Iola Becomes The "Busiest Little Airport" On Fridays At
By: Larry Stencel, Special To ANN
This is the way aviation ought to be everywhere, folks. Each
Friday year around - except for the Friday of AirVenture - the
Central County Airport Association puts on a wonderful Friday lunch
that draws pilots from near and far to the Central County Airport
(68C) at Iola, WI northwest of Oshkosh. It’s no
understatement to say their feeds are infamous, and now
they‘ve added an element of flying fun, too.
As if flying in to the old time aerodrome surroundings, food and
aviation camaraderie wasn’t enough, the folks who run this
great weekly event have recently added a spot landing contest
offering a free lunch to the pilot who lands the closest - but not
short - to a chalk line on the prevailing runway - usually 04 or
22. No big thing, you’d think, but try doing that in front of
about 50+ pilots standing - literally - right next to the grass
runway where you’re trying to hit the sweet spot. No TSA or
runway security needed here … just common sense!
On an absolutely stupendous fall day in
Wisconsin, I decided to make one last flight in my Cherokee before
mothballing it for the winter and heading south to Florida. After
my spot landing attempt (don’t ask … I didn‘t
win), the first place I headed for this time wasn’t the chow
line. Rather, it was to the landing line where a hoard of other
pilots were already in place judging the landings and enjoying
watching airplanes of all varieties making their attempts. WOW!
Looking out on final, I could see three airplanes in line as well
as a flight of two RV’s making an overhead above us. I heard
still more on the radio making their calls. Plane after plane came
in and most did quite well. Antiques, classics, LSA’s, spam
cans, an Aztec and one R44 came in … 55 in all. They filled
an adjacent grass runway when they parked. What great fun on a
perfect CAVU flying day. My personal favorite is the cabin Waco
which is a regular attendee.
Used to be that everyone would head for the chow line after
landing … now the draw IS the runway. It was amazing how
well the landing airplanes did overall and it was fun to watch. One
lucky pilot got a free lunch owing to his piloting skills …
When the clock hits high noon, the contest is over and everyone
heads to the chow line for the great food which changes every week.
This particular Friday the menu was oven baked chicken, mashed
potatoes, peas, bread, and a desert of strawberry shortcake and ice
cream. The hangar is filled with wooden picnic tables laid end to
end in rows and covered with table cloths. You eat with real silver
… not plastic. Nice touches. For $6.99, you can’t beat
the price, either. They’ve got a wonderful real stone
fireplace in the corner to take the nip out of the air and it was
running. What ambiance.
No telling who you’re going to sit next to but everyone
becomes a friend. This particular day, I struck up a conversation
with a couple who serve in the USAF at Madison and who had driven
up for the event. And, I met an amazing 5 year old airport kid
named Casey (Son of the contest judge) who knew darn near every
airplane by name and type. I think he’s gonna be a pilot when
he’s older; we need more like him. A lady gave a short talk
about her joy of accompanying a WWII vet to see their memorial in
Washington the previous day. This is family fun at its
96 year old Paul Johns who first soloed in 1929 and went on to
fly Pan Am Clippers is still one of the regulars. His mementos are
in a glass display case along one wall. Great guy to meet.
Central County airport has been in
existence since 1946 but the Association’s new hangar was
built in 2000. Around 2003, the idea of Friday lunch for
Association members came into play and the word got out fast.
Recently, a flight of four US Army UH-60 Blackhawks came in on a
"training" mission; now 68C is a regular training route stop. Army
guys have to eat, too! No telling what you’re likely to see
when you attend. One thing is for sure, there WILL be lots of
airplanes. Their record of airplanes flying in is in the high
60’s. Once in a while, a low flying jet scares the local cows
while providing ooohs and ahhhhs for the attendees.
Talking with Association President, Bill Kinsman, who puts on
the lunch, they have procured an original airways beacon tower from
the Shawano airport which they hope to have up next to the hangar
soon. Cool. On their website which announces the fare for the next
lunch, you’ll find Bill’s "head" graphically
superimposed on all manner of things each week … it’s
become famous, as well. Check out the link to Bill’s various
"heads" on their website.
After eating, the pilots head to their planes and taxi out.
Shades of AirVenture (after the days airshow) for a short while
except there aren‘t any guys in pink shirts … just
pilots doing what they’re supposed to do. Those who
aren’t in a hurry to leave can sit outside the hangar to
watch airplanes taxi by or saunter over to the runway to get a
closer look as they depart. One thing is for sure … if you
like airplanes and a great lunch, Central County airport is the
place to be on Fridays. I wish they had a place like this in
Florida. Maybe WE FL pilots oughta work on that.