Blakesburg Flyin
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  Blakesburg is the unofficial name for the Antique Aircraft Association Invitational fly-in.  The event is held at a private field, Antique Airfield, that's located a few miles west southwest of Ottumwa, Iowa.  The name Blakesburg comes from the name of the closest crossroads.  Antique Airfield is the home to the club, the AAA Library of Flight and the Airpower Museum.  Blakesburg is held every year over Labor Day weekend.  The fly-in is officially reserved for members of the AAA, which is a very worthwhile organization, but if you're not a member upon arrival then you can join on the spot.

I find Blakesburg to be one of the best and most relaxing events of the year in terms of the grass-strip feel and the variety and quality of aircraft.  It is a great place to see friends in the antique community.  The fly-in is a casual affair.  The field is all-grass, and one runway is used for parking while the main runway is used for takeoff and landing.

At Blakesburg there's a great fly-mart, and you can explore the museum.  Many of the museum aircraft are parked outside during the show, leaving a little more space for walking around in the back.  There's usually one or two biplanes hopping rides, and often if you ask an owner of one of the line planes you can get a ride around the patch.

Blakesburg is an outstanding photo location.  The field is all-grass and surrounded by trees, and the parking line aligns the planes north-south, so you get a good evening side-light.  The takeoff and touchdown point of the runway is pretty close to the edge of the hangar block, so with a mid-range telephoto you can get some great action photos both of planes on the runway and planes taxiing out for takeoff.

Here are photos I've taken from Blakesburg.  The variety of aircraft and the field itself are the best in the country.

During the day there are a few organized type club meetings but in general things are very informal.  Meals are available cafeteria style catered by the "Hy-Vee" which has tailgate-party style food.  The local Diary Queen brings out a freezer full of Blizzards, which hit the spot during the high heat of the day.  All day long folks are flying around, hopping rides, or just buzzing the field for the heck of it.  There's oftentimes a plane or two that's having some impromptu maintenance done, and it is fun to watch and perhaps help.  Of course you'll need to know about engines built before 1930 in some cases...

During the evening, after what is usually a lovely sunset, the crickets start to chirp and the last ride of the day glides back in for a touchdown.  The "Pilot's Pub" opens up for some good cheer.  A feeling of contentment settles in and walking around you can hear the quiet murmur of folks swapping stories.  After dark there's a movie projected against a wall of one of the clubhouse.  Folks slowly drift away towards the trees, where the campsites are, and you can see a full set of stars since there are no city lights around to ruin the view.

On Sunday morning there's a memorial service held at the "Gone West" marker, where folks can honor those who have passed on by adding a stone, sometimes engraved with a name, to the rock bed surrounding the memorial.  It is a nice ceremony, but very sad because you can look around and see that many new stones will be added next year due to the high average age of the attendees.  The number of people under 40 at the flyin is quite small, which does not bode well for the future of vintage aircraft flying.

Unfortunately the operators of Antique Airfield can be a little over the top if they decide that you're not following the rules.  Make sure you pay attention to the flagger and the ground parkers.  Don't bother with the radio - this is strictly see and avoid.  If you fly into Blakesburg folks are generally friendlier than if you drove in, as there's a bit of cliquism.  Also the big-iron Stinsons, Wacos, and Howards are favored and owners of post-war smaller-sized classics are banished to a more remote parking area.

Blakesburg's positives far outweigh these few negatives.  To help overcome the cliquism, I'm encouraging everybody who flies in to give at least one ride to an interested bystander and/or fellow pilot while at the field.  There's no reason to be snobbish, it is a flyin and everybody there loves the planes and company, so I say mix it up.  If everybody started doing this it would be a friendlier place.

Logistical Tips for the Fly-in

The high times for the fly-in are Friday and Saturday.  The event officially runs from Thursday afternoon through Labor Day Monday, but by Sunday midday folks are starting to leave.  The awards banquet is Sunday evening.

If you drive in, the best place for commercial airline service is Des Moines.  Driving from Des Moines to Blakesburg takes about 2.5 hours, and you get to see some truly classic small rural-character towns.  To get from downtown Ottumwa to Antique Airfield, cross the river heading south on Wapello Road, which turns into Ferry Street, and continue through until you dead end.  Turn right onto Mary Street, which will turn into Bluegrass Road as you head out of town westbound.  After about 10 miles you'll drive right by the airfield on the right.  General parking is on the east side of a field in a fenced-off area.  Don't try to park at the main museum entrance, it is reserved during the fly-in.

If you're heading east on Highway 34 from Albia, there are shortcuts you can take on county roads that go right to the field.  Unless you've already explored the area and know the road to follow I don't recommend this.  The best way is to turn right off Highway 34 to the town of Blakesburg on county T-61, or Monroe-Wapello Road.  Go to the center of Blakesburg, then turn left onto Bluegrass Road.  The airfield is about 4 miles from Blakesburg.

If you fly in, which I recommend, you can now easily find Antique Airfield because it is charted as a private field, to the west southwest of Ottumwa Industrial.  You're getting close when you see the microwave relay tower that's just southwest of the field.  When you approach Antique Airfield use caution because not only is the pattern busy, there are numerous barnstormers out giving rides in the local area in low-visibility biplanes.  Usually you'll see the east-west parking area first before the main runway.

During the field only the north-south runway is used.  Most of the time the winds favor landing towards the south.  This aerial view is looking northeast.  The parking area is to the east of the runway.

There are no radios at Antique Airfield, it is all see and avoid.  The field is about 2100' which is plenty of room if you're on the ball, so watch your airspeed on final.  The sight picture is a bit scary because the north end (approach end) of the field is in a pretty deep hole with rather large trees.

Short final at Blakesburg, landing to the south

Notice the microwave tower in the right side of this photo - it is close to the field and is a good visual identification point.

You should resist the temptation to touch down halfway down the field where the hole ends, as there likely won't be enough runway left!

The rule for landing during the flyin is to heed the flagger who is stationed about halfway down the field on the left side.  Because of the hole on the north end of the runway, when you're lined up in position for takeoff you can't see the other end of the runway.  Consequently there's a flagger who signals with a red or green flag when it is safe to take off.  The same flagger also provides signals for landing.  If you miss the flag signal and land on a red you'll be treated to a shouting fit by the field operators, so don't do it.

After landing, turn off to your left and follow the parking motorbike.  Be very careful while taxiing due to the pedestrians on the field and potentially other planes taxiing about.

On takeoff, be very aware of your weight and the temperature.  The takeoffs to the south start steeply uphill, on a grass strip, and with 90+ degree temperatures and high humidity this can make your takeoff roll uncomfortably long.  This is especially true if you're loaded up with flyin gear and full gas for a cross-country departure.  I recommend planning your arrival to be low on gas, and taking on just enough to comfortably fly over to Ottumwa Industrial and fill up there.  You shouldn't have to sweat your departure from Antique Airfield.

If you're not up to date on short fields, or you're uncomfortable with narrow and hilly grass strips, you're far better off landing at Ottumwa Industrial, which offers a 5000+ foot paved runway, and driving in to Antique Airfield.  My advice is to find a short grass strip beforehand and practice if you're not used to grass fields, this is not a field for first-timers to a short strip.

There is camping available on the field along with showers.  If you prefer a hotel, there are several in Ottumwa.  Make your reservations several months in advance, otherwise you'll end up staying 20+ miles away.  Due to the distance to town, you'll need a car unless you know folks who will be providing rides.  Enterprise Rent-A-Car will bring a car out to the field.  There is standard chain restaurant food in Ottumwa - multiple days of Hy-Vee catering is too much for me.  The Hy-Vee does serve a good breakfast, though.