by Paul Berge
This place is called Ailerona. It has no ICAO identifier, doesn’t appear on any sectional or airport guide. It can’t be loaded into a GPS database; if you tried, you’d blow the RAIM guts out of the box.
Despite the lack of navaids, Ailerona is supposedly easy to find if you know how to look. I haven’t been there myself, but I once met a pilot in Wagner, South Dakota who knew a guy in Alliance, Nebraska, who’d flown over Ailerona one winter day in a Maule. He said it appeared through a crystalline veil of snow and looked like sunrise at noon. He reported an expanse of green across low hills above which a Super Cub flew in loose formation with a Taperwing Waco until the Cub descended to an upsloping pasture where the cows turned their heads to marvel at the appropriateness of a Cub in their salad bar.
Ailerona appeared briefly in Greek mythology when Icarus tried to fly across the Mediterranean in his waxwing homebuilt in search of this perfect place. He looked too hard however, and his wings melted. Ever since then the FAA has denied Ailerona’s existence fearing that if pilots saw its wooden hangars full of Stearmans, Fairchilds, Lockheed Vegas and Lodestars, if they saw the fuel truck hauling both 100 and 80 octane at 35 and 30 cents respectively, if pilots saw all that, they’d question the way things are.
I thought I saw Ailerona up in Michigan while standing beneath a Husky’s wing during a thunderstorm that looked like creation itself. Another time, it flashed briefly through my old Bonanza while scud running between a low overcast and the flat pine forests of northern Minnesota. I skimmed the trees at 150 knots through a 300-foot wedge of clear air that led nowhere and I hoped would never end. Each time that I thought I saw Ailerona however, it disappeared. I tried to grasp it, to log the moment for spiritual currency and, in the process, the vision said I wasn’t ready and faded away.
Ailerona holds the raw stuff of flight from biplanes to the Concorde. It’s where aviation began and, today, is the one corner of flight where no one can clip your wings. It’s out there, and chances are you’ve already seen it—perhaps in that perfect instrument approach or the beautifully executed crosswind landing. It may even exist outside the Midwest, although what better place to begin the search?
© 1981, 2001, 2003, 2009,First published in Minnesota Flyer, Richard Coffey, editor/publisher, later in Pacific Flyer, Wayman Dunlap, editor/publisher. Featured on the audio book, “Ailerona,” Ahquabi House Publishing, LLC, all rights reserved by the author.