As billionaires launch into space on rockets, the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority is seeking to attract more commercial companies to come to Burns Flat.
“You can make a lot of noise out in Burns Flat — rocket, jet testing, whatever it may be,” OSIDA Executive Director Craig Smith said. “That’s the sound of money out there.”
Commercial space travel is a new era, the director noted. Luckily for Oklahoma, aerospace is its second largest economy.
The Legislature has remained consistent in its funding efforts to the authority, Smith said. This year, OSIDA received $400,000.
The most they have received is about $1 million. State funds are distributed throughout the authority to pay its five full-time and two part-time employees, maintain 2,700 acres and the Industrial Park’s
Smith noted the airport’s mowing process, saying it takes a full work’s day for one employee to mow one of the runway’s islands. It takes seven to 10 days to complete mowing at the airport and its park.
Smith said the authority’s goal is to show companies that Oklahoma has an exceptional standard of living, low energy rates and exponential room to grow in the southwestern part of the state.
After years of political communication experience, the Yukon resident emerged on the aerospace scene in April 2020 when he took on his role with the authority.
Oklahoma’s Air and Space Port made history in 2006.
“We were the very first inland space port in the U.S.,” Smith said.
To Smith, two local legislators prepped the Space Port for its historical moment. Sen. Gilmer Capps and Rep. Jack Bonny represented the area, in which the Clinton-Sherman Airport (aka the Space Port) resided.
The two saw potential in the airport, which the Air Force still trains at.
“They were really ahead of their time to say, ‘I think we’ve got something out here,’” Smith said.
In 1999, OSIDA was established, with the mission in mind to secure the Clinton-Sherman Airport as the state’s own Space Port.
In World War II, the Navy acquired about 5,000 acres of the area to build an air station.
When the Cold War arrived, the Air Force took over the area and built the current 13,503-foot-long runway. It’s about 18-20 inches thick.
The runway can withstand a fully-loaded B-52 aircraft, Smith said.
With the 1,000-foot overruns on either side of the runway, it’s essentially 15,503-by-300.
“It’s something to see when you’re coming from above,” Smith said. “It’s deceptive how wide it is. As you’re landing, you think you’re farther away from it than you are.”
The runways at Will Rogers World Airport are 150 feet wide, he noted.
“This is a freakish chunk of pavement,” Smith said.
The other runway at the Space Port is 5,200-by-75. Adjacent to it is another mass of 96 acres of paved parking and storage.
“All that concrete together, I contend is probably the biggest chunk of pavement in North America,” Smith said.
The Air Force didn’t stop there.
A flourishing metropolis was constructed, complete with a medical clinic, drug stores, a theater and more. Most of Burns Flat’s residents currently live in the former base housing, as well.
The remnants of the city are what the authority calls its Industrial Park. One of Smith’s roles is to essentially be mayor of the park, as he maintains the water system and utilities.
From 1954-1969, the airport was a Strategic Air Command Base.
The Air Force would later turn the airport back over to Clinton, with the caveat of acquiring it back for military purposes if needed, as well as the area encompassing educational components. Cue Western Technology Center.
The airport is also available for public use, as pilots can land and take off from it.
It took about five to six years for the state to acquire the property from Clinton in 1999. Former Yukon City Manager Grayson Bottom was the city manager in Clinton throughout this time.
The state took over Clinton-Sherman in 2006, securing its license in June of that year.
There are now more than 12 inland space ports throughout the nation. U.S. space companies began emerging on the scene in the early 2000s, as well.
“If we can get companies to recognize, if this isn’t the place you want to take your ship off from, perhaps you can land it here,” Smith said. “That’s probably going to be the future — point-to-point travel.”