Wendover Airport Changes Course
Director expands services while supporting restoration of historic airfield’s buildings
By Dianna Troyer
Even before she learned to drive, Wendover Airport Director Lisa Dunn was learning to fly.
“I was flying when I was 14, long before I ever got my driver’s license,” says the 52yearold who lived in Phoenix at the time. “My parents had friends who were pilots, so they let me sit in the cockpit whenever they flew. It was an incredible thrill, and made me want to be a pilot.”
Enamored with flight as a teen, she knew her career would involve aviation.
Last summer, Lisa replaced Jim Petersen, who retired to devote more time to the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation. He established the nonprofit foundation in 2001 to preserve World War II buildings at the historic airfield adjacent to the airport. A year later, he replaced the retiring airport director and began managing the airport’s modern jet service, while also overseeing preservation projects at the airfield.
“After I started, he stayed on for six weeks to help provide a smooth transition,” says Lisa. “I learned a lot from him.”
She says the airport has always been dear to her heart.
“For a small airport, it has an amazing number of passengers and celebrities,” Lisa says. “Plus, the nearby air base has such historic significance.”
Lisa was familiar with northern Nevada before becoming director. She worked for 15 years as president of XTRA Airways, where she had a carrier providing flights to casinos throughout the United States, including West Wendover.
As the new airport director, one of her first major projects was overseeing completion of a helicopter fueling station in January.
“It’s a big deal for us because Trans Aero helicopters will stop here for fuel now,” Lisa says. “The Wells Rural Electric Co. crew did a wonderful job of bringing electricity to a part of the airport where there hadn’t been any power before.”
Before the fueling station was installed at the airport, air ambulance helicopters typically stopped only to pick up patients. “Now, Wendover will be a fuel stop of choice for the company,” she says. “In summer, this could mean 10 to 15 additional flights here a month.”
Lisa says she also would like to see an increase in military use of the airport’s four runways.
“Personnel from Hill Air Force Base and the National Guard and all branches of the military can use the airport for training runs and fuel stops,” she says.
Among her duties, Lisa is supervising the remodel of the operations building.
“Once it’s done, we can market it to bring in more general aviation business,” she says. “We want it to be here and in good shape for years to come.”
While marketing the modern air service, Lisa says she also supports Jim’s work to promote the nearby historic airfield. Its recently renovated Service Club is a year-round venue for meetings, reunions, dances and receptions.
She says she also backs Jim’s efforts to bring in thousands of visitors each year to the airfield’s museum. Exhibits emphasize the airfield’s importance as a heavy bombardment training base during World War II.
Due to its remoteness, Col. Paul Tibbets Jr. chose it for one of the most important missions of the war. In 1944, his crews secretly trained there to drop atomic bombs on Japan.
The airfield’s cavernous 50,000 square foot hangar housed a B29 Super fortress Bomber that Tibbets named after his mother—Enola Gay. He flew it to drop the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.
“Jim is devoted to the historic air base, and now will have more time to raise funds for the final phases of restoring the Enola Gay hangar,” Lisa says.
In 2010, the hangar was stabilized after Jim organized a fundraising campaign that included a national Save America’s Treasures grant and private donations. The roof still needs to be renovated.
To raise money for ongoing preservation projects, the foundation hosts an annual air show in September.
A special guest at the show two years ago was Brig. Gen. Paul Tibbets IV, the grandson of Col. Paul Tibbets Jr. For the first time, he toured his grandfather’s office on the upper floor of the Enola Gay hangar.
However varied her new airport duties are, Lisa says she will always appreciate the challenges pilots face.
After receiving her pilot’s license for single engine aircraft, she earned her multiengine rating and an aeronautical degree.
“I became more interested in airline operations than in being a pilot,” Lisa says. Trading a cockpit for a desk chair, she worked for XTRA Airways for 23 years.
“We were based in Elko for 20 years,” she says. “Then our headquarters moved to Boise in 2010, and to Coral Gables, Florida, in 2015.
After being there a year, I missed the West.” While looking online for work, she noticed an ad for Jim’s job.
“I was impressed with the teamwork and how well the flight programs are run here at the airport,” Lisa says. “I’m so happy to be back in the area. I hope to retire from here.”