Smith Field Gets Lift From Sweetwater Founder

By Scott Sarvay
By Jeff Neumeyer

August 18, 2011 Updated Aug 18, 2011 at 6:39 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A Fort Wayne entrepreneur steps up to take over a Smith Field business that lost its leader in a fatal plane crash.

The transaction figures to help stabilize the small airport's future.

Chuck Surack/Fort Wayne Businessman: " Generally, aviation is not very profitable. In fact, when the estate first called me, I said, thanks, but no thanks."

But Sweetwater Sound CEO Chuck Surack eventually did an “about face”, deciding to buy the Smith Field Flight School, filling a big void.

Surack foresees big things for the airfield.

Surack: " It would be awful to see it go away today. It's a great resource for the community, a great reliever airport to the Fort Wayne airport, and there's actually some plans in the future to potentially expand the airport here."

The outlook was not good last decade when plans surfaced to close Smith Field.

Dr. Stephen Hatch took a lead role in the fight to save the facility.

He bought the flight school to support the cause.

After the terrible plane crash in June that killed Hatch, his wife, and critically injured his son Austin, anxieties returned about Smith Field.

Surack, who flies helicopters not planes, made the purchase from the Hatch estate, intending to keep the operation out of turbulence.

Jeff Neumeyer: " The flight school and rental of airplanes, just a couple of facets of the business at Smith Field. But those connected with the airport say they wouldn't want to see those functions go away."

The Airport Authority continues to oversee leasing of space in facility hangars, and the sale of fuel.

But the flight school provides a mechanic, bi-annual flight reviews for pilots based at Smith Field, and other services.

Dan Leonard/Experimental Aircraft Assn.: " Periodically, when pilots are planning trips, they do consult with the instructors, so, could we do without it, yes. But did we want to, no."

Sweet Aviation launched this week, protecting 10 jobs, and a tradition that will carry on, despite a terrible loss.

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