Nine things I know about flying in Iowa

This is another entry in our “What I know about flying in…” series. If you’d like to write about your home state or country, email us: editor@airfactsjournal.com

1. Flying in Iowa is pure freedom with very little restriction. I grew up in an Iowa town of 900 people with two parks and one airstrip. When I followed an airplane shadow with my bike, the only thing between me and a parked Champ or Cessna 140 was a shallow ditch – in Iowa we are known for tall corn, not tall fences. Iowa is a state with 99 counties and 115 public use airports. Although we do have towers and controlled airspace in Iowa, they are few and far between. Of the 360 headings on the compass, I can leave my home airport on more than 300 of them and not enter ATC-controlled airspace before reaching the state border.

Iowa sunset
Nothing to block that beautiful sunset in Iowa.

2. There are no geographic features that limit flying in Iowa. Although we lack the beauty of mountains, Great Lakes, and oceans, Iowa’s relatively flat, open terrain is friendly to flying low performance airplanes at low altitudes. Also, those flight horizons are perfect for watching sunrises and sunsets from and airplane.

3. Flying in Iowa is family friendly. In the warmer months, weekend flight breakfasts are scattered around the state nearly every weekend. Flight breakfasts by nature are family friendly with nearly everyone ready to show their airplanes to kids of any age, but I’ve seen some especially kid-friendly ones with rides, bounce houses and even a petting zoo. One of Iowa’s most friendly fly-ins is the monthly Third Thursday Burger Burn in Mason City, Iowa. Hosted by respected warbird pilot, author, and pilot examiner Doug Rozendaal, the burger burn has occurred on the third Thursday evening of the month for over 100 months. The grill is lit and everyone brings something to throw on it. Everyone from experienced warbird pilots to students on cross countries with their instructors are welcome. Families and friends eat together and kids have been known to play wiffle ball in the grass between rows of parked airplanes.

Antique airfield
The real “field of dreams.”

4. The “field of dreams” from the Kevin Costner movie is located near Dyersville, Iowa, and it’s worth a circle or two if you are flying over. However, if you are an antique airplane enthusiast you know that Iowa’s real field of dreams is Antique Airfield in Blakesburg. Antique Airfield is home of the Antique Airplane Association, founded by Robert Taylor in 1953 and the AirPower Museum. Each Labor Day weekend the annual AAA/APM fly-in attracts hundreds of antique airplanes and aviators from all over the country. The 1920s-looking airfield comes alive during the fly-in as aviators share their airplanes by giving rides, all day and evening – without turning on or bringing a radio. The pattern can be full of airplanes on a nice evening and see and avoid works fine as it did when these ancient flying machines were built. At night the guitars come out and you can sing along while watching the stars in the clear Iowa sky.

5. Iowa is not a “fly over” state during Oshkosh. Iowa airports range from 145-360 nautical miles from Oshkosh, making an Iowa fuel stop likely for many aircraft traveling to Oshkosh from the southwest. Iowa’s small airports and communities love seeing the parade of airplanes heading to OSH and hearing the stories that go with them. After 20 years in the FBO business, I’ve learned the happiest people I meet are those traveling cross country in their own airplanes, not those riding in the back of jets.

6. Agriculture is king in Iowa, and for a few weeks each summer agricultural aviation is king in Iowa. Ag aviators work hard help Iowa feed America and are important to Iowa’s economy. The season is short and there are literally millions of acres to cover, so ag pilots are understandably task saturated on hot, busy summer days. At small, uncontrolled airports ag operators may have some relief from standard traffic patterns and may not be talking on the CTAF, so the best way to work safely with them is to keep your eyes out of the cockpit.

7. General aviation “works” in Iowa. Iowa is home to world class corporations, but not home to a hub airport. Iowa companies use everything from SR22ss to biz jets to make doing business around the country and beyond possible while maintaining Midwest roots. In my career I’ve flown passengers 800 miles or more for a business trip and seen them at a little league game or community event that same night.

Iowa skiplane
Four seasons mean skis are an option.

8. If you don’t like the weather in Iowa, wait a day and it will change. We have everything from tornadoes to blizzards, but to be fair we almost never have them on the same day. Iowa’s long, flat horizons are great for watching weather come and go. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and Iowa’s four seasons provide plenty of variety. Iowa has colorful springs and especially colorful autumns. I think Iowa is just about the greenest place in the world in late June and early July, and although much of our winter can be a dull shade of brown, Iowa really shines from the air when its covered with a blanket of snow. Many of my Champ/Cub/Taylorcraft flying friends have a set of skis in their hangar with a great set of memories to go along with them.

9. Iowa is a great place for flight training. Iowa is not a good choice for a mountain flying checkout, but other than that it has a lot going for it to make it a contender for the best possible place to learn to fly. Iowa has plentiful public use airports, both paved and grass, and more private strips to boot. We have friendly ATC support without complicated procedures – instrument training can be quite efficient in Iowa. Iowa’s varied weather helps build critical pilot skills such as crosswind landings, weather avoidance, and actual weather flying experience in the controlled training environment.

17 Comments

  • Iowa is also the home of the Cessna 150-152 Fly-In. Every July we meet in Clinton for 3 days of good flying, good food, good friends, and great fun. Next year we celibate our 20th. Come on out and join us.

    • Thanks for the invite Mark. I was at Clinton for a quick passenger pickup during last years fly-in. Seemed like a great group of people and everyone was having fun – Maybe next year…

    • Thanks Jim. Agreed lots of great grass runways in Iowa. We are fortunate to have a handful of them close by to add to our customer’s training experience.

  • Great article. The Midwest and great plains states are fantastic places to fly our antique fabric covered tailwheel airplanes that many of us are so fond of.

  • Echoing Mr. Buchner! Come to Clinton, IA at the Cessna 150-152 Club flyin! Any ol’ airplane will do! You don’t have to have a Cessa 150 or 152. Although, at the event, you might convince yourself you need one.

    Mr. Griggs, see you on the trails!

    • Hi Geoff, hope I get a chance to spend some time at the fly-in in the future. We’ve owned both a 150 and 152 for flight instruction and rental. Although our customers seem to prefer the 4 seat airplanes, I find myself missing the 150/152 when we don’t have one.

  • Great article Shane! I learned to fly powered aircraft in IA at the University of Dubuque and was a rising senior when the Field of Dreams was built, an amazing thing to be sure! Thanks for bringing back some great aviation memories, I need to get back there to see some of the stuff I missed during my training.

    • Thanks John,

      There is lots of excitement about a MLB game being played at the field of dreams next year, watch for it in the news. Hope you get a chance to fly into Iowa again soon.

  • Nice article on flying in one of the “fly over” states that the east and west coast elites disdain with negative comments. I grew up in Illinois which is also a good state to fly general aviation aircraft. My question to the author is what is the make of the of the “taildragger” in the opening photo. I have never seen a picture of it. I want one. Gary

  • Great article. The section about degrees of directional freedom to fly reminded me of Rochester, Minnesota, when my airplane partner and I would taxi out to the hold-short line on a nice day, and ask “Where to?” “Oh, let’s go southwest today.” And off we went. Even MSP wasn’t a huge barrier to a northern flight.

    • Thanks Hunter! Picking a direction at the hold short line – I love it! That’s better than throwing a dart at a map!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *