Helping Aviators Build the Aircraft of Their Dreams for Over 30 Years
by Roy Beisswenger
When I first got started in aviation, I began as a homebuilder. I ordered my ultralight kit, had it sent to the house, and began building. As anyone knows that has worked on such a project, it was both challenging and rewarding. One of the challenges was missing parts; another was to find parts to make improvements to the design and to personalize the aircraft.
Living in the St. Louis area, I quickly found out about Wicks Aircraft Supply. So I made the trip out to Highland, Illinois and was immediately awed by the hardware, gauges, tools, and pilot supplies they had on display. I was really glad that I had found this treasure trove of aircraft building supplies, but I didn’t really realize for several years just how fortunate I was.
You see, my naïve assumption back when I started building was that every major city had a “Wicks Aircraft Supply” or a store with similar supplies. After all, every major city has hardware stores, auto supply stores, hobby shops, electrical supply houses, and more. And since I was interested in aviation (and therefore thought that everyone else must have the same interest), I was sure there were enough folks around the country to support stores like Wicks everywhere.
Then I found out just how special and rare home aircraft builders really were. And then I found out just how really special Wicks Aircraft was. And then I found out that I was a rare kind of customer, one that actually walks into the store. Because since there is only one Wicks Aircraft Supply in the world, customers from all over the world seek them out. That means most of Wick’s business is done by mail order, over the phone, and now over the Internet. Every business day UPS and other shippers take supplies from Wicks to aircraft builders all over the country and the world.
Most people don’t realize that Wicks Aircraft Supply was not always Wicks Aircraft Supply. The business began as part of Wicks Organ Company back over 30 years ago in 1974. Wicks Organ Company is a nearly century-old company that builds and refurbishes pipe organs for concert halls and churches. They do amazing woodwork while building the pipe organs and use the same high-quality Sitka spruce that is favored by many aircraft builders.
The initial interest in aircraft building was home grown. One of the organ company supervisors, Richard Haase, built a Bowers Fly-Baby using spruce from the factory back in 1973.
Of course Richard did not have a “Wicks Aircraft Supply” to get parts from so he had even more challenges than we do today finding the stuff he needed to put his plane together. That inspired him and Mel Smith, another Wicks employee, to propose that the organ company get into the aircraft supply business.
The proposal was received well, probably because the president of the company, Martin Wicks, was an aviation buff and private pilot. The fact that company vice president George Gibbons was also the company pilot, probably did not hurt things.
Wicks made their initial mark in the aviation world by building a KR-2 in 74 days and flying up to Oshkosh in 1974 for the EAA convention. The little low-wing plane was made from the supplies that Wicks sold, including the spruce and a line of composite products.
That fine little plane amazed a lot of people both with the quality of the work and with the speed at which it was put together. And Wicks gained valuable experience with the products they sold and the challenges of the homebuilder.
The builder demand for supplies from Wicks Organ Company grew quickly. And that in turn increased the amount of space needed for the operation. By 1975 the operation was separated from the organ company and renamed Wicks Aircraft Supply. And it moved from a small 1,500 square foot supply area in the organ company, to a 30,000 square foot custom built facility across the street.
And filling the needs of the homebuilder has been the key to Wicks success. Wicks has always looked to make sure that they offered the latest items needed by the homebuilder. And they carry things in stock that others will often place on backorder. Whether it be metal tubing, foams, resins, paint, AN hardware, tools, gauges, or whatever you need for your project, Wicks probably has it and can probably ship it to you overnight.
Getting things to builders when they need it has earned Wicks Aircraft Supply a sterling reputation in the aviation world. There is nothing more frustrating than to be in the middle of a project and be missing a critical part or tool. OK, there is something more frustrating. That is to order the needed part and hear from the supply house that it will take three weeks to get it! That does not happen at Wicks. With an extensive in-stock inventory of over 10,000 different items, chances are good that you can find what you need there when you call.
So it is not surprising that one of the favorite ‘tools’ of the homebuilder is a Wicks Aircraft Supply catalog. This year Wicks is celebrating the 30th year that they have been producing their catalog. From a meager four-page mimeographed affair that had two pages of spruce pricing (3/16″ to 6″ wide sizes) and two pages of composites, the catalog has grown to something over 230 pages. The index itself now takes up 9 pages!
The new catalog has the largest increase of new products seen in recent years at Wicks. And those new products are featured in a new color portion in the front of the tome. All of this makes for great reading, even if you are still just in the dreaming stage of your project.
The new look of the catalog comes from a new level of excitement at Wicks. took the reins of the company. The new energy is evident at Wicks.
Scott is quick to point out that many ideas for new products come from Wicks customers, themselves. “We have received great feedback from customers who have made suggestions for what we should carry and we appreciate all the suggestions that they have,” points out Scott
Another innovation that Wicks has taken advantage of is the Internet. Obviously most Wicks customers do not live down the road the way I do. Through the Internet you can view Wick’s entire catalogue without waiting for the paper version.
But the one thing that has not changed over the years is that it only takes a simple phone call to get the friendly Midwestern help that you need on your project. That friendliness and willingness to stand behind what they sell has been the cornerstone of their success in the aviation industry. The staff at Wicks Aircraft wants to see their customers happy and successful in their own aviation projects.
Scott says it best when he says, “At Wicks, we are dedicated to helping you build the aircraft of your dreams.”