Will Dawson has been heading up Dawson Aircraft, Inc. at the Clinton Airport for the past 27 years, but as a young man growing up in Bee Branch one might not have guessed the path that was laid out before him. Will grew up on a dairy farm and in the mid 80’s and at that time it was not uncommon see dairy farms throughout the rural landscape of Arkansas with approximately 153 active dairy operations at that time in Van Buren County. As Will grew to become a young adult his father could see the trend of small dairy operations becoming obsolete in the marketplace so he encouraged his son to explore different career opportunities.
Dawson took his first step towards his aviation career when he enrolled at the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa. Upon completion of his degree Will began his aviation career as a mechanic at Little Rock Air Center on the Little Rock airport. It was there he would make key relationships with coworkers Wade Wherry and Alex Kienlen that have lasted 30 plus years and added the experience needed for his business to thrive, Wherry now his shop forman and Kienlen the business’s aircraft inspector. After a short time at Little Rock Air Center Dawson branched off and started his own operation in 1990 where he began performing maintenance and repairs on aircraft at the Clinton Airport, brining Wherry on board shortly thereafter. He would grow his business for the next 13 years adding insurance retrieval and storage to complement his growing aircraft repair business. In 2003 he acquired Arkansas Airframe from Jim Collom and with that acquisition added aircraft salvage and parts sales to create a business model that has remained successful.
Dawson and Wherry are aeronautic mechanics by trade and three years into their new business venture came to the conclusion that if they were going to repair aircraft it would be beneficial to be able to fly them as well. So in 1993 they acquired the services of local aviator Danny Pistole as an instructor and began training on a Cessna 172 that they had rebuilt themselves. Pistole was old school when it came to training and learning how to fly and as Will recalls they had all gone together and purchased a GPS, a new technology at the time, to assist in their navigation. At the time a GPS was pricey piece of equipment. Pistole was said to have been interested in the new luxury at first but the new found fondness died quickly and it was back to the traditional manual gages and magnetic compasses.
Dawson Aircraft currently has nine employees with approximately 95 percent of its income being new dollars into city and county economy. They offer services in aircraft repair and inspections, insurance repair and storage, airplane retrieval, aircraft salvage, parts sales, and can assist in the brokerage of local planes. Mr. Dawson currently sits on the Arkansas State Aeronautics Board has a budget of $15 million to help grow, maintain, and upgrade 92 airports, and aviation, across the state. Dawson’s services aircraft throughout the region and runs a salvage business only found in cities over a thousand times Clinton’s size. Dawson Aircraft is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and you can reach them at 501-745-5300.
[Kienlen is also the editor of The Van Buren County Democrat]