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Bentonville, Arkansas

Gateway to the Ozark backcountry

It’s hard to imagine anyplace more supportive of pilots and aviation enterprises than Bentonville, Arkansas.

Photography by Chris Rose
Photography by Chris Rose

Located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains at the northwest edge of the state, Bentonville is a center for backcountry, aerobatic, vintage, and warbird flying as well as the home of Game Composites, builder of the unlimited aerobatic GB1.

Bentonville Municipal Airport/Louise M. Thaden Field (VBT) is named for the pioneering female air racer and record setter who, in 1936, won the Bendix Trophy Race in a Beech Staggerwing while competing against men and women. The airport is at the centerpiece of the Fly Oz network of 64 backcountry airstrips, and it has a grass runway alongside the hard surface Runway 18/36 that’s used extensively for tailwheel flight training.

Bentonville is the hub of a vast network of mountain bike trails, and it’s become the home for riders and builders of the specialized bikes. It’s following a similar model with backcountry flying where pilots can learn the fundamentals, then venture out into the network of remote airstrips with camping, hiking, and fishing. Trigger Gap (17A) is the crown jewel of the Fly Oz network. The 3,000-foot turf runway has campgrounds, a pavilion with a stone fireplace, and it exists as a partnership between the Nature Conservancy (which owns the land) and the Recreational Aviation Foundation (whose volunteers maintain the airstrip).

Steuart Walton, grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is an accomplished pilot and enthusiastic supporter of Thaden Field and many other Bentonville aviation and civic enterprises. Walton is an aerobatic and warbird pilot and chairman of Game Composites, and he flies a variety of aircraft from Thaden Field. Bentonville also is looking ahead to future forms of flight. Zipline—a drone firm that delivers small packages via unmanned, electric aircraft—launches and recovers the drones at a Walmart warehouse a few miles from the airport.

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Dave Hirschman

Dave Hirschman

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.

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