Once aloft, the Cub door is opened and a chilly breeze blasts into the cabin as the pilot noses closer to the target.
The back-seat bombardier grabs a pumpkin, peering intently at the carefully-placed circle of cones around the target below. Trying to time it just right to score a bullseye, the bombardier liberates the pumpkin for its impressive one-time flight — but alas!
It tumbles into the adjacent cornfield, and once again, the target — a small dilapidated skiff that hasn’t floated on the water in years — is spared the crushing blow of a smashing pumpkin.
But all is not lost: There are more pumpkins available for the mission. And when the onboard supply is depleted, there’s a flatbed trailer load of colorful pumpkins stationed by the grass strip.
Antique Airfield (IA27) at Blakesburg, Iowa, is busiest during its annual Labor Day fly-in and, weather depending, its second busiest occasion is the annual Pumpkin Drop.
The event was cheerfully sponsored by the “Orange Peace Liberation Air Force” and the Earl May Garden Center. About 6″ of snow preceded this year’s festivities, which likely dissuaded some arrivals. But the snow melted away just in time, and a small cadre of courageous souls donned multiple layers of clothing to brave the cold on Nov. 2, 2019.
After a hearty lunch of Marcy Taylor’s tasty homemade chili, along with cornbread cassserole, cheesy potatoes, and a plethora of delicious desserts, Antique Airplane Association President Brent Taylor conducted a pilot briefing and then the Pumpkin Drop bombing missions commenced.
“The whole thing started on a lark in 1996 when Les Gaskill showed up here in his Cub after Halloween and said, ‘I always wanted to drop a pumpkin out of my airplane and see what it looks like hitting the ground — can I do it?’ I said ‘Yeah!’ My son, Ben, and I and Travis Gregory were here when Les climbed up in his Cub and dropped his kids’ carved Halloween pumpkin. It went splat out there and we were all laughing! Then I wanted to see it happen, so I got Ben’s pumpkin and went up in Les’ Cub and dropped it. We thought that was the end of that,” recalls Brent.
“The next year, Steve Black and Travis came back with a dozen pumpkins, tomatoes, and squash and we threw those out, and that’s actually how the Pumpkin Drop got started,” he continues. “It was kind of a ‘thank you event’ for all our volunteers and directors, and it’s expanded into just a fun event. Sometimes it’s T-shirt weather and if it’s a decent day, we’ll get 30 to 40 airplanes and about half take part. Mostly it’s light airplanes, but one time we had a B-25 fly in and take a load of pumpkins up to drop! There are other Pumpkin Drops around the country, as well — it’s just a fun event.”
It’s ridiculously fun to be a participant in these missions. It really isn’t so much about winning for the pilots and bombardiers, but more about the last-chance-before-winter to enjoy the easy-going camaraderie of aviation buddies.
But the lucky winners who happen to get closest to the target are, of course, recognized and lauded with ephemeral awards.
This year, pilot Dallas Grimm was awarded a stuffed pumpkin and his bombardier, first-time participant Kysa Moore, was adorned with a glittering pumpkin sash to be treasured all year and then passed on to the 2020 Pumpkin Drop winners.