Optimist Fly-In Attracts Pilots, Planes, and Appetites

Optimist Fly-In Attracts Pilots, Planes, and Appetites

By Michael McAllister

If a town is said to be part of fly-over country, the remark is not a compliment.  If, however, the town hosts a fly-in—as the Optimist Club of Grinnell did on Saturday, September 23—the event can complement the organization’s general mission of being a Friend of Youth.

And judging from the number of cars that flanked the east side of the airport and the length of the ticket line even four hours after the event’s beginning, the fundraiser was a flying success.

The annual event fulfills various purposes.  It gives people from the community an opportunity to see the airport and to view current and vintage aircraft.  It gives pilots throughout the state—and sometimes from other states—a place to fly to.  Then, of course, there is the breakfast:  French toast, sausage, scrambled eggs, and beverages—worthy fare, reasonably priced, for the most important meal of the day.

Contributions raised this year will go into the general fund with a priority toward purchasing gas cards for families who have a child battling pediatric cancer.  Such a situation often requires frequent trips to a hospital or treatment center some distance from Grinnell.  The gas cards help offset expenses, giving parents already under stress a breath of relief.

Other major Optimist projects include Backpacks for Kids and National Night Out.

Jerry Brown (above), one of the Optimists behind the beverage table, summed things up efficiently when he said, “Everything’s about the kids.”  He estimated that “several hundred” people had gone through the line—this at approximately 10:00 a.m.

And since the Optimists focus on “bringing out the best in kids,” It is worth noting that children, even quite young, were well represented at the event.

In the picture on the left, Kaley Christinson holds Riley Howe, who, Kaley reported, seemed to be not all that fond of French toast.  She did, however, like the sausage.  In contrast, fifteen-month-old Ethan Schoh, with a little help from his father, Mike, seemed to like everything.

At this year’s event, two outside organizations partnered with Grinnell Optimists to promote their activities.  One was the Minnesota chapter of Pilots for Christ International.  Represented by (below, from left) Tom Hauskins, Marion, Iowa, of the Amateur Radio Missionary Service; Neale Thompson, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Steve Olson, also from Minneapolis.  Pillots for Christ is an organization that arranges air transportation for people in need.  “Because we are not far from Rochester,” Neal Thompson stated,” most of the people we carry are patients” needing to go to the Mayo Clinic.  This mission is similar to the Optimists’ purchase of gas cards.

The group is non-denominational and, in addition to transporting patients, also advises youth groups about flying, “[flies] ministers to and from mission stations, and foster[s] Christian fellowship at meetings near airports,” a brochure states.

Thompson observed that one of the group’s goals is to start a chapter in Iowa.

Another station promoting aviation interests came from the Iowa Aviation Heritage Museum of Ankeny, Iowa— at the regional airport at 3704 SE Convenience Blvd.  The museum displays planes and aircraft-related artifacts from “pre-WW II to the present day.”  A 501(c)(3) operation, the museum is entirely non-profit and is supported solely by volunteers and contributions and by some product sales

“When you first walk in [to the museum], what you’re going to see is a 29’ wingspan B-29…hanging from the ceiling,” stated Mike Callison, below, museum president.

Callison also mentioned the B-17, the B-29, and the C-47, from Byron Originals in Ida Grove.  Byron Godbersen gained an impressive reputation from the early 1950s through the 90s as an eclectic entrepreneur.  Among his creations were remote-controlled airplanes, approximately one-third the size of the originals, that were flown in air shows reenacting historic World War II battles such as Pearl Harbor and what the Los Angeles Times, in its obituary of Godbersen (May 15, 2003), called, “a 26-minute pint-sized but ordinance-enhanced reenactment the 26-day Battle of Iwo Jima.”

Callison spoke also of a “4360 engine cutaway—a 28-cylinder radio engine that turns through electrically.”  This type of engine powered the Hughes Spruce Goose as well as several other airplanes.

Every item displayed in the museum carries an Iowa connection.

A variety of aircraft ringed areas of the airport, giving onlookers a chance to inspect up close.

Some of the planes come with a history.  For example, a plane identified as “Naked Fanny” came to existence in June of 1944, a product of Douglas, according to an Internet posting from writer and photographer Robert S. DeGroat.  Officially known as the BT2D Dauntless II, it was soon dubbed the Skyraider.

The plane went through a number of identification and model changes, “eventually…produced in seven basic versions and 28 variations.”

DeGroat states that the TT tail code means that the plane was part of the 602nd Special Operations Squadron, based in Thailand, from 1967 to 1972, at Nahkon Phanom, shortened in military jargon to NKP.  “One nickname for NKP was the derogatory “Naked Fanny,” a name transferred to the airplane.

“Some of the most dangerous flying ever done was accomplished in southeast Asia using the Douglas Skyraider,” DeGroat asserts.

Meanwhile, back at the hanger, and on a happier note, the sausage still sizzled, the French toast still browned, and the eggs still scrambled—all with the help of dedicated Optimists wanting to contribute to the kids of the community. 

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