A Fly-In Shop

America's Best Shops - A Fly-In Shop

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Glenn Heinen built a shop big enough for equipment, vehicles, planes and family. (Progressive Farmer image by Jim Patrico)

When you're passionate about businesses, planning a multipurpose shop takes on new dimensions. Just ask Glenn Heinen, who owns and flies aerial application aircraft, and also has a grain farm near Seneca, Kansas. "We had to work the planning backward," he says of his now nearly completed building.

In this case, the starting point for planning was a 2,400-foot grass runway Heinen already had on his farm. The end point was the existing hangar and farm shop 200 feet east of his house. The goal was to deconstruct the 50- x 70-foot hoop building he had used for about 20 years and put up a metal building in the same footprint. The new building provides storage and maintenance for both aircraft and farm equipment.

Heinen interviewed several contractors and building companies before choosing Morton Buildings to help plan and execute the project. Before the design process even began, the company rep asked Heinen an insightful question: What's the largest plane you might ever want to store in the building? Heinen considered then responded that, based on the length of his runway, the largest plane he could land there was an Air Tractor AT-802 with a wingspan of about 60 feet.

Like many farmers before him, Heinen learned that size does matter, and he had to plan a building larger than he originally thought. Otherwise, his largest plane might not fit.

"The size of the runway determined the size of the building," he laughs.


Before getting into the planning that followed, here is some background. Heinen and his brother Scott grew up on a farm near Seneca that their father told them was too small to support three families. So, the boys -- each in turn -- went off to Kansas State University (KSU) to find other careers. Scott, who is seven years older than Heinen, studied aeronautical technology and, after graduation, founded an aerial application business. When Heinen went to KSU, he studied agronomy and worked for his brother in the summers flying planes and driving tender trucks. "I sprayed my way through college," says Heinen, who graduated in 2000.

The brothers quickly built a successful business in aerial and ground application services. Heinen Brothers Agra Services now operates in six states from Nebraska to Texas. That should have been enough to keep the brothers busy. But, when their father retired in 2004, nostalgia and a love of farming returned them to their roots. They took over their father's 500-acre corn and soybean cropping operation, and soon grew it to fit the needs of two families. A few years later, they added some purebred Angus cows and now have 150. They background and sell yearlings.

"Scott helps me with my farming habit, and I help him with his cattle habit," Heinen says. Along the way, Heinen, 41, met and married Leah in 2001. Their four children are Nyah, 18; Will, 16; Marin, 12; and Grant, 8.


Finances were tighter back then, and Heinen did most of the work on the original hoop building with Scott's help. They poured the concrete pad, erected the frame, covered it with fabric and built end walls. Heinen stored planes and farm equipment in it. He also did maintenance and repair on farm vehicles.

A larger shop at the headquarters a few miles away does most of the repairs for Heinen Brothers so Heinen didn't need an all-purpose shop. But, his personal equipment needs had outgrown the hoop building, which was unheated and in a spot that didn't drain well. "I got tired of being cold while I worked on equipment," Heinen says.

Five years ago, he started planning a replacement near the original footprint. Priorities included storage space for planes and farm equipment, and better facilities for maintenance and repair. Construction began in mid-2020.

"Ten days of two tractors scraping raised the ground about five feet [for better drainage]," Heinen says. The new building, a wood-framed Morton building with a footprint of 81 x 112 feet, has plenty of room for airplanes and tractors. It has 18-foot sidewalls, with the top 10 feet of metal wall panels having a perforated pattern to reduce echoing.


The building is full of useful, time-saving features, but here are a few of the more notable in Heinen's mind.

> Five radiant heaters hang on the sides of the wall near the ceiling. An energy conservation package includes lots of insulation in the walls and ceiling.

> Sixteen energy-efficient LED ceiling fixtures give plenty of light, aided by windows, 25 in all.

> A 63- x 18-foot hydraulic lift door on the south side is a perfect entryway for airplanes. On the west side are four doors: two man doors (one into the office), a 16- x 16-foot roll-up and a 40- x 18-foot hydraulic lift door for easy entry of farm equipment. Heinen laid a 40- x 70-foot concrete pad outside the hydraulic door extra workspace. The east side of the building also has one man door.

> The floor has seven coats of sealant to ward off stains. It also has three 10-foot-long floor drains "for wintertime slop and washing equipment," Heinen says.


There is unfinished work in Heinen's shop. But, they are in various phases of completion:

> a workbench along the east wall with wiring for two welders

> air lines and a compressor

> a lift or a winch to sit along the east wall

> an oil-changing station

> a two-story office and storage area, roughly 450 square feet on each floor (It will contain a kitchenette and a bathroom with a shower. The second floor will be mainly for storage.)


During the planning stages, Heinen made clear to the builders that he wanted an attractive building. So, designers added wide fascias, decorative window shutters and a stonework facade along the bottom of the exterior walls. A porch roof supported by stone column bases frames the entrance to the office area. River rock landscaping completes the picture.

Appearance was important to Heinen because the building is close to the farmhouse he and Leah built in 2006. They had worked hard on the house and wanted a shop that enhanced the overall feel of the farm site.

Also, there was some history to consider. Heinen had made two strategic miscalculations when he placed that hoop building 20 years ago near the old farmhouse he and Leah shared. First, hoop buildings don't have a lot of curb appeal. Worse, "I built it before I worked on the new house, which was a point of contention with my wife," he now admits with a laugh. Heinen learned a lesson. Best to have the spouse like this new building, too.

> Editor's Note: Progressive Farmer will publish a follow-up report on Heinen's shop when work is completed.


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