LAKEPORT, -Clear Lake comes into view. As you get closer, you see the town of Lakeport, Calif., nestled against the shore. Just south of town is Lampson field, a sleepy airport neatly surrounded by farmland, like part of a huge jig saw puzzle. As you taxi to the main ramp, you notice an unusually large number of Mooney’s all around. You’ve arrived at Lake Aero Styling and Repair, (LASAR), one of the world’s largest Mooney Service Centers, owned by Paul and Shery Loewen.
If you are a Mooney lover, you feel right at home. Lake Aero Styling And Repair is an Authorized Mooney Service Center, the home of LASAR Speed Mods, a source for both new and used parts, and a sheet metal and fiberglass shop for major repairs. Add to that an avionics shop, an aircraft salvage operation, and used aircraft sales, and you get the distinct feeling that they can do it all.
Hang around for a while and you realize that Paul’s employees are treated like part of a family. Work is done in a friendly, but businesslike manner. Everyone seems to eat, sleep and drink airplanes in general and Mooneys in particular. One hand‑written sign on the hangar wall attests to the need to temper this enthusiasm by declaring, “No plane talk allowed on breaks.”
Paul Loewen’s career could be used as a textbook for the successful entrepreneur. His family moved to Southern California from Amarillo, Texas, when he was five years old. He started taking flying lessons while enrolled in A&P courses at Glendale College, but a move to Hawaii with his family interrupted his formal education.
At age 19, in Hawaii, he bought a wrecked Ercoupe and began rebuilding it, making a few modifications along the way. At this point, the entrepreneur in Paul was starting to surface. Whenever he deeded to build a part he would build two of them. He used one and sold the other one.
After returning to Southern California Paul finished his A&P courses and met Shery, his wife to be. The relationship started out by Paul borrowing $500 from Shery in order to ship his Ercoupe back from Hawaii—Shery claims he still hasn’t paid her back.
Tragedy struck in 1965 when Paul was involved in a serious plane crash. A broken back, punctured lung, and serious wounds required a year of hospitalization. Doctors predicted he would never walk again. With determination and will power, however, he started walking with full leg braces and crutches and got a job as a mechanic at a Mooney Service Center at Burbank Airport in 1966.
For awhile he worked at Hagelin Aircraft Motors, a Lycoming Distributor in Glendale, but still in and out of the hospital some. Then Paul bid on, and won a repair project for a Mooney owner. To appear businesslike, he thought up a fictitious company name for the bid. When he got his payment check in the name of that company, he had no choice but to start a business and open a bank account in order to cash the check. “All Aircraft Service,” located at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, became a Mooney Service Center shortly thereafter.
An ad in Trade‑A‑Plane eventually brought the Loewen’s north to Lakeport. Paul got a job running the maintenance shop for the local FBO. By this time, the Loewen family had grown to include two children, Paula and Todd. Although they had spent most of their lives in the city, the Loewen’s quickly adjusted to country living. In 1975, Paul branched out on his own again and started Lake Aero Styling And Repair.
Paul’s ability to design and build Mooney modifications became the cornerstone of his operation. He has over 25 Mooney STCs for both speed mods as well as creature comfort mods. He also supplies his mods to dealers across the country that sell and install his kits.
The most popular mods for the older Mooney’s are the cowl closure fairing and the 201 windshield retrofit. Most later model Mooney owners opt for wing tip fairings and/or a smooth belly pan. New Mooneys incorporate many mods first installed by shops like Paul’s. Being large quantity buyers with OEM relationships with major engine and propeller manufacturers, companies like Lake Aero are starting to get the respect they deserve. As Paul points out, there are more modification facilities out there than there are manufacturers of new planes.
The Loewen family is totally involved in aviation. Paul and Shery’s daughter, Paula, is married to a United Airline pilot. Paula and Rod have 2 “future pilots,” Taralyn, age 14, and Bradlee, age 10. Shery, a nonpilot, has worked for many years in the administrative part of the business. She has since retired to help run LASAR Plane Sales from her home. She modestly describes her job as putting the buyer and the seller together to work out a deal.
Paul and Shery’s son, Todd, is a pilot for an air ambulance company in Hawaii. He and his wife, Madeleine, and young daughter, Lilla, live in Hilo. Madeleine is also a pilot, and her father is a retired British Airways 747 Captain. He also flew the Concord. Paul’s Dad, meanwhile, got his pilot’s license at age 64, and although at age 92, he is not flying anymore, he is very proud of his “former” Mooney days.
As you might expect, the family airplane is a Mooney. Paul bought a 1987 Mooney 252 that had been badly burned in a hangar fire in Southern California. After bringing it to Lakeport, he decided it could be restored. It became the company project airplane for the next five years at a time when aviation was in a severe slump and business at LASAR was no different. Working on the 252 kept their employees busy, as the Loewens were digging deeper into their savings to keep the company alive.
I had a chance to fly the Mooney 252 on a trip to Petaluma, Calif., and back. It is one of the most well equipped Mooneys I have ever seen. The panel seemed only to lack radar and a flight attendant call button. Creature comforts were everywhere. Even the seats were electrically adjustable.
Returning to Lakeport, we made a low-level tour of the town and a circled over the Loewen’s hilltop home. Paul proudly pointed to a brand new high tech garage. The gleam in Paul’s eye told you the garage wasn’t for storing cars, but would probably be the incubator for the next generation of Mooney mods.
The next time you are in the Clear Lake area be sure to say, Hi, to Paul and Shery and check out the “Mall.”
NOTE: A second severe airplane accident in August of 1999 has limited Paul’s activity a bit, but not his spirit. Paul was test flying a customer’s Mooney and the engine quit on take off. He suffered a second spinal cord injury. He is still very involved in LASAR, although Robert, our General Manager, does most of the “real” work. Paul still flies his beloved 252 with special FAA approved controls.