi River flood, which claimed 50 lives and caused $15 billion in damages nationwide, left the airport under 20 feet of water. "We flew over a few times," says Stix, "and we couldn't see any buildings. We thought they had washed away, but they were just under water."
To the people of Creve Coeur, time is marked "before the flood" and "after the flood." Everybody has photographs. Everybody remembers the call from the airport owners as the river was rising: "Whoever can move an airplane, move an airplane." Out of 200 aircraft, 12 were lost.
Stix's partner, John Mullen, who had worked as a physicist at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis and was wise in the ways of government contracts, had managed to have the airport designated a reliever for Lambert-St. Louis International. The designation won them federal financial aid for clean-up and repairs.
When the waters receded, eight feet of Missouri river bottom was left behind. "If the hangars had only been rental units," says Stix, "the tenants would have most likely found other places to put their aircraft." As owners, the pilots stayed, cleaning and salvaging what they could.