Beautiful weather greeted a large crowd Thursday afternoon at the Allen County Airport for the Fly Kansas Air Tour, an annual event sponsored by the Kansas Commission on Aerospace Education and the Kansas Department of Transportation. Hundreds of local school children helped lend a festive air to the event.
Over 20 planes landed at the airport as part of the tour, joining another dozen or so that are hangared at the airport. At one point, a new aircraft touched down every minute or so, taxiing down the long runway and, under the watchful eye of airport director Robert Poydack, parking in neat rows for the spectators to admire.
Darrell Linengerger, Topeka, arrived in his 1945 Aeronca Champ, which he rebuilt in 2006. The single-engine was made at the end of WWII but never saw military action. Its midnight black polyester fabric exterior caught the eye of several aviation enthusiasts.
Danny LaCoss, Wellington, was flying the three-day tour with his son Jason in a home-built Europa kit plane. It was either his “fourth or fifth tour — I’ve lost count” and he’s been to Iola several times. “Every time I’m here I have to stop in Iola to buy some barbecue at Dudley’s,” he admitted with a guilty smile.
Karen and Timothy McCall of Derby were traveling in their Zenith STOL CH 750 aircraft. Tucked inside the cockpit was Bear Paw, a teddy bear they carry at the behest of their 4-year-old grandson who urged they take it along to keep them company.
A plane from Kansas State University underlined the event’s educational focus. One of the pilots was Katie Dehn, a Topeka sophomore at K-State’s Aerospace and Technology campus in Salina, who is studying to become a commercial airline pilot. Her dreams of one day flying intercontinentally resonated with Sage Shaughnessy, 16, of Iola. Shaughnessy had previously thought a career as a helicopter pilot was best reached via Southern Utah University, but Dehn’s anecdotes of life at K-State, and an obvious, intoxicating passion for a career spent among the silent stars and above a glistening Atlantic, was leading Shaughnessy to reconsider his options.
Volunteers from CASA of the 31st District handed out free snowcones to attendees, while staff from Hope Unlimited offered popcorn. Roco’s food truck, staffed by Jessica Kerr, also had a variety of treats for sale.
As the afternoon wore on, Larry and Judy Laver of Iola, seated underneath one of the few shade trees, were pleased to make it out. Michael Church of Carlyle agreed. “It’s a great day, and I’m happy all the kids could get out here to see this,” he said.
Poydack concurred, noting he was thrilled both with the number of aircraft and the large crowd. “I’m happier than a puppy dog with two tails,” he said. “Twenty one planes from the tour are here, and it’s a beautiful day.”
THE TOUR offered attendees so much spectacle that one could hardly fault students for an inability to lend Bob Brock, Director of Aviation for the Kansas Department of Transportation, their full attention. Brock briefly addressed a small group of the elementary students, highlighting the importance of aviation and rural airports. “This place is an incredible asset to your county. Did you know,” he asked, “that it would cost Allen County taxpayers approximately $16 million to build an airport like this from scratch?”
None of the students likely did command such an understanding of infrastructure budgets, but the fact was lost among most of them. They were too busy admiring a beautiful fleet of aircraft, their stomachs rumbling for another bag of popcorn, as the excitement of seeing something new, and escaping the classroom on a weekday afternoon, was almost too much to bear.