116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
TIME MACHINE: Faulkes Field
Collins Aerospace sits on early airstrip in Cedar Rapids
Four Cedar Rapids men, intent on promoting aviation, organized the Aviation Country Club with an airstrip and hangar in northeast Cedar Rapids, The Gazette reported June 13, 1937.
The hangar, big enough to hold six small planes, was already built and being used at the time of the announcement. One of the planes, a Rearwin Sportster, was owned by Arthur Collins, founder of Collins Radio and the man whose company would eventually buy that land to build a massive fabrication plant.
The landing strip, about 1,320 feet, long, sat between Blairs Ferry Road and Old Marion Road. It was dubbed “Faulkes Field” for its owner, James N. Faulkes, president of The Gazette Co.
Charter members of the Aviation County Club were Roy Olson, John St. Aubin, Robert Nelson and W.T. “Ted” Saxon, all of Cedar Rapids. Saxon was president of the club, managed the landing field and was its primary flight instructor.
In October, the club gained column inches in The Gazette when Cora Farr, a young beauty parlor cashier who was taking flying lessons, became engaged to her instructor, Robert Nelson. Farr, who didn’t drive, instead flew a plane, soloing after about eight hours of instruction.
The club began building a new clubhouse and an office with a radio control tower on top.
The Aviation Country Club had operated for less than a year when a plane crashed at the airfield on Jan. 22, 1938, killing the two men aboard.
The Aeronca monoplane two-seater took off from the field piloted by St. Aubin, who had a limited commercial pilot’s license. His passenger was student pilot C. Allen Frederickson, a trust officer and cashier for the Guaranty Bank & Trust Co. in Cedar Rapids.
On the ground, Nelson heard the plane’s motor start to cut out as the plane reached about 250 feet. It plunged to the ground.
“Engine failure and the apparent attempt of John O. St. Aubin to turn his plane back to the Aviation Country Club airport were reported by the Iowa Aeronautics Commission as the cause of the plane crash,” The Gazette reported.
The commission also said new, low-compression spark plugs, installed just before the flight, may have contributed to the stall.
Saxon continued to oversee the airfield and in April 1939 was elected secretary-treasurer of the new Commercial Aircraft Operators Association of Iowa at its organizational meeting in Waterloo.
The association aimed to be a voice for aeronautics in the Iowa Legislature and to start a mutual insurance association to cover plane losses.
Two months later, the Aviation Country Club hosted a fly-in breakfast for pilots June 18 at its airstrip. Forty-five pilots from Iowa and Illinois and 94 passengers flew in for a ham and egg breakfast. The association had hosted its first fly-in two weeks earlier at the DeWitt airport in Clinton County.
During the Cedar Rapids breakfast, pilot W.C. Ludtke of Davenport had to make a forced landing after his plane’s motor died. He landed in a potato patch a half-mile southeast of the airfield, narrowly missing a car driven by James Bennett of Cedar Rapids, who stopped and gave Ludtke a ride back to the airfield.
Somewhere there might be film of that early fly-in. The Gazette reported the spectators included “candid camera enthusiasts, and a few (had) colored movie equipment.”
In March 1940, Saxon gave flying instructions to Frank Voelker, a blind organist.
Voelker took his first flight as a passenger with post office employee Frank O’Keefe, a member of the Flying Feds Club. Voelker wanted to control the plane, but O’Keefe couldn’t do that because he wasn’t an instructor.
Saxon stepped in. He allowed Voelker to handle the controls for about 10 minutes during the flight. While Voelker couldn’t take off or land the plane, Saxon said, “he did better than most ordinary student pilots their first time at the controls.”
World War II
When the U.S. entered World War II in December 1941, all civilian flyers were grounded. In order to get back in the air, pilots had to prove their citizenship.
The aviation club’s field became home to the Saxon Flying Service. Flight activities in Cedar Rapids focused on Iowa’s Civil Air Patrol, which operated out of both the Cedar Rapids Airport and the Saxon field.
Saxon died in 1946 in Cedar Rapids. The new owners of the field were pilots Art Kroening, Ed Buess and Maynard Bartling, whose lease expired in September 1949. Buess opted out when Kroening and Bartling moved to the Cedar Rapids Airport.
The airfield was used by the Collins Radio Gun Club, with trap shoot competitions, until Collins Radio bought the 50 acres containing the airfield -- south of Blairs Ferry Road and west of C Avenue NE -- for “future use.” The plot was north of the 40 acres Collins had acquired the year before.
The “future use” for the land was a $2.5 million, 509,000-square-foot Collins Radio fabrication building that covered 11 acres along C Avenue NE. The building, completed in 1959, still stands as part of what is now Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies company.