Benz Aviation has been the Great Lakes regions largest commercial soaring center for over 50 years!
All Benz Aviation pilots are FAA certified "commercial" pilots. This provides our customers a higher level of pilot experience vs. soaring "clubs" that also offer public glider rides.
Scenic Glider Rides • Glider Instruction • Glider Towing • Glider Rental • Airplane Rides
Aircraft Rental • FAA Testing • Fuel • Tie Down • Hangars • Events
Built by Grob Aircraft of Germany. A high performance two-seater glider constructed of glass fiber. Features T-tail configuration, a non retractable undercarriage and upper surface airbrakes. Designed for training, high performance, and simple aerobatic flying.
Schweizer SGS 2-33 Glider
Built by Schweizer Aircraft in Elmira, NY, this American glider is a two-seat, high-wing, strut-based glider, excellent for training.
Built by the Cessna Aircraft Company. A four-seat, single engine, fixed-wing aircraft. The most successful and popular aircraft in aviation history, more than 40,000 have been built.
Benz Aviation employs 7 full time employees, and depending on the season, 17 to 24 part time staff. Tony Smit is the Ionia County Airport Manager, and he divides his time between his airport managerial duties, general operations for Benz Aviation, and offering flight instruction or pilot services for power, glider, and glider towing.
Ionia County Airport
In 1934, Allan M. Williams (1892-1979) convinced the Ionia County Board of Supervisors to develop the Ionia County Airport. On July 26th, 1935, the Ionia County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution authorizing the Airport Committee to purchase a site for an airport not to exceed $7,500. The site chosen was a farm owned by a Mr. Barrett Sessions, bordering on what is now Michigan highway M-66. Williams was able, with federal aid monies, to direct the development and construction of the airport. Construction began on the January 10th, 1936, and on July 11th, 1937 the airport was dedicated and opened for business. Williams remained Ionia County Airport’s manager until his retirement in 1957.
As aviation activity in the Ionia County grew, so did the airport. The runway was expanded and the first landing lights were installed in 1948. In 1957, Donald Ackerman took over as the manager of the Ionia County Airport. The next year, the East-West runway was paved and land was purchased in for a new North-South runway in 1963. The North-South runway construction was finally completed in 1965, which also brought the first glider operations to Ionia County.
In 1988, Jerry Benz, the owner and operator of Benz Aviation, which had been operating at the airport, became Ionia County Airport Manager, until his untimely death in 2000.
Between 1990 and 1995, two young men were employed at the airport, as mechanic/tow pilot, and as flight instructor. Tony and Matt would talk of their dream of owning their own aviation operation some day…but after those five years, went their separate ways.
January 2000 saw the passing of Jerry Benz, and there was much circumspection about who would take over. Only someone who had seen the daily ins and outs of the gliding business would know how to keep the fliers in Ionia County.
Tony and Matt were talking about their dream again. Matt quit his job on April 1st, 2000, to be at Ionia County Airport full time. Tony spent weekends and whatever spare time he had working alongside Matt. After four long months of paperwork, the operation was theirs, and work began in earnest.
Benz Aviation, Today and Tomorrow
Today, both Benz Aviation East and West remain premier soaring facilities for the North Central United States. Benz Aviation East is the only Certified Cessna Training Center. Flight enthusiasts, pilots of every level, and the general public are welcome to the fun and thrill of competitions and events – and of course, we invite everyone to come out and experience the adventure of soaring in a glider, or to fulfill that dream of learning to pilot. We promise you an unforgettable experience.