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

2019 Airport Challenge

camera-april-2018-1054.jpgI’ve been thinking a lot about airports lately. I guess that’s no surprise. I work at an airport. I vacation at airports. Airports are a big part of my life and I love them. So I find it very distressing every time I hear about another GA airport closing.

According to Statista.com, in 1990 there were 5,589 public use airports in the US. In 2016 there were 5,136. That’s over 450 airports gone in 26 years. And once gone they don’t come back. In the rare case where a new airport is built, it is often at the expense of an older airport which is closed (see Denver, for example).

img_8272Why do smaller airports matter? Well for one thing, that’s where most of the flight schools are and where the pilots of tomorrow begin their flight training. GA airports relieve congestion at major airports by providing alternate destinations for business jets and they are often much more convenient for business travelers. Perhaps most importantly, small, local airports enable emergency support to quickly reach communities in times of need.

img_e2204Given all the important services that GA airports provide, why on earth are they disappearing? Often these airports are surrounded by homes and businesses which can lead to noise complaints and safety concerns. Developers desire the airport property to build additional homes or retail centers. Local governments want the increased tax dollars that commercial development would bring. Small airports often don’t have the means to fend off such attacks. Once an airport loses community support and is targeted for closure, it can be too hard for it to fight back effectively. (Santa Monica, anyone?)

img_9547So, what can we do to help?  It’s simple, really – visit GA airports! If you are a GA pilot you are already helping by using these airports on a regular basis. Not a pilot? The good news is, you don’t need to have a pilot’s license to visit an airport. GA airports are often more accessible and people-friendly then their large commercial counterparts. When I thought about it, I realized I only visited 4 GA airports last year, and of those there was only one I hadn’t been to before. What?!?!? I can do better than that! And so the 2019 airport challenge was born!

The challenge is simple: in the next 12 months check out (at least) five GA airports not previously visited. 

Two of the airports on my list are Chester County Airport (MQS) in Pennsylvania and Grimes Field (I74) in Ohio. I haven’t decided on the other three yet, but I’m looking for other locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, West Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. (If you’ve got a suggestion please comment on this post and let me know!)

IMG_7705As luck would have it, my friend Max Flight from the Airplane Geeks Podcast recently started his own quest to visit GA airports. Since he eats out fairly regularly, he decided to visit airports with restaurants. Brilliant! Nothing goes better with a meal than a heaping portion of airplanes and avgas! Max created eatattheairport.com which includes a google map that displays airports with eating establishments on the premises (or nearby). Check it out – it’s seriously cool! Have a favorite airport/restaurant that isn’t listed? There’s a form you can fill out to have it added to the map.

So, how much do you love aviation? What are you doing to support it? Consider this your invitation to join me! If you value GA airports and all that they provide to the community, then GO VISIT THEM! Head to eatattheairport.com to plan your trips and submit information to help other avgeeks plan theirs.

The 2019 Airport Challenge is on! Are you in? Great! I’ll see you at the airport!

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