IOWA CITY — As a silver Ford Tri-Motor plane, the first of the luxury airliners, zipped 1,000 feet above the Iowa City Municipal Airport on Thursday afternoon, the people below were starting a celebration a century in the making.
The airport, at 1801 S. Riverside Dr., will celebrate its 100th anniversary with a number of events this weekend. The schedule includes airplane rides, a hot-air balloon glow, Iowa Children’s Museum activities and a drone demonstration. A full schedule can be found on the anniversary website, IOW100.org.
“It’ll be a really good weekend to celebrate the Iowa City airport and its connection to the community,” said Michael Tharp, airport operations specialist. “I’m hoping they (visitors) walk away with a little bit of appreciation of where the airport’s been over the last 100 years. The airport’s got some significant history.”
The airport opened in 1918 as an air mail stop. As Johnson County grew, the airport offered commercial flights until the 1970s.
Since then, the airport has served as a general aviation facility, a term used to describe airports that do not offer military or commercial flight service.
Today, the airport is home base to more than 90 aircraft and the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Laboratory for aviation research.
Tharp said he believes Iowa City’s airport is the oldest one still operating in its original location west of the Mississippi River.
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The headliner of this weekend’s celebration is a Ford Tri-Motor plane, nicknamed the “Tin Goose,” which debuted in January 1929 after being bought by the city of Wichita, Kan.
At the time, other commercial flights would likely require passengers to wear coveralls, goggles and a helmet, said Jim Heinzelman, volunteer with the Experimental Aviation Association.
The Tin Goose, he said, “was quite a step up.”
The association is offering rides in the plane for $75 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday, with flights taking off and landing at the airport.
Tharp said the plane was one of the predominant airliners of the day, flown mostly in the 1930s and 1940s but into the 1970s in some places.
The plane, in fact, may be like those once used for commercial flights out of the Iowa City Municipal Airport, Tharp said.
“It reconnects us with our history,” he said. “I’ve still got a lot of folks that can remember those flights.”
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