Thursday, September 6, 2007

Blakesburg 07

Antique Airplane Association Reunion
© 2007, Paul Berge

Somewhere west, perhaps east, of Ailerona is a patch of aviation sanity in a hyphenated world fascinated with high-tech same-think. It’s Blakesburg’s Antique Airfield (IA27 to those with GPS) located a few miles from an Iowa town that hasn’t changed much since Dewey defeated Truman for the middleweight championship in 1948. A tavern, grocery store with a pair of Sinclair gas pumps outside and a few brick buildings mark the business district where the stop sign is more advisory than law. A WWI artillery piece in a small park dedicated to forgotten heroes aims menacingly toward an empty pizza parlor.

Watch for stray dogs as you turn east through a few of blocks of clapboard houses and double-wides beneath immense shade trees, and then cross a bridge above the Burlington Northern rail line. Leaving town the two-lane blacktop curves through a canyon of green-almost-gold corn. So far, you could be anywhere along the Hawkeye state’s side roads, but you’ve passed into the southeast corner where Confederate raiders once roamed and time hasn’t so much stopped but, instead, ages like a dusty bottle of Châteaux l'Empenage ’47 or a ‘39 Packard in your grandmother’s wooden garage. Time exhibits a muted elegance here. Blakesburg is on the map, but its influence takes your mind into new dimensions, especially when you arrive, as we did, by air.

“Take a deep look,” I called to Mike Vogt, my guest for the day, riding in the 1946 Aeronca Champ’s front seat. At six-foot-something his knees rubbed the instrument panel, making him look more cramped than an airline passenger trapped in seat 27F at O’Hare. He didn’t mind, because the fifty-mile flight from Des Moines to Blakesburg in a 60-year-old airplane transports more than your body. It moves the soul; if not, you don’t have one.

“What's that?” he called over the 65-horse engine and summer wind through the open side window.

“1929,” I answered as we passed behind and slightly below a pair of Travel Air biplanes with round engines and floppy-eared ailerons climbing past our nose. “It returns here every Labor Day, stays for about a week and then flies back into History where the FAA can’t touch it.” And I could see from his smile that he began to see what I meant, began to feel the time shift.

Antique Airfield is the home of the Antique Airplane Association and Air Power Museum, collectively known as AAA/APM. The brainchild of Robert Taylor, AAA founder, in 1953, back before many of today’s antiques were built. A pilot and aircraft mechanic who’d served in the 6th Air Force during WWII, Bob had the vision that one day aviation’s past would need protection. With the help of family and countless volunteers over the decades AAA/APM has quietly preserved 1929, 1939, ‘49, ‘59 and all the winged years before and in between as they “Keep The Antiques Flying!”

And that’s the rub—Flying! The word “museum” brings images of air-conditioned vaults full of polished exhibits behind velvet ropes with sleepy docents explaining the worth of dormant history. AAA’s mission is to keep lift beneath the antiquers’ wings, to live history, to preserve the hardware and the skills to fly, maintain and promote these aviation treasures. Oil, grass and exhaust stains, bug guts and the occasional popped tail wheel spring all go into this clacking—flying—corner of the aviation universe. It’s an exclusive community open to anyone willing to dream of what’s been and what’s still possible when fabric-covered wings attach to the imagination.

This year the flying gods smiled on the AAA reunion as high pressure dominated weather charts, allowing pilots to fly in from both coasts. A nearly full moon and misty sunsets made Antique Airfield seem like a digital movie set where a Luscombe chased a C3 Aeronca around the patch until darkness closed the sky for the night, leaving behind the deepest black speckled with stars you can’t see from the 21st Century.

Inside the Pilot’s Pub, beer and cigars accented flying stories told, retold and embellished with great sweeps of aviator hands. Old voices conjured up ghosts from radial engines days, while younger minds sucked it all in and will carry this time-warped bit of aeronautical purity into their futures. And by Sunday night, after most of the pilots had decamped to retrace their journeys back to Colorado, Arizona and Pennsylvania in Cessna Bobcats, Stearmans and Fairchilds, those who remained suffered through an awards ceremony in which a tiny speck of the world’s immense population saluted those who Keep The Antiques Flying until the next reunion when the gods will smile again, and 1929 will return to Blakesburg, Iowa where the future is always worth flying.

The End
View the AAA/APM 2007 Fly-In:
© 2007, Paul Berge, all rights reserved (Above right: Pilots Pub with convenient parking)
Photo upper left by Curtis Kelly, used with permission, all rights reserved.


Mike said...

I have always wanted to attend this event - it's so much of dream of mine to see IOWA as clyde cessna saw it - his birthday was yesterday and his parents took him to Kansas at a very young age from Hawthorne in 1880s, but i'm sure it's really an old world place to be. When is the flyin? can anybody attend?

Paul Berge Rejection Slip Theater said...

I'm slow in responding--time warps in old airplanes have that effect. In answer to your question: Blakesburg (AAA/APM/Antique Airfield) is open to all. The Reunion is held every Labor Day weekend. Member or not, please feel free to attend. Contact me for more details at
--Paul Berge