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Thu, Oct 28, 2010

The Friday Fly In Lunch At Iola, WI, Always Fun For Aviators

Iola Becomes The "Busiest Little Airport" On Fridays At Noon

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 … OK, luck.
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 greatest.

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.



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