The siren call of Blakesburg once again stirred aviator’s hearts this Labor Day weekend, beckoning them to wing their way to the cornfields of Iowa across distant mountain ranges, the sweeping plains, and densely-populated urban areas.
Some of the aviators who came to Antique Airfield from faraway places for the annual Antique Airplane Association/Airpower Museum’s (AAA/APM) Invitational Fly-In included Hank Galpin and his 1928 Travel Air 6000 from Montana; Richard Zeiler and his two 1929 Travel Air D4Ds — Sky Siren and Sun Siren — from California; Fred Dexter and his 1929 Curtiss C-2 Robin from Florida; John Nance and his 1936 Stinson SR-8C from California; Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) President Mark Baker and his 1944 Howard DGA-15P from Maryland; and Dan Lepkowski with his 1948 Luscombe 8E from Pennsylvania. Glenn Peck flew a 1931 Curtiss-Wright Sedan 15D from Missouri, and Jim Younkin arrived in his replica Mister Mulligan Howard DGA-6 from Arkansas.
The slogan for the fly-in this year was “Following the Dream, Preserving the Memories.” And memories are certainly abundant, because this “by the members, for the members” fly-in has been going strong since 1954.
Going Back to Blakesburg (BTB) has become a pilgrimage of sorts for some.
Take Russell Williams of Washington, who has flown the 2,800 nm round trip to Blakesburg every year since 2002. He made it as far as Gillette, Wyoming, in his 1938 Ryan SWC when the Warner radial stopped producing power.
Russell landed uneventfully on a highway, without a scratch to the Ryan or himself. The local sheriff became his “wingman” for the 20-mile tow to the Gillette-Campbell County Airport (KGCC).
Russell inadvertently became a great ambassador for general aviation when he explained to the local press that pilots routinely practice emergency procedures and making a safe off-field landing is something that pilots are trained to do.
After securing his airplane and having the good fortune to make arrangements to borrow a spare engine from a fellow antiquer during the week following Blakesburg, Russell made it the rest of the way to Blakesburg via commercial airliner. His biggest disappointment was not having an airplane at Blakesburg to fly rides in the evenings.
While weather along numerous flight paths to Blakesburg wasn’t optimal for many who were faced with flying long cross countries, the sun was indeed shining on Antique Airfield (IA27) most of the time this year. Late evening and early morning rain showers didn’t seem to dampen spirits at all.
A preliminary post-fly-in count totaled 194 aircraft, and that number was expected to increase when the final count was confirmed. Classic Aviation of Pella sold 1,731 gallons of fuel during the fly-in.
Airplane types in attendance this year included many regulars, as well as some first-timers: Stits Playboy, Howard, Tiger Moth, Pitcairn Super-Mailwing, Meyers OTW, Aeronca, Cessna, Travel Air, Piper, Stinson, Waco, Taylorcraft, Fairchild, Hatz, Wittman Tailwind, Swift, and Stearman.
During the invitational fly-in, “see and avoid” is the mandate for flying into and around the field, and pilots must obey the ever-vigilant volunteer flagmen who stand at the ready to wave a red “go around or no go” flag or green “clear to take off or land” flag.
Aviators shared numerous buddy rides from dawn to dusk, and enjoyed kibitzing and lounging around in lawn chairs by the old hangars on the field, regaling each other with tall tales and sharing expertise about flying and maintaining vintage, antique, classic, and homebuilt airplanes.
AAA/APM Founder Bob Taylor (doing well at 94 years young), was circulating through the crowd offering his personal greetings to old friends and newcomers alike.
A loyal and devoted group of volunteers help keep the fly-in going, the grounds spruced up, and even help with building construction and maintenance throughout the year.
“It was a safe, enjoyable event, with lots of flying,” said Brent Taylor, Antique Airplane Association president and fly-in chairman. “We appreciate all our members that braved the weather and brought their airplanes from across the country to attend. Also, we give a tremendous thanks to all our volunteers. Without them, the AAA/APM Invitational Fly-in would not be possible.”
Attendees enjoyed perusing the collections in the Air Power Museum, Hall of Memories, and the Mike Gretz Memorial APM Library of Flight.
Onsite events included the Parrakeet Pilot’s Club meeting, the Texas and Wisconsin AAA Chapter meetings, a Luscombe forum, Airline/Airmail history presentation, a BasicMed program, and a gathering focused on the Legacy Log of Homebuilt Airplanes publication.
The annual memorial service at the “Gone West” Memorial was held Sunday morning, followed by a Missing Man Formation fly-over.
Evening entertainment included gatherings at the Pilots Pub and an Ernie Gann Film Festival was featured at the Runway Cinema in the APM Restoration Center. There was also a 15th anniversary gathering for pilots who participated in the 2003 National Air Tour.
The popular gathering place each morning was Dave Warren’s Coffee House on the porch of the Ground Loop Inn (sponsored by the Michigan AAA Chapter). Onsite meals were catered by the local Hy-Vee in the 24th Fighter Squadron Mess Hall.
Generous portions of homemade pie (gooseberry, strawberry rhubarb, blackberry, apple crumb and more) and vanilla ice cream were available again this year, thanks to the Blakesburg Historical Society. In fact, at least one aviator was seen carefully loading an entire pie into his open cockpit biplane to take home!
If all this whets your appetite to for grassroots-style flying, tasty meals and desserts, and down-home camaraderie, be sure to put Blakesburg on your Labor Day calendar for 2019.