CASS COUNTY, Mo. – A small group of Kansas City natives are in the process of putting together “every pilot’s dream” – an aviation-based neighborhood for small-plane pilots.
Arrowhead Airpark is the brainchild of Craig Wilcox, an area native and president of veteran-owned Arrowhead Airpark, LLC. Wilcox is joined in the company by six Kansas City business owners and pilots whose goal is to make their aviation neighborhood a reality.
“Our goal is to create every pilot’s dream,” Wilcox told The Heartlander. “Not all of them act on it and not all of them can afford it. But in the back of their mind, all pilots want to get up in the morning, fix a cup of coffee and walk out into the hangar and admire their airplane.”
Wilcox is a U.S. Air Force veteran and discovered his love for flying during his 17 years of service. After speaking with some fellow pilots inconvenienced by having to travel to their hangars and deal with private airports, he thought of building an airpark in the KC area – a neighborhood centered around a small runway and built for pilots to be able to store their aircrafts at their residences.
But while there are hundreds of airparks around the country, and even a handful in the Kansas City area, Arrowhead Airpark will be different from the rest, Wilcox assures.
“This is kind of like a lakehouse, but instead of a lake and boats, we have a runway and airplanes,” he said, adding that airparks are “all over the country, and we have about five in the Kansas City area. But they’ve got only five or six houses, a short little grass runway, and no community involvement. We want to build a much larger facility and a community around it.”
Grass runways are the most popular option for airparks because of their low cost, but Wilcox maintains the cheap runways aren’t fit for inclement weather and often prevent pilots from taking off or landing due to getting muddy and/or soft.
Arrowhead Airpark, which will be completely funded through private capital and loans, plans to have a 3,000-foot paved and lighted runway, definitively putting itself in the higher class of aviation neighborhoods.
To add to their vision of an “upscale aviation subdivision,” Wilcox says they are also planning to build a large community clubhouse similar to that of a golf course and maintain an 11-acre common greenspace for residents to enjoy.
Members of Arrowhead Airpark LLC purchased a 159-acre plot of land for their project earlier this year, sitting three miles southwest of Belton, Missouri in a location that would not obstruct any surrounding airspaces.
While the land is surrounded by ranches and farmland on three sides, there are a few acreage rural houses nearby whose owners, Wilcox believes, have the wrong impression of what they’re trying to do or what Arrowhead Airpark will be.
“The neighbors think there’s going to be a high volume [of flights], they think the planes are going to be loud and they think it’s going to be 24/7. Airparks are not airports,” he promised. “It’s an aviation community of small airplanes and private pilots, so nothing commercial about it.
“I think on a typical day at this airpark once it’s fully developed, let’s say we have 80 hangars and 80 airplane owners. Probably 20 of those, at least, won’t have airplanes that fly. They’ll be in the middle of maintenance, rebuilding, fixing and so on. So between the roughly 60 that are left, probably only two or three will fly per day. So it’s not like a big airport where there’s buzz and activity all day. It’s going to be very casual and most guys will fly maybe once a week.”
Some of the neighbors also have expressed concerns about pilots in Arrowhead Airpark flying their planes recklessly and potentially endangering others, but Wilcox assures that is the opposite of what will be allowed.
“At this particular airpark,” he says, “if you want to fly like that, go somewhere else. You’re not going to do that at this airpark. We’re going to have very strict rules,” including guidelines on what time of day pilots are allowed to fly and the number of runway approaches allowed in a single flight. The rules will be enforced by residents of Arrowhead Airpark, similar to a Homeowners Association.
“Not only do we not want to irritate the neighbors around the airpark, we don’t want to irritate the residents in the airpark. Nobody likes loud noise. One of our biggest selling points is that we are going to do a lot of things to keep it as quiet as possible while still offering the benefit of flying your own airplane.”
The benefits brought by the airpark extend past just giving pilots a nice neighborhood to live and operate their planes from. Wilcox and his team expect plenty of tangible benefits as well to Cass County and the surrounding areas, including additional tax revenue, hosting community events, paying to install natural gas resources (surrounding residents currently have to use propane) and airpark residents wholeheartedly contributing to society.
“We are planning for 50 to 80 taxpayers, voters, productive members of the community who will do nothing but produce and benefit that community,” said the Air Force veteran. “It’s the kind of residents you want in your town or community, Cass County in particular. You want people that produce and benefit the community and don’t take from it.
“We don’t plan to be a snooty community where we lock the gates and don’t talk to you if you’re not a pilot. Heck no, we want to talk to everybody! We want to add to Cass County. We want to help the community grow and make it better. So, it’s not just more people paying taxes.”
The community events, Wilcox maintains, will be put together to benefit both the airpark residents and anyone in the Cass County area, not simply to appease the surrounding neighbors.
“Simple things like an open house in the summer where everybody can come in and we’ve got the airplanes on display, a bouncy house for the kids, we can go to the clubhouse for a luncheon,” he theorized. “I think if we do it correctly, people will love us. Maybe that’s me thinking too optimistically, but I think eventually the community will say, ‘Wow, those are some really cool people over there. We love them. They went to my kid’s school last week and gave a presentation on airplanes or the Air Force.’”
Although Wilcox and his team promise to be productive, welcoming members of the county, they need to prove that to the nearby rural neighbors if they want to proceed with their dream.
During conversations between Wilcox’s team and the Cass County Zoning Administration, the county suggested the neighborhood incorporate as its own town as the best way to proceed with such an obscure residential project. This means the group has to get the approval of two out of the three county commissioners, not to build the park but to be recognized as its own city, which will allow them to build the park.
The current worry, Wilcox says, is that if enough county residents get a negative impression and are presented with misinformation about the group’s plans, the residents can plead with the county to deny the incorporation and squash the airpark’s development.
The first legal step in applying for incorporation is getting a “taxable inhabitant” set up and living on the property, which Wilcox hopes will happen within the next month. Arrowhead Airpark’s taxable inhabitant will be the point person handling tours and communications with prospective buyers, as long as the incorporation gets approved.
Once the inhabitant is set up on the property and paying county taxes, the group will be able to apply for incorporation, which Wilcox expects to happen around March 2023. If the group gets approved for its own town, they hope to start marketing and selling lots by the beginning of summer.
Above all, the group stresses its belief that the airpark will not just benefit pilots in the area, but will be an asset for the county and the nearby neighbors to enjoy.
“We just want to be honest and transparent about what we’re trying to do. We’re just a couple of Missouri boys who love to fly and want to help the community, not some big New York company. “We will work with those people to make them happy and keep them happy, whatever we have to do. Like I said, in a few years I think people are going to really like us.”