The VPZ Aviation Pavilion

The VPZ Aviation Pavilion and how it evolved

Article by Ed Hanson, Ed. by Ken Litko

For decades EAA Chapter 104 hosted guests for pancake breakfasts, the Oshkosh AirVenture Food Booth, and visiting aircraft like the EAA Ford Tri-Motor and B-17, and the Collings Foundation “Wings of Freedom” tour under tents. Setting up the tents and tearing them down when tired, after working the events, was always an unwelcome necessary chore. Part of event planning was to line up help from the Porter County Pilots Association and any other willing person available.

Often during events we would experience unkind winds that would wreak havoc on our fine tents resulting in costly repairs and emergency rebuilding. It was just a matter of time before an airborne tent part impacted a nearby aircraft.

Our Chapter didn’t have a large treasury but got by. A few things happened that allowed our finances to increase a bit. Discussion with the airport director about ditching the problematic tents and constructing a new permanent “Aviation Pavilion” for the airport was well received. I volunteered to research the feasibility of the project. 

We brainstormed several ideas to raise more funds for construction of the pavilion as we knew it would be quite an undertaking but a worthwhile one. I found information that “Indiana Dunes Tourism” had a grant program which offered a category for which our proposed project might qualify. I asked the chapter for permission to apply for the grant and was encouraged to proceed. Grant guidelines for our category were:

Product Development: this grant supports development of new products or the enhancement of existing products within Porter County or sites located on the Beaches and Beyond Outdoor Adventure Trail* that will attract visitation from outside of Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties, complement our destination, and be supported by local residents. Examples of product development projects include: constructing a birding tower, enhancing or developing a trail for visitor engagement, assisting with a feasibility study to develop a new attraction, etc.

Writing the grant request took effort but paid off. We were awarded a sizeable grant for the pavilion that allowed us to finalize construction details with the airport and start building. The airport pitched right in and offered to install a new gate in the fence line to open the pavilion to the flight line.

The Aviation Pavilion has proven to be a great asset to the Chapter for events, the airport for a fine place to host the crowds that turn out for touring aircraft, and for the community as a place to go and watch airplanes and enjoy a picnic. We host our library outreach programs at the pavilion.

After test flying the pavilion for a few years we determined we could make the facility better with a small extension for a lock up area, wheelchair access, crowd control, a message center, and utility improvements. We firmed up our ideas and presented them to the airport which approved them as long as the Chapter covered the costs. We understood that part all along and prepared to make plans to move forward. One of the plans was for me to again request a grant from Indiana Dunes Tourism for a portion of the cost. We were approved for another grant and the new construction was completed in 2019.

We could not have accomplished this project without the financial assistance provided by Indiana Dunes Tourism. EAA Chapter 104 greatly thanks them for their support and confidence in the Chapter.