WELLINGTON, KS (Feb. 15, 2022) – Mike Kelley started doing aircraft maintenance in 1977 in a hangar on Wellington’s municipal airport, hanging out his shingle as Air Plains Services, a nod to both the Great Plains of southcentral Kansas and the region’s reputation for aviation. Just a few miles north is Wichita, home to aviation legends Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman and known today as the Air Capital of the World.
It wasn’t long, though, before Kelley and his wife, Carolyn, turned a passion for flying and
for innovation into an industry leader as an airplane transformer, turning legacy Cessna pistons into power singles with STCs for Extreme Performance engine upgrades. Forty-five years later, the company still ranks as the leader in engine upgrade STCs and has added a wide range of avionics upgrades, propeller STCs, PMA parts, specialty manufacturing, interiors, and, of course, full aircraft maintenance.
“Mike started out doing business the way he expected to be treated as an aircraft owner and it’s become the foundation of the company,” said Katie Church, president of Air Plains Services. “The second most important factor in our success is our skill at listening to our customers, adding products and services we know they want.
“Combine those strengths with passionate employees and you have the formula for a company people want to do business with,” she said.
Shortly after opening as a maintenance shop in 1977, Air Plains developed a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) for a 180hp engine upgrade for the Cessna 172, using the Lycoming O-360 for the upgrade. Kelley then expanded the STC that started with one airframe approval for the Cessna 172 into an STC that now includes 14 Skyhawk models.
This 180hp upgrade for 172 B through R model Cessnas remains the company’s most popular upgrade, with more than 3,000 installed or delivered to owners around the world.
Today, Air Plains offers eight engine upgrade STCs, five of which are branded Extreme Performance, or XP upgrades: two STCs for the 180hp XP upgrade for the 172; a 300hp XP upgrade for the Cessna 180; a 300hp XP upgrade for the Cessna 182; a 300hp XP upgrade for the Cessna 182RG; a 260hp upgrade for both the Cessna 182S and T models; and a 260hp upgrade for the Cessna 182RG.
“Higher horsepower upgrades not only enhance performance like faster take-offs, climbs and increased speed, they make flying more fun than it already is,” said Rafael Soldan, Air Plains vice president and head of engineering.
In addition to basic performance enhancements for pleasure flying, upgrades are particularly popular for backcountry flying, including for floatplanes, and for business use where faster flight time is important. The 180hp upgrade is popular with flight schools where the increase in performance adds to flexibility in training and the increased payload makes it a true four-place trainer.
Air Plains installs engine upgrades at its facility in Kansas or ships complete kits almost anywhere in the world. Air Plains also offers a variety of propeller STCs from top brands including McCauley, Hartzell, Sensenich and MT.
Responding to customer input in recent years, Air Plains has become an authorized avionics dealer for Dynon, Avidyne, Appareo, L3, Aspen, TruTrak, Guardian, and Genesys Aerosystems. The company also specializes in custom avionics panels giving the cockpit a “like-new” appearance.
Through the years, Air Plains has worked with some of the industry’s biggest names on major projects that have included early development and testing of turbochargers, electronic engine controls, and alternate fuel systems including diesel, and Air Plains’ own unleaded auto fuel (Inpulse) system.
Air Plains has collaborated with other suppliers on several AOPA sweepstakes airplanes such as installing its 300hp IO-550 upgrade in a Cessna 182 for the AOPA 2011 Crossover Classic and supporting Yingling Aviation on its 172 Ascend program.
“We’re eager to work on innovative development programs with other companies to help bring new technologies to the market,” Soldan said. “This also gives our customers access to a unique knowledge base that helps us provide expert advice for almost any aviation issue.”