Casa Grande Cactus Fly-In 2008
© Paul Berge
Living 50 flying miles from Antique Airfield near Blakesburg, Iowa has its advantages. The green rolling hills make the perfect backdrop for open-cockpit daydreaming. Except, in winter, when the landscape hibernates beneath a sky hasn't seen the sun since Thanksgiving, and pilots grow sullen as we curse our hangar doors that are frozen shut. Crime rates soar this time of year, and that's why Arizona was invented. And had Brent Taylor not asked me to attend the 50th Cactus Flyin at Casa Grande, I might at this moment be in the Iowa Institute for the Seasonally Insane.
I'd flown to Casa Grande a few years ago, but this was my first visit during the AAA fly-in. Arriving by airline and rental car diminished some of the hero factor, but the 72-degree afternoons mitigated that. To frost-ravaged Iowans Casa Grande was nearly perfect. Friday's airport traffic was light, but on Saturday the clear sky produced 263 registered airplanes, including: Stinsons, Stearmans, a pair of P-51s (one a rare H-model), a Mullicoupe, a Lockheed 10, a Beech 18 and a 17, plus two AD Sky Raiders arrived in formation with a T-28 that later ran its battery down trying to start. It was a weekend of flight without any major mishaps, although one Luscombe pilot suffered momentary directional dyslexia as he tried to land against the traffic flow. Blush...go around. And keeping it all civil was the complete absence of the FAA. But we weren't there just to enjoy the show.
Our mission was to brief AAA members about the Air Power Museum's (APM) status and the APM Board's vision for its future, as well as to debut a short video called Living the Legend, produced by AAA member Joseph Pundzak, about the glorious piece of real estate called Blakesburg. The video sold itself, and can be viewed on line (free) through the AAA/APM website: www.antiqueairfield.com. Expect a feature length version of Living The Legend to premier at the 2008 AAA Reunion.
Reporting on the museum's status I knew would be tricky. First a little background: Last October the APM Board invited me to attend several planning meetings as a representative from the AAA national board. Led by Jim Jones we analyzed what the museum was, what it held, its physical condition and what was needed to preserve this treasure without destroying its charm. At Casa Grande on Saturday night after the awards dinner (I had the chicken and someone swiped my beer) Brent awarded the Headquarters Award to Dennis Hall for his Corben Baby Ace and then threw it to me to speak for about 15 minutes.
My report was a broad overview of the APM vision. First came the discomforting news that much of the APM infrastructure was in need of repair. The museum collection holds 46 aircraft. Many will never fly again, but some might. The APM Board recognized that in order to efficiently manage the museum's resources and plan for the future it had to decide where APM should be in ten years. Only then could realistic short-term goals be set. Hangars need to be rebuilt or possibly replaced and airplanes refurbished. The APM Library houses a vast wealth of technical data. One goal is to make those data available on line to members for free and to non-members for a fee.
Volunteers have been the driving force behind AAA/APM since its inception but, as I explained, more is needed. Yes, that means money. Therefore an endowment is being created to secure APM's future. Details will be announced as it progresses, and to keep the APM board focused and working efficiently, an oversight steering committee was created. One of the committee members, Greg Herrick, was in attendance at Casa Grande and introduced.
Discussing money with friends and family - and AAA is just that - is often difficult. In my brief comments I hoped to convey the urgency of the APM situation without invoking distress. I also wanted to make it clear that the volunteer spirit is still vital. Even though money is needed, input from members is equally important.
It might have been 72 degrees in Casa Grande while back in Iowa temps had barely crept above zero, but the glaciers are receding, and as the grass returns so will the Cubs, Wacos and a host of other winged dreams from the past. And they'll make their way to Antique Airfield in Blakesburg, Iowa, the AAA/APM home where family is always welcome.
And, oh yeah, we'd love to have the Sky Raiders show up for the next Pumpkin Bombing... just a thought.