We had a chance to sit down with Bob Stevens on a cool, snowy September morning. We intended to talk with him about being a longtime tenant at the airport, but we ended up chatting with him for well over an hour on a wide range of topics. Bob had some great stories, lessons, and memories to share with us.
Bob grew up in Pennsylvania and later attended the University of Colorado, Boulder. While in college, he skied a lot with his college buddies. In 1953, when Bob and his buddies had the chance to visit Sun Valley for a ‘learn to ski’ week, they didn’t hesitate. They flew from Denver to Twin Falls, Idaho, and just like many others over the years, they were bussed from Twin to Sun Valley. “It was a really special and primitive time,” Bob said of his first visit to the Wood River Valley. “If you left a place in downtown Ketchum and were heading back to Sun Valley, you might encounter one car every 20 minutes to hitchhike. There was only one house on Warm Springs at the time, no chairlifts, and a lot of great tree skiing.” Bob told us that if you wanted to ski Warm Springs, you had to ride the single chair up from River Run, hit the trees down Warm Springs, and then catch a bus to take you back to the single chair on River Run. The entire weeklong adventure cost them only $78—how wild is that?
After college in 1956, Bob started flying when Boulder was just a one-aircraft dirt strip. He received his private pilot’s license in 1957, and in June of that year he entered the naval aviation program in Pensacola, Florida. While in the Navy, Bob flew both active duty and reserve for eight years.
After his time in the Navy, Bob moved to Denver and briefly flew for Frontier Airlines. In 1977, he moved to Sun Valley and has been around here ever since. Over the years, Bob has had the opportunity to fly many kinds of airplanes. He flew during the Cold War and worked as a flight instructor after that. “Military flying was fun, did a lot of rockets and bombs … against training targets,” Bob said. “Loved instruction times, it was advanced flying.”
Bob’s favorite airplanes to fly include:
- WV2 Super-G Constellation (4-engine)
- Grumman S2-F Tracker (instruction and carrier)
- North American T-28 Trojan (instruction)
Bob has flown commercial planes like the DC-3 and the DC-4, two of the first commercial airliners. He has also flown the Learjet 24 and said it was “the hot rod of aviation of the time … that was really fun.”
In addition to his Navy flying time and commercial flying, Bob has made time for numerous adventures. He and his wife have twice traveled to the Arctic Circle in a floatplane, in 1971 and 1973. On both trips, Bob and his wife stayed for about three months and lived out the plane, keeping careful notes on where to get gas, how to navigate the area, and various other information. Without modern-day navigational aids or communication tools at his disposal, Bob had to refer to a chart on his lap to navigate using what he calls “basic flying.” During both Arctic visits, Bob and his wife got to experience something many of us will never see—the bush that was really the bush. “That era is pretty well gone now,” said Bob.
Today Bob flies a Piper Super Cub 160 and still flies about three times per week, year-round, as weather permits. In total, he’s owned 14 different aircraft.
Since Bob has been a part of the airport longer than any of us, we asked him about some of the biggest changes he’s seen. First, he said that getting an air traffic control tower was a huge step for Sun Valley. He also noted the restricted airport access—when he first began flying here, there wasn’t a fence around the airport. Bob also commented on the significant growth of the airport, from the uptick in commercial flights to the addition of Atlantic Aviation’s new hangar.
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bob was very influential at the airport. He built the first 35 hangars at SUN. He originally planned to build only six, but the demand was great and the phone kept ringing, so he kept building. Now, he owns one of those hangers.
While Bob still gets out quite often, it’s not always a casual flight around the valley. Bob loves exploring the backcountry. He has flown in and out of some of Idaho’s most challenging backcountry airports. Even today, he and his wife enjoy flying into a backcountry lodge to grab a bite of breakfast!
We had a great time chatting with Bob, and we can’t wait to get together again!