AUGUSTA — When William L. Perry came back from World War II fresh out of the Army Air Corps in 1946, he was ready to make his mark in Augusta.

“He went to Walter Sanborn at First National Granite Bank and asked for a loan to buy two planes,” said Perry’s son, William H. Perry. The story goes that Sanborn figured that Perry was likely to get himself killed, but he approved the loan anyway.

As it happens, the elder Perry lived nearly five decades more. In that time, he built Maine Instrument Flight from a business that trained pilots itching to use their GI benefits and offered occasional chartered flights at the Augusta State Airport into a fixed-base operator with new hangars, a growing fleet of charter and training planes, a Beechcraft dealership and a continuing commitment to train pilots.

Now under the ownership of the younger Perry and his sister Shirley Perry Whitney, the company, with its fleet of 19 planes, 29 full- and part-time employees and partnership with the University of Maine at Augusta, will celebrate its 70th anniversary and the completion of its newest, state-of-the-art hangar on Saturday.

“This is a progressive step forward,” Perry said earlier this week. The new hangar was built to house corporate jets that use the Augusta airport. It can accommodate up to four mid-sized jets at a time. The addition will allow Maine Instrument Flight to draw business to the facility that it doesn’t have now. In fact, Perry said, a spot in that hangar already has been reserved by a customer whose corporate jet will be housed there when he is ferried to his vacation home up north by float plane during the summer.

Standing in the hangar, Perry pointed out the building’s features: powder-coated steel beams, insulated walls, the 75-foot-by-20-foot bi-fold door that allows access for jets into the facility, a crew restroom and the location of a possible crew lounge in the future.

The project was completed with the help of a tax break from the Augusta City Council. In 2015, the council approved a tax increment financing deal that would return half of the taxes the project is expected to generate to Maine Instrument Flight through 2033. The arrangement is not expected to cost the city any revenue, and it is expected to boost plane traffic to Augusta.

The company also recently finished renovating an existing hangar.

As important as the construction is, Perry said, the company’s core business — training pilots — remains strong. The partnership with UMA was approved by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees in 2013to help meet the demand for trained pilots. The program offers a Bachelor of Science degree in aviation.

“In the commercial aviation business, you don’t want warm bodies. To be a pilot, you have to be good. We’re fussy who we train,” he said.

Maine Instrument Flight is one of the oldest civilian flight schools in the country. It continues to draw prospective pilots to Augusta to the only fully approved Part 141 flight school in Maine and one of the few schools in New England.

“We’re also certified by the VA for flight instruction for veterans,” he said.

Ross Cunningham, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that as part of the business community, Maine Instrument Flight has grown into a valuable asset.

“Their current partnership with UMA’s flight program has been, and their own training programs have been, instrumental in contributing in growing our economy and bringing young professionals to our region,” he said.

Maine Instrument Flight, at 215 Winthrop St., will hold a private ribbon-cutting in the morning on Saturday; but as part of the Whatever Family Festival, it will offer tours of the facility and $15 plane rides from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. along with aircraft displays, facility tours and live entertainment.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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