New airport manager has big dreams – and plans – for the local airfield

New Vale Airport Manager Levi GIlman wants to expand the services at the local airfield. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

VALE – Levi Gilman has big plans for Miller Memorial Airpark in Vale.

Gilman, who stepped into the unpaid manager job in April, said he wants to see the small airstrip become a bustling hub of small planes with hangars and powered by a fuel station.

His biggest challenge?

“Finances by far,” said Gilman.

Gilman, 29, is a helicopter pilot who grew up in Kuna, Idaho, but moved to the Vale area to get away from the hustle of a metro area.

Gilman said he believes the Vale airport has potential.

“It has a good chance to grow and give pilots a good place to go. Everybody would rather go to Vale than other places we fly,” said Gilman.

Gilman said he wanted to be a pilot “ever since I was a kid.”

“I was always fascinated with the Hueys from the Vietnam era,” said Gilman.

The Bell UH-1 Iroquois – or Huey – is a renowned military helicopter that proved to be the mainstay of the American military during the Vietnam War. Gilman commercially flies a Robinson R44, a four-seat light helicopter, out of the Vale airport. His fulltime job is in Boise building boulder retaining walls.

Gilman said he is hired with his helicopter for cattle roundups, lifting elk hunters into the back country or checking fence lines.

Gilman said eventually he wants to transform his helicopter work into full-time employment.

Gilman said key needs at the Vale airport are a fuel station and hangars. There is one hangar at the airport now – where two planes are stored – but it is in need of repair or to be torn down, said Gilman.

Gilman said he hopes to be able to establish a station at the airport that will consist of an above-ground tank of aviation fuel, a credit card machine, and a fuel pump – “just like you’d see in a gas station.”

If pilots know they can get fuel at the Vale airport they will be more likely to touch down on the 3,500-foot asphalt runway or use the grass airstrip, he said.

That would draw back-country pilots, he said.

“Hundreds of them fly around Boise and Ontario,” he said.

Planes could conceivably gas up at Vale and then fly 15 minutes to Hells Canyon or south across the desert, he said.

“There are so many mountains and scenic things to see around here,” said Gilman.

Pilots still fly into the airport – on scenic trips or to take campers and hunters into the back country – but they must fuel up somewhere else, cutting into their overall fly time.

Gilman said he wants to get the fuel system in place within “the next few months.”

“I will start out small with the fuel station. It will cost about $40,000,” he said.

He said he is working to acquire a lease from the city for land for the fuel station.

Gilman said he is also pursuing grant funds.

Gilman, who did a four-year stint in the U.S. Army, said he believes the future is bright for the airport.

“I think once we get it fixed up it will be worth stopping. And Vale is a pretty cool small town and that’s a big attraction,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].


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