Lunch with Champaign Lady

IMG_1409Regular readers may recall that earlier this year I set a goal for myself (and anyone else who wants to play along) of checking out at least 5 GA airports not previously visited. That’s right- it’s the 2019 Airport Challenge! Recently I took a step towards meeting that goal by spending a day at Grimes Field in Urbana, Ohio. This little airport has pretty much everything you could ask for: plenty of GA traffic, an excellent restaurant and not one but TWO aviation museums!

Along on the journey was my friend Jim Thompson, former stairs truck driver for a major airline (now retired) and current airport ambassador. We started our visit at the Grimes Flying Lab Museum. This museum is only open on Saturday mornings so I’m really glad we timed our trip to allow us to see it.

Housed in a single hangar, the exhibits are a showcase of the life and work of Warren Grimes, who founded an aircraft lighting company in the mid-1920s. The collection includes pretty much every type of lighting you can think of… and probably some you didn’t! The centerpiece of the collection is a C45-H which was used as a test bed and is decked out with so many lights it looks rather like a flying disco. It. Is. AWESOME!

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After an hour or so we made our way over to the other museum on the field – the Champaign Aviation Museum. The first thing I noticed when we walked in the door was a C-47 on display.  These planes played an important role in WWII, particularly during the invasion of Normandy when more than 50,000 paratroopers jumped from them.  With the 75th Anniversary of D-Day coming up in just a few weeks, I appreciated the chance to get an up close look at such an iconic airplane.

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This particular warbird spent some time in the civilian world.

The next thing to catch my attention was the B-17 in pieces at the far side of the hangar. Named Champaign Lady, it is undergoing a ground-up restoration using various parts from other B-17s as well as some newly fabricated pieces. It was fascinating to see how it is being assembled. It’s even more impressive when you consider it is being constructed by volunteers! One of them spent some time talking with us about the challenges of tracking down parts and securing detailed plans for such an old plane. It is definitely a labor of love. I’m really looking forward to the day when she is ready to fly.

Also at the museum is my old friend the B-25 Champaign Gal. I’ve seen her at many aviation events and if you’ve checked out my “about the blogger” page, there’s a picture of the two of us together. There were quite a number of other exhibits related to World War II including uniforms, wedding dresses made from parachutes and many, many photographs.

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My favorite exhibit, however, featured the Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly referred to as the WASPs. The museum has life-sized cut-outs of at least a dozen WASPs, each of which is holding a poster-sized information sheet which includes a photograph of themselves from WWII, their nickname, what planes they flew and an anecdote from their time in the service. Some of their tales are absolutely priceless! The exhibit brings the WASPs to life in a way that history books cannot. I found myself desperately wishing I could have met those ladies in person!

After we left the museum we did what any self-respecting avgeek does – we grabbed some lunch and hung around and watched airplanes! One of the best things about GA airports is how close you can get to the ramp areas. I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of planes that flew in while we were there.

So, what GA airfield have you visited recently? Need some suggestions of where to go? Check out eatattheairport.com! And if you are anywhere near Urbana, OH (or even if you aren’t) plan a visit to Grimes Field. Just make sure you get a piece of ridiculously delicious pie at the cafe – because the only thing better than spending a day with airplanes is spending a day with airplanes AND pie!

Want to learn more about the Champaign Aviation Museum? Check out episode 548 of the Airplane Geeks Podcast in which they interview Aimee Brower who handles public affairs, donor relations, and education.

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Photo by Jim Thompson

4 thoughts on “Lunch with Champaign Lady

  1. I’ve read previously about the Grimes flying test bed, but cannot recall having seen photos of it, so thanks for that! I can only imagine what it must look like at night with everything flashing. I wonder if they can even turn all the lights on at the same time. Could the electrical system handle the load?

    Looks like the places you’ve visited exhibit one of the characteristics I most appreciate in a museum: the planes inside the building still fly (or are in the process of being made able to fly!).

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    • Thanks for reading, Ron! The Grimes test plane is pretty amazing. It travels around a bit so one of these days I hope to see it with all the lights on. And I completely agree about keeping museum airplanes in flying condition, even if they won’t be flying much. There just something about permanently tethering an airplane to the ground that seems wrong.

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  2. That C 47 with desert air on the side is a airline I have never heard of maybe it was a cover for the CIA? Like the famous Air America from the Vietnam war. Looks like a very cool museum and well worth a visit.

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    • Thanks for reading, Glen! LOL! Pretty sure the C-47 was not an undercover CIA operative. My friend Jim knows the history of it and apparently it was indeed in civilian service. Then it sat unused for a long time until the museum rescued it.

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