Steve Lyddon stands next to the jet he and his brother, Bill, own. Steve said this particular airplane is probably his favorite one to fly. “Bill and I wind up doing all of the jet flying, which is fine,” Steve said. “I really like it, it is the biggest and fanciest airplane we have, and that is what you like to fly.” Daily Leader photo/Jessica Crawford
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
Steve and Bill Lyddon were once just two Colorado boys with flying in their blood. As they grew, they educated themselves in the ways of flying as well as the mechanic aspect of airplanes. Little did they realize 20 years later they would end up in Southwest Kansas with a successful business under their belts – a business they love and a legacy they can pass down to future generations of Lyddons.
Lyddon Aero Center came to be on Oct. 1, 1990. However, it took the Lyddon brothers years and years of hard work before setting up shop in Liberal. Their education began when their father started a similar business in LaJunta, Colo. in 1965.
“My father was in the same business, he owned what is called an FBO (Fixed Base of Operations) airplane charter service and flight school, mechanic shop and stuff in LaJunta,” Steve said. “He started that in 1965 in LaJunta and we grew up around it. We moved to LaJunta when I was 11 and my brother, Bill, was 10.
“I kind of always felt like this is what I always wanted to do as I was growing up,” Steve continued. “After high school, I went off to mechanic school and got my airplane mechanic license. My brother went to college for a couple years and got his flight instructor’s certificate.
Steve and Bill Lyddon did not wait around to gain the experience they needed to be where they are today. As teenagers, they learned quickly how to do what they loved.
“We both learned to fly at an early age,” Steve said. “I soloed for the first time on my 16th birthday, 16 is the legal age to do that. So the first day I could do it, I soloed. I got my private pilot’s license when I was 17 and commercial license when I was 18. Bill did the same thing as early as he could.
“After I got out of mechanic school, I got my commercial license in LaJunta from my dad’s operation,” he continued. “I started flying charter, which is kind of what we still do, in 1974. I was a mechanic and a pilot for my dad for about six months. Then we decided to buy another operation, we bought the FBO in Lamar, Colo. I moved there and in the meantime, my brother started instructing in LaJunta for my dad.
“My dad and I were partners on the FBO in Lamar,” he explained. “So, about six months after that my brother moved to Lamar and the instructor we had in Lamar moved back to LaJunta. We just kind of swapped, that was in 1975. We have been working together ever since. He did the instruction and was basically the full-time pilot. I was the mechanic and flew kind of extra back then. We just went along that way and after we were in Lamar for two years, my dad sold the operation in LaJunta and moved to Lamar, too. We stayed there for another 14 years after that. We were in Lamar for a total of 16 years – until Oct. of 1990.”
With the help and generosity of a Liberal man, the Lyddon brothers moved on to their next business venture – a venture that is still growing today.
“We had casually come to know Art Downs, he is the man that owned what was then called Liberal Aircraft,” Steve said. “He was getting older and he was wanting to wind down a little bit. And it was right in the midst of that terrible oil recession in the mid-80s. Their charter business had really gone down, but he wasn’t pushing it. He just wanted to get out. So, we were ready to move on so it just worked out. We got together with Art and he helped us. We couldn’t have financed it, he financed it for us – the big part of it, buying the buildings and stuff.
“We had enough equity and we took some of the airplanes that we had built up during our years in Lamar,” he continued. “When we left Lamar, my dad owned a third, my brother owned a third and I owned a third. So we took our two thirds of the operation out in equity as airplanes. So, we came here with a Cessna 421, a Piper Seneca, which are both piston twins, and a Cessna P210 and a 172 Cessna. So, we had a trainer, a single engine charter airplane and two twin-engine charter airplanes. That worked out just about right for the equity split. That was all we had, that was all the money in the world we had.
“Art helped us set up a line of credit with what is now the Sunflower Bank to get operating,” he added. “We had to hit the ground running, we needed to make a profit in the first month or we were going to go broke.”
The Lyddon brothers seemed to work in harmony. Both of them preferred different aspects of the business, so the two worked well together.
“Basically I was doing most of the flying by then. Bill and I were both flying,” Steve said. “Bill has always kind of kept track of the office and then I did the shop records and kind of ran the shop. We both flew, but it kind of came around to where I did more of the flying over the years. I like it. He would just as soon be here and I would just as soon not. So it works out.”
After 20 years of hard work, Lyddon Aero Center has grown into something the brothers are very proud of.
“We had four airplanes when we moved here and now we own 15 airplanes and one helicopter,” Steve said. “We still operate with basically seven airplanes. We have a jet now and two turbo-prop airplanes, three piston twins and a single-engine charter airplane and the same 172 we had when we moved here as our trainer and rental airplane – we bought that new in 1979.
“That is where we are today,” he continued. “I have been flying for 40 years now and have 29,010 hours, Bill doesn’t keep close track of his time, but he is probably some where around 15,000 hours. We have four other pilots full-time. We have a pretty good group of pilots now.”
The move to Liberal 20 years ago from Lamar, Steve said, was bittersweet. But, he added, it all worked out in the long run.
“It’s been great, I love it here,” he said. “It was a hard move especially on my daughter. She was a freshman in high school when we moved here and that is just a bad time to move. She spent her whole life in the small town of Lamar. She had the hardest transition. My other daughter is two years younger, she seemed to get along OK. My son was three years younger than her and he was fine, it didn’t bother him. But, they have all grown up, they have jobs, two of them are married – yeah, they have done OK.
“We like it here,” he explained. “My wife took a job at the college three months after we moved here. She has worked there ever since – for nearly 20 years now. She runs the bookstore. She loves it. She has found her home and she will stay there until she retires.”
As for the retirement of Bill and Steve – it’s not likely. However, the brothers may one day hand the business on down to the next generation of Lyddons.
“Bill’s son Nathan works for us now,” Steve said. “He would be the third generation pilot. He was an Army helicopter pilot. We taught him to fly here. He charted for us and was working his way up on the charter end and then got the urge to go fly for the Army. He joined the Army about eight years ago, he was gone for seven years. He worked for us before that, at least part-time, ever since he was a kid. He worked out of high school and then went to college. He got out of the Army and came back to work for us about a year ago. He has worked his way up.”
To celebrate the Lyddon’s 20th anniversary in Liberal, the brothers were considering a small celebration at the airport for employees as well as the community. Plans changed just a bit when the AirFair was planned.
“Since we had a 20-year anniversary coming up, we thought we should have a little celebration,” Steve said. “So we originally thought we might have an airport day where we would just have some activities at the airport and maybe have a little party to celebrate our 20th anniversary.
“It kind of morphed into the full-blown air show,” he said with a laugh. “It just happened. I don’t know how it happened, it just did.”
Steve and Bill Lyddon love what they do and have come to call Liberal home. Aside from flying from time to time, the Lyddon brothers have set down roots right here in Southwest Kansas.