background image
Page 73
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 3
ey by the jump. At $3 a pop, the more jumps
the more cash flowing, so Clark got an idea.
If he purchased a larger airplane he could
haul twice the jumpers, maybe three times as
many as the old Cessna. If he could maintain
the same number of takeoffs per weekend,
and assuming demand didn't diminish, he'd
increase his revenue considerably.
To test his new strategy, in May of the fol-
lowing year Clark, a fellow pilot and skydiv-
er, and a hell of a parachute rigger, Charles
Waters, formed a partnership and bought a
1954 Beechcraft Model 18. Nicknamed the
Twin Beech, the bulky aircraft was a well-
known hauler and had an animated history of
diverse uses from airborne mail pick up and
ambulance service to drug smuggling and
gun running and aerial firefighting, as well
as the routine activity of skydiving. The Twin
Beech sported two big Pratt & Whitneys--a
pair of nine-cylinder air-cooled radial aircraft
engines with 400 horses each and two fuel
pumps and two carburetors and two 78-gallon
fuel tanks and, well, two of everything that
ate up fuel as fast as Clark could pour it down
the tank. Maintenance on November-six-
four-Alfa was costly--two engines, twice the
downtime, and somehow four and five times
as many things likely to break or rot or rat-
tle loose on takeoffs and landings. The Twin
Beech was considered a light utility transport,
but next to the Cessna 182 it was an elephant,
and this elephant needed more runway than
Bird's Nest had to offer. He didn't really have
a choice. In June 1977, Clark moved the oper-
ation to Georgetown Municipal Airport twen-
ty-five miles north and he stuck it out there
for three long years, until he and Charles re-
alized that buying the bulky Model 18 with
its twin guzzlers and dippy twin tail fins was
one of the dumbest business decisions they'd
ever made. Clark sold the old heap (at a prof-
it, rendering his dumb business decision not
so dumb after all), bought himself a second
Cessna 182, and lugged the entire operation
back to Bird's Nest (about the time Jerry
Kahlbau was negotiating to buy the airport
from his partners), where shortly thereafter
the Center started making money.
Canopy Formations
The Austin Parachute Center prospered
and it drew people like Henry Stone. He was
a twenty-one-year-old cabinetmaker who took
to skydiving like a duck to water, a kid who
would make over 1,500 jumps in the next
three years (probably more but Henry didn't
much care for logbooks). Here was a man
who would, as part of a four-man team, win
the United States Parachute Association's Na-
tional Skydiving Championship in 1983 for an
entirely new category, four-way canopy for-
mation. Henry found his calling and passion
for those precious few years in his twenties.
Skydiving had a special draw for Henry. It
was an activity against reason, instinct, and
common sense, a dangerous hobby that de-
fied sanity. Best of all, skydiving was an activ-
ity without a lot of discourse or preparation.
You jumped or you didn't; you learned freef-
all maneuvers, to hover and somersault and
swoop and dock, or you didn't; you took to