Bob Bement standing next to his 1959 Cessna 182. Bement bought the plane in 1992, repaired it for three years and has been flying it ever since. (The Enterprise/Isabella Garcia)
VALE – Bob Bement caught the flying bug in 1960 on a flight to Jackpot, Nevada.
Once the plane was up in the air, Paul — a man Bement worked for on the weekends — handed over the controls.
That was the first time Bement had ever been in a plane.
Between marriage and kids and life, it took Bement until 1980 to get his pilot’s license. Most dates he can rattle off without hesitation, but the year he started as the Vale airport manager escapes him, possibly because the pilot had a singular focus at the time.
“I wanted my airplane in the hangar,” he said with a laugh.
Some 30 years ago, the airport board voted that if Bement served as the airport manager, he could store his plane in the hangar. While storing an airplane for free is a steal, it’s clear that the Miller Memorial Airpark benefited more from Bement’s work as manager than from three decades of storage fees.
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Bement, 84, is retiring from the position this year, but the board told him he can keep his plane, a 1959 Cessna 182, in the hangar as long as he’s still flying.
While the Vale airport may just be a small field with an airstrip, it still takes quite a bit of managing.
“It gets more use than you think,” Bement said, noting the number of ranchers who call in veterinarians, planes that fly out to take care of BLM land and people who ferry materials with their planes.
All that traffic inspired Bement to get a courtesy car for pilots who fly in, as well as lobby the state for funds to better the airpark. Due to Bement’s well-reasoned pitch to the state in the early 2000s, the airport was awarded $400,000 to pave majority of the airstrip, allowing the airpark to handle heavier planes.
Beyond improving the airport, Bement has used flying as a way to better the community. When a Vale local was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Bement offered plane rides out to Bully Creek at $20 a seat.
He travelled out and back to the creek 26 times that day and, with the help of other local businesses, provided the family with a sizable check to offset their medical bills.
“I was kind of proud of that fact,” Bement said.
Raising funds through flying worked so well that he did it again to support the Vale seniors, this time raising $6,000 for the construction of the Vale Senior Center.
Bement plans to fly as long as his health will let him. Knowing when to stop is important to him, he won’t let stubbornness make him foil his perfect flying record, but it’s unlikely that time is anywhere in the near future.
“I got the bug so late in life that it hasn’t gone away,” Bement said.
Have a news tip? Reporter Isabella Garcia: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.
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