Annual picnic at the airport draws pilots from across the US
The Red Oak Airport provided food and entertainment for more than 150 visitors at its annual picnic at the airport Aug. 29.
Local and nationwide visitors and pilots, and even an international pilot or two, enjoyed a Maid-Rite meal and sides, making an annual visit to the airport on their way to the Blakesburg Annual Fly-In held in Blakesburg each year during the Labor Day weekend. Attendees were also able to check out the roughly 30 antique and classic airplanes on display around the airport terminal during the event.
One of the attendees was retired Southwest Airlines pilot Richard Hawley of Moltonborough, N.H. Hawley said as a child, he lived in Dodge City, Kan., on a grass cropduster’s field. Hawley said being in an airplane remains one of his earliest childhood memories.
“My dad had a Taylorcraft, and when I was around four years old, one of the first things I can remember was looking out of that airplane and seeing all the little houses and cars on the ground. As time went on, my dad moved up to a Fairchild 24 that was built in 1937. He needed a little more family room,” Hawley said.
Hawley added the Fairchild 24 was a little cramped for a family of seven, though they all managed to fit. During a flight south, Hawley said he had another memorable flying experience, though not in the way people would expect.
“There were four of us in the back, mom and dad and the baby in the front. All was well until we went down to Fort Smith, Ark., for fuel. At altitude, you could roll the windows down and the wind would lull us all to sleep. When we got lower, we encountered a hot, steamy, bumpy ride. That morning, some of us had Cheerios for breakfast, and some of us had corn flakes. It soon became readily apparent who had what. When we got to the ground, mom had to herd us back behind a building and wash us off. It was a memorable occasion for all of us,” stated Hawley.
Still, Hawley said even in low points, he and the rest of the family always loved being above the clouds.
“The higher you got, the farther you could see. That was always a magical thing for me. In Kansas, where everything is flat, it makes a big difference,” commented Hawley.
Hawley’s father bought the Fairchild when Hawley was nine years old. Hawley said he’s currently in the process of restoring the aircraft, though it’s not ready to fly yet.
Hawley said the majority of his family have been pilots, though initially he started out as a schoolteacher in Colorado, and the cost to train was too expensive. Thankfully, Hawley’s cousin, Ernie, had the answer.
“Ernie was checking out on a Braniff 727 airliner. Ernie told me that if I quit teaching and came to Texas, he’d help me get my ratings and get me hired at Braniff International, so that’s what I did. It was a long, hard road to get through all the training, paid for by myself. But I did make it, and I became an airline pilot.”
Hawley said the transition to becoming an airline pilot was ironic, considering his dreams as a child.
“I used to fly along in little planes looking up at contrails, and someday I’ll be having airline food, and I’d reach into my bag and pull out Agent Orange crackers, and peanuts, and a diet Pepsi. Later, when I was in the airliner making those contrails, I’d see a little plane going up the river valley and think I’d love to be in that little plane down there. Then I’d reach down into my little bag, and on Southwest Airlines we served peanuts and Agent Orange crackers just like I had before,” Hawley explained.
Hawley added that he flew in on a commercial airliner to Omaha and rented a car to come to Red Oak, as a mishap in his 1950 Cessna 195 A prevented him from flying to the airport directly.
“I had flown the Cessna to Oshkosh, Wis., and back home again, and when I went home, the last leg was as peaceful and smooth as could be. I flew around a little bit longer just to enjoy it. When I landed, it was normal. I made a three point landing with all wheels touching at the same time, and things were running smoothly. I was down to about 30 miles per hour, something happened. It could have been a tail wheel steering spring that came off, I don’t know. But the nose turned 45 degrees to the right, and I couldn’t stop the turn,” advised Hawley. “I went off into the grass, and it knocked the landing gear off on the left side, as well as doing some damage to the plane. The plane will be repaired. It has had this event happen in the past with other owners twice before.”
Hawley said the Red Oak Airport’s annual picnic at the airport is a slice of Americana, so much though that even after moving to Moultonborough, when he comes to Blakesburg, Red Oak is his first stop.
“I go past Blakesburg to get here before I go back there. It’s a tradition that I can’t stop. I haven’t added up all the years, but I’d say this is either the 14th or 15th year I’ve attended. The people in this town are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I can’t say enough about them. It’s so reassuring to me that there’s a place like this in America, and I can’t not be here when it happens,” Hawley said. “I found out about the airport while flying with some friends from Colorado to a previous fly-in at Blakesburg.
Hawley also praised the airport itself, particularly the grass runway available for antique planes.
“The really old antique airplanes have just a skid on the tail. Landing on pavement is harder to do, but with the wide grass runway out there, it’s like landing on a big football field. It’s about 3,000 feet long, and it just takes you right back to 1933 when you can come in and land on a grass strip. While all my planes have tail wheels, people with antique planes prefer the grass. It’s a soft landing,” commented Hawley. “The people here really do a great job maintaining this airport. The grass out there is trimmed as neatly as any golf course. They really put a lot of work into keeping this place up to standard. All of the pilots that are here with me all feel the same way about it. They love coming here.”