Hank Williams Jr.’s hit song “Family Tradition” drifted from the radio in Steve Baker’s office Tuesday afternoon in the two-story barn behind his Ottawa home.
Aviation has been a family tradition for the Bakers for three generations. Steve Baker took over the family business in 1987.
“I formed [Baker Aviation] a year before my daughter was born,” Baker said from his office at 524 N. Birch St., Ottawa.
Born in Sedalia, Mo., Baker spent much of his life around aviation, he said. His father, Roy Baker, founded Baker Flying Service, now Baker Aviation, and headed the business for about 30 years, Baker said. He also ran the Garnett airport during that time, was a flight instructor, owned a Cessna aircraft service center in Chanute and was a bush pilot and military band member for the U.S. Army.
“His first station was in Fairbanks, Alaska, before [Alaska] was even a state,” Baker said. “He also sold insurance, among other things.”
‘Dad taught us all how to fly’
Baker said his father taught him, as well as his other siblings, how to fly airplanes. From there, Baker stayed in the field of aviation. After graduating from Garnett High School in 1979, Baker said he went straight to the military. As a member of the U.S. Army, he was stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala., for three years working on helicopters, he said.
“It was a new experience for me because I didn’t have much experience in helicopters,” Baker said.
Baker finished his military service through the Kansas National Guard in Topeka, and following his discharge reformed the business as Baker Aviation after his father retired, he said.
Baker runs the business by himself. It focuses on locating aircraft parts for customers.
“I’m the guy that if nobody else can find it, I can,” Baker said. “People from all over the world call me looking for specific parts. I know what they need because I’ve been there and done that.”
According to Baker’s website, bakerplanes.com, customers can contact Baker Aviation without knowing the part number they need. All Baker needs is the make, model and serial number of the aircraft.
Besides locating parts and materials for aircraft, Baker also buys and sells airplanes. He has owned a variety of makes and models through the years including a Piper Warrior, Piper Comanche and Beechcraft Super III.
“The Piper Comanche was probably my favorite,” Baker said. “I had that about a year ago, and it (was sold) to Indiana.”
Baker said because it is just him running the business, if he ever needs something done, such as someone to help haul or fly a plane from one place to another, he hires the work out. Baker is trained as a pilot, but is not currently certified.
“I went to the [pilot] schools, but never finished anything due to time or money,” Baker said. “Dad taught us all how to fly.”
Even in his free time, Baker works on aviation-related projects. He now is working on building a miniature model of a Piper J-3 Cub airplane that he plans to use as a flight simulator. Baker said he has been working on it for two months and plans to put three cameras on the model; one on the front and two on each side. The plane will be radio controlled, and Baker will put three different televisions in a trailer from where the plane will be controlled from, he said. The cameras on the plane will feed to televisions in the trailer, so when someone controls the plane from inside the trailer, they will get the feeling they are flying an actual airplane.
“[I do this] so people can understand flight a little better,” Baker said. “I hope to be done [with the simulator] between now and Christmas. I’ve got to find the right cameras. I’m going with an electric engine, that way if it crashes, you can transfer the information to another model.”
Baker built a similar simulator in 1990 that no longer is in use. He said he takes the simulators to demonstrations when he gets the opportunity.
Baker lives in Ottawa with his wife, Luanne. Their daughter, Lynn, is a hair stylist at Main Attraction Salon at 413 S. Main St. in Ottawa.
“She really enjoys that field,” Baker said.
Baker has passion for his profession, especially because his knowledge of aviation is all from experience, he said.
“[Aviation] is addictive,” Baker said. “There are so many parts of aviation that are interesting.”
Baker is looking for a new office for his business, but said he has no plans to move away from the area.