Golden-Hued Memories of a Late Summer Fly-In

Like sampling a fine wine, one can slowly mosey around the airport, have relaxed conversations, take in the vintage airplanes, and lazily discuss plans.

Living in Wisconsin has pros and cons. My dad, a resident of sunny San Diego, enjoys reminding me of the con that is long, harsh winters. Without fail, I can expect to receive a video clip from him in the frigid depths of January or February showing him splashing barefoot through the warm surf and mocking me for the sub-zero maelstrom of snow and ice with which I’m inevitably contending. 

I’ve since learned that a quick screen capture of Midwestern real estate listings can effectively shut him up for the season. But this year some of the beautiful summertime scenes I’ve enjoyed from aloft may prove even more effective. This is what I was thinking about on a recent picture-perfect Saturday filled with antique aircraft, good friends, and sweeping rural vistas in the waning, golden sunlight.

Having been without an airworthy airplane for several months this year, I’m just now getting back into the swing of things. I’m beginning to rediscover how a perfect weekend can be made even more so as an airplane owner. With muddy winters, lengthy annual inspections, and massive panel upgrades behind me, the airplane is running great, and I’m finally free to actually use it to seize the day.

The most recent Saturday adventure began with a generous invitation from my friend Luke. Luke is a very active volunteer with the EAA Vintage Aircraft Association, and it was with his invite that I was able to attend their annual fly-in at Brodhead, Wisconsin. Conveniently, Brodhead is only about 20 miles south of me, and while I frequently pop down there for pattern work on the three beautifully maintained grass runways, this was the first time I’d flown into one of its organized events.

An exceedingly rare 1936 Aeronca LB graced the event with its presence. [Credit: Jason McDowell]

I wasn’t sure what to expect. In terms of fly-ins, I’ve only ever flown into EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh. This frame of reference is a bit nonstandard, not unlike someone who has only ever attended the Super Bowl and is wondering how local high school games must compare. It would be a new experience, and I was looking forward to it.

As it turns out, smaller countryside fly-ins—even the more sizable ones—have a wonderful vibe and are a true pleasure to attend, especially in your own airplane. Like sampling a fine wine, one can slowly mosey around the airport, have relaxed conversations, take in the vintage airplanes, and lazily discuss plans for the on-site barbecue and evening campfire. This is a stark contrast to trying to take in AirVenture, which I’ve found to be less like sampling fine wine and perhaps more like shotgunning several dozen consecutive cans of Miller Lite in one frenzied sitting.

Once described by a visiting Englishman friend as ‘formidable,’ the culinary scene in rural Wisconsin met all expectations. [Credit: Jason McDowell]

The staccato bark of 1920s- and 1930s-era radial engines above punctuated the relaxed countryside ambiance as various achingly beautiful antique aircraft took people for rides and regularly passed overhead. An attendee showed off his 1950s-era BMW motorcycle alongside an old biplane, the stately rumble of the opposed twin blending in nicely with the vintage aircraft engines surrounding us. There was an idyllic balance of laziness and activity that allowed conversations to flow and prevented boredom from ever materializing. 

Hang out at your own airplane, and the conversations are similarly relaxed and enjoyable. Nobody is in a hurry, trying to scurry off to a forum, press briefing, or airshow display like at Oshkosh. Topics of conversation meander like lazy creeks, with aviation newcomers presenting fun, elementary questions about your machine and fellow owners swapping tips and lore learned from ownership. 

As the sun sank lower and the shadows grew long, I preflighted my plane and took off behind a beautiful Stinson Gullwing. Happy to have a full complement of LED lighting to help me stand out, I carefully negotiated the radio-free antique biplanes in the pattern and set off for the 20-minute flight home. Along the way, golden sunlight illuminated the cabin and brought the hayfields below to life in a way the midday sun never can. The atmosphere was as warm as the filtered light, and my leisurely 90 mph cruise speed became more of a luxury than a hindrance.

Ornate farm fields and warm sunlight make slow cruise speeds sublime. [Credit: Jason McDowell]

Evenings like this bring out the paramotor training at my home airfield, and I’m fortunate the instructors and students monitor the frequency with vigilance. Upon hearing me report my position inbound, they requested a few minutes to clear the runway for my arrival. I was happy to orbit the picturesque fields for a bit and comply. 

Still a relative newcomer to the world of tailwheels, I’d just assume not have a live audience lining the runway edges while I land. While I was confident I could land safely and without placing the crowd in danger, I also knew chances were good that I’d resemble an injured wildebeest staggering across the runway while doing so. Fortunately, the tailwheel gods smiled upon me. With the help of my squishy Alaskan Bushwheels and the 8 psi of pressure within, I believe I fooled my audience into thinking I possess something resembling proficiency and skill.

It was a perfect end to a perfect day of airplane ownership, and I’ve come to learn how important it is to deposit these kinds of memories into the vault for safekeeping. Snow, ice, and future setbacks are certain to arrive, after all…and like a big stack of nicely seasoned firewood, reflections upon days like this help to ensure you stay warm and happy in the inevitably challenging times ahead.


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