By LARRY STENCEL
The Central County Flyers Association, which operates the privately owned, public access Central County Airport (68C) in Iola, Wis., northwest of Oshkosh, surprised one of their own local aviation icons during their infamous Friday fly-in lunch on Aug 14.
Paul Johns thought that the group was just holding an “Appreciation Day” in his honor but, instead, got a very big surprise. Former Association President Bill Kinsman called the attendees together to retell Paul’s aviation history and then made the surprise announcement that the airport would be renamed Paul Johns Field.
In his usual affable way, soon to be 102-year-old Johns took it all in with style and a smile, noting, “I didn’t really do anything.”
The lunch crowd didn’t agree. He’d done much during his 66 active years aviating and they recognized the honor with a rousing ovation when a plaque was given to Johns.
His aviation memorabilia are already on display in the association’s new hangar, so renaming the airport after him was a natural additional honor, association officials noted.
Born in 1913 in Indiana, Johns first soloed a Waco glider at age 15 in 1929. He went on to solo a Curtis Jr. two years later and earned advanced pilot and mechanic ratings at Curtis Field in Glenview, Ill., later called NAS Glenview.
In 1939, Pan Am hired him to set up an instrument training program with Link trainers in Florida. He went on to realize his dream, flying the DC-3 as a line pilot to Caribbean and South American destinations. In 1944, he transferred to California to fly the PB2Y-3 “Coronado” and Boeing 314 “Clipper” flying boats, where he completed 220 crossings of the Pacific during the war as a Naval aviator.
He was also an experienced celestial navigator/instructor. After the war, he flew as a corporate pilot in Wisconsin until his retirement at age 60. At age 75, he built a Kitfox experimental airplane in 11 months and flew it until 1995 when he voluntarily grounded himself.
The Iola airport’s Friday lunches are a local phenomenon for aviators in Wisconsin and surrounding states. During the July 3rd fly in this year, 62 airplanes and 260 people were in attendance. This was the second highest total ever tallied.
Because of its infamous lunch destination reputation, the airport is nicknamed “The Busiest Little Airport in Wisconsin.”
Worth noting, the airport accepts no federal money and is totally self-sustaining owing to the Friday lunches and the many volunteers who put it all together.
Johns has been previously recognized by the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame and is one of EAA’s “Timeless Voices.” Now, he has an airport named after him. He is truly an inspiration to all who come to know him.