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The Flight Deck Deli
Belen, New Mexico

by Mike Marotta

Like one of the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Flight Deck Deli at Belen (E80), New Mexico is a well-kept secret. However, the children of the eagle know that if you steer by the sun and the bear, you will find the treasure.

Pilots from all around New Mexico who have learned the secret gather at the Flight Deck Deli on weekends to swap stories and enjoy the home cooking and wonderful views. Richard Leonardo came down from Mid Valley Airpark in Los Lunas in his “Texas Taildragger” a converted Cessna 150 with a 150 HP engine. He enjoyed the chicken enchiladas and posole. (Posole is a traditional New Mexico hominy stew of meat broth with boiled maize, seasoned to taste with red chile sauce.) Later, Rich Hastings, also from Mid Valley, gave the food an “excellent” rating as well. So did Ron Keller of Bosque Farms, and Andy Ahr of Albuquerque. Keller was stationed in New Mexico when he was in the Air Force. He eventually left the military, but could not leave this “Land of Enchantment.”

The Flight Deck Deli is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. At least, those are the normal hours of operation. You can get served later, if you make arrangements. “Catering to Southwest aviation is important to everyone here in Belen,” said Kurt Young, owner of Mountain Sun Aviation, Belen’s FBO. During the week, cooking is always to order. “We cook whatever people ask for,” the Flight Deck Deli’s cook, Corinna, explained. “Ordering from the menu is easiest, but we are flexible.” On the weekends, Corinna works up a selection of specials such as chicken burritos and posole. She picks and cans her own chile peppers. You can have your chile fresh or canned. Canning ages the peppers and the longer they sit, the hotter they get. “This green chile is from last year,” she warned, pointing to an order of green chile chicken enchiladas. A pilot with red cheeks and beads of perspiration forming on his brow dug his fork into a plate of huevos rancheros smothered in red chile. “It's really us Anglos who like spicy food,” he insisted. “When you get that bead across your forehead, you know you are having a good time.” Everyone laughed.

According to Kurt Young, Valencia County actually has the richest aeronautic history in the state of New Mexico, with more airports than any other county. Not all of them are still active. “We built the first airport at Belen over there,” one old-timer told me, gesturing towards the Rio Grande valley. “We did the work at night,” he said. When I asked why he responded with a laugh, “Because that’s when we could use the county grader!” That was about 1940. Today, a new government in town and new management at the airport are delivering a fresh opportunity for flyers. The Flight Deck Deli is an important factor in that effort. For the past 14 months, the new owners of the Flight Deck Deli have been winning friends for the runways at E80.

Those runways, taxiways, and ramps were all resealed while I was there in early November 2001. As we walked around the airport on Friday, a couple of planes tried to land, but seeing the orange barrels and trucks, they flew off. The next day, traffic started coming in to the reopened runway. “Saturdays are usually busier here. Being shut down for a week made things slow,” Kurt Young said. The restaurant was actually full, but Kurt assured me, “We often have people lined up down the staircase waiting to get in.”

“Corinna is the engine of our success with the Flight Deck Deli,” Kurt continued. “She cooks a wide range of foods to order, and serves a lot of hamburgers during the week. Of course, it is her traditional cooking that brings people in from all over.” Corinna serves a lot of Belen locals as well. Toby Sanchez sits at a table and points to a picture on the wall of his son and grandson in a Citabria. “I never got my license,” he said. “Once I soloed, I felt I had achieved something for myself, and now I encourage my son to keep going.”

When Corinna gets busy in the kitchen, Tara Lynn lends a hand. “I want all of our people to do as much as possible, so that no one gets overloaded,” Kurt Young explained. Tara also works in the office and pumps fuel. Joining her in the office and at the pumps are Josh Gibbs and Rich Leonardo, Jr.

Dave Husbands walked over from New Mexico Aircraft Propeller. A hearty breakfast is important to his work. In his shop he and his crew faced a Hartzell three-blade, a Hamilton-Standard two-blade, a McCauley three-blade, and a few more. “We can help a pilot with preventive maintenance on constant speed props,” Husbands said. “We can talk to them on the phone about what they hear or feel. We get calls from pilots who do not like the feel of a new prop and they want to know why.” They do all the mechanical work, bending props back into shape and truing them up, tearing down and rebuilding the bearings. Husbands actually turns business away. “These are going out,” he said, pointing to a couple of new-looking propellers, tagged with vague problems, from a pair of agricultural planes. “We could do the work, but these people have someone closer to them, they just don’t know it.” That loyalty to the best interests of the customer is the attitude at Belen airport. Husbands had been fixing propellers for about 20 years before choosing Belen as the site of his own business two years ago, when New Mexico Aircraft Propeller joined Mountain Sun on the field. Now, Husbands is the new interim airport manager.

With the closing of Albuquerque’s Coronado airport (4AC), the airport commission and town council at Belen have been exploring the best ways to meet the needs of New Mexico’s private aviation community. Pilot and Belen businessman Ray Auge recently received approval to build 60 more T-hangars. The airport now boasts runway lighting and a PAPI. Kurt expects to add Jet-A fuel to his ramp pumps or fuel truck. A new crosswind runway is also on the drawing board. Working together is what Belen Airport, Mountain Sun Aviation, and the Flight Deck Deli are all about.
The good people of Belen have indeed found treasure, at the gathering place of the children of the eagle – New Mexico’s Flight Deck Deli.

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