Summer’s Over, Go Home


Many are the disadvantages of being an adult. We eat kale, pretend to like PBS Newshour and file tax returns with no idea what we’re signing. On the upside, I can now buy that ‘68 Camaro I lusted after in high school but would look like a dork driving it at 55 in the passing lane with my turn signal on, headed to a colonoscopy appointment. All-in-all, adultdom is oversold to kids. With two exceptions: We can fly and after Labor Day we don’t have to go back to school. Take that, punks who can’t drive a stick shift!

Yeah, I know, “education is a lifelong quest …” But that’s why YouTube was invented and has taught me all I need to know about flying a Spitfire. I’m haunted, instead, by that awful moment at the end of Labor Day Weekend when my mother would announce with scarcely hidden glee, “Turn off the TV; it’s a school night …”

Summer, the perennial tease, was done, and another winter of discontent loomed. Carefree days at the airport wandering rows of airplanes were replaced with the ugliest word in the English language: “homework.” In Icelandic it’s “heimavinna,” which proves the threat against airport kids is universal, plus Google can translate anything with plausible credibility. But as an adult, Labor Day at Antique Airfield (IA27) near Blakesburg, Iowa, offers general aviation that Peter Pan escape from reality I experienced as a kid.

“It’s a flying fly-in,” airshow pilot Erik Edgren said as he stopped by my Champ parked in the grass at the 2021 AAA/APM Invitational Fly-in. While AAA/APM denotes excessive use of the first letter of the alphabet, it translates into Antique Airplane Association/Air Power Museum, or my family away from family/home away from home. “Flying fly-in” means Blakesburg has no formal airshow but don’t be surprised to see someone, name unknown, in something loud, N-number unreadable, snap-rolling on the marge of CFR 91.303. Likewise, expect plenty of biplane formation flying, smoke-on, in full compliance with the spirit of 91.111.

FAA reps occasionally visit this private airfield but know to behave themselves, and this year they came bearing gifts. FSDO presented two Wright Brothers Awards, one to Doug Dregger, a former Navy and airline pilot whose career began in high school at Antique Airfield, working for AAA/APM founder, Robert Taylor. The other pilot award went to Michael Lossner, who also gleaned the FAA’s Charles Taylor (no relation to Robert) Master Mechanic Award. Occasionally, the feds get things right.

Flying to Blakesburg is as easy as being a 1920s air mail pilot. I’m based 50 miles northwest, but low clouds and drizzle delayed my usual Friday arrival. Saturday afternoon I was pressing tiedown stakes into the spongy turf. Beside us in the mostly 1940s row was a 150-HP Stinson 108 and wingtip to it a similar model with 180-HP. Along the lineup of modestly old airplanes owned by pilots playing hooky from life were Taylorcrafts, Cubs, Luscombes, a lone Interstate Cadet—one of the best airplanes I’ve ever flown—and more Aeroncas. Most lack electrical systems, but there’s always a competent someone available to hand-prop.

Perpendicular to the rows of smaller neo-classics were rows of older gems, largely biplanes, most with round engines. Among the ubiquitous World War II Stearmans was Brian Auke’s rare 1929 4E, plus Wacos—both cabin and open-cockpit and pronounced, “Wahko,”—Chris Price’s elephant-eared Travel Air, three Meyers OTWs (Out To Win), one painted can’t-keep-your-eyes-off-me red, and even a Fokker D-VII in Ernst Udet livery. A replica but so what? 

Being an overaged kid, I loved just walking around a World War I fantasy. Never mind that it wasn’t designed to glorify the aeromancy of flight but, instead, sported machine guns to interrupt daydreaming Allied pilots. If there’d been a for sale sign, I’d have traded my Champ—plus cash—and flown home in something marvelously impractical. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve slipped the surly bonds of reason and touched the face of irrational reward.

Speaking of rewards, prizes are expected at most fly-ins, so much so that at Blakesburg some of the winners even stick around for the Sunday evening awards ceremony. The 2021 Grand Champion Antique prize went to Scott Glover’s 1933 Lockheed DL-1B Special (aka Vega) monoplane, from Glover’s Mid-America Flight Museum in Mt Pleasant, Texas. Kelly Mahon was PIC. AAA/APM’s Robert L. Taylor had owned and restored this Vega between 1968 and 1983.

This year marked my 37th trip to the Blakesburg fly-in. It’s like attending a family reunion, where I can’t remember names, and each year the kids grow older but never into boring grownups. Several more faces don’t show, having “Gone West,” and although the airplanes, too, grow older, they never age. Russ Williams’ Ryan monoplane, for example, shines brighter than it did when it left the factory in 1938. I’m guessing he retains a brace of indentured Ommpa Loompas who spend the off-season polishing.

Being old isn’t the ticket into Blakesburg. Airplane or human, all ages are welcome, and the latter are invited to join AAA … actually, you can’t attend if you don’t. Modern(ish) airplanes, including homebuilts, especially classic ones, are also welcome. Appearing in something offbeat ensures front row parking. Brent Blue snagged that honor in a 1942 Noorduyn Norseman, making its first visit to Antique Airfield. It resembles a De Havilland Beaver but with even more Canadian whimsy.

Time doesn’t stop during the Blakesburg fly-in but simply takes a holiday. Little has changed over the decades, and to me that’s fine. I park amid the cluster of taildraggers I’ve known for years, wander unmolested by security through mostly familiar exhibits and marvel at how AAA/APM unlocked the secrets of providing running water and flush toilets for attendees decades ago. Other venues could emulate.

For the record, I’ve never attended any school reunions. Some relationships are best forgotten. Although, if I finally spring for the Camaro, maybe I’ll … nah, I’d still look like a dork. Arriving in a Fokker D-VII with twin Spandaus, however ….

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    • Only if you’re sedated. I stayed wide awake through mine, which I understand is rare in the U.S. but not so uncommon in the Rest Of The World. (It was sufficiently rare that they had trouble locating the correct paperwork for the various releases). It caused mild discomfort at times, very minor pain (more of a poking) when it had to make a couple of 90 degree turns, but less trauma than a routine dental cleaning.

      In exchange, I was rewarded with a widescreen display of parts of me that I’ve never seen (including a vaguely visible purple blob that was my liver and the off-ramp leading to my appendix). In close-up, the tiny claws that took tissue samples looked like a scene from Matrix. Fascinating.

      A small drawback was that I was ready to leave immediately following the procedure, instead of lying around the recovery room for half an hour. Turns out, the staff relied on that time to complete the reports and paperwork. At least I could drive myself home when they were done.

  1. “If there’d been a for sale sign, I’d have traded my Champ—plus cash—and flown home in something marvelously impractical. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve slipped the surly bonds of reason and touched the face of irrational reward.”

    Makes me feel better that there are at least two of us!

  2. Big band legend Glenn Miller was a passenger in a Norseman on the fateful flight on December 15, 1944, when he disappeared over the English Channel enroute to Paris. There are multiple theories, including the plane being hit by jettisoned bombs from RAF Lancasters returning from a mission, but the most likely seems to be icing – either airframe icing, carb ice, or both.
    Maybe Brent has some insight?

  3. It’s a unique fly-in, one any antique aircraft aficionado should attend at least once. I flew in in a buddy’s Citabria in 2013, 105 degrees and all. So glad the library had A/C, gave us a chance to cool down for a bit! The variety of aircraft is different than any other fly-in, it’s a bit more laid-back, and just a neat place to soak up the older vibe of the antiques. Lots of radials flying all day every day and rides offered. Hope to be there another time when the heat isn’t so nasty! Wish it was better covered so we could all see the classics.