Early in 1948 the Iowa Aeronautics Commission released a survey of aviation in the state. Conducted by a team of professors in the mechanical engineering department at the University of Iowa, the survey revealed there were about 1,000 planes used for private and business purposes in the state and there was an airplane for every 1,471 persons in Iowa. The state had about 200 airports most with turf runways. A handful of high schools offered courses in aeronautics, mail had been delivered by a flying air carrier after a severe snow storm and the highway patrol had used an airplane to observe traffic before and after a football game in Iowa City. Flying clubs were active in the state, including Flying Farmers of America.
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Farmers in Iowa had discovered the advantages of air travel long before 1948, using private planes for quick buying trips, aerial observation of crops and to attend special farm events. In 1926 William Neff from Monroe built an airplane using a motor from a Studebaker car. The plane never left the ground because vibration from the motor caused the flimsy carriage to break apart scaring the cows in Neff’s pasture.
Denison farmer Ralph Weberg delivered seed corn anywhere in Iowa for $100 an hour in 1934. He had 80 bushels of corn stored in a hangar ready to be delivered from a runway on his 60-acre pasture. Weberg recommended other farmers take up flying “to aid in marketing their produce.”
Ed Botine, a farmer from Pochahontas, took flying lessons at the Fort Dodge airport before purchasing his Stinson plane in Detroit, Mich., in 1935. He built a hangar and landing field in a pasture on the family farm. According to the Des Moines Register Mrs. Botine and the couple’s 3-year-old son shared Botine’s love of flying, but the flying farmer anticipated some resistance from the cattle and horses in the pasture. He hoped in time the animals would “fail to be greatly concerned” when he landed his plane in their pasture.
Lone Tree farmer Eugene Wiese and his sister, Alice Wiese Reilly, took flying lessons at the Iowa City airport in 1940. Both completed 8 hours of instruction before completing solo flights. Wiese planned to put his flying expertise to use on his 400-acre farm. The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported he was the first flying farmer in Johnson County. Reilly put her skills to use soon after completing her first solo flight. Not wanting to waste precious time when the combine broke down in the 1941 harvest season, she flew to Burlington to pick up a part.
Near Slater, Oliver and Mae Newman purchased a Taylorcraft Deluxe plane from a factory in Ohio in 1940, paying just under $2,000 for what Oliver predicted would soon be a standard piece of farm equipment. Newman and his sons were custom farmers, managing their own 240-acre farm and hiring out to other farmers. When a baller, combine, sheller or threshing machine broke down, the Newmans relied on son Robert, to hop on the plane and pick up a replacement part in no time. Oliver intended to learn to fly as soon as he got the crops in. “I wouldn’t be surprised if my wife doesn’t take it up too,” he told a Des Moines Register reporter.
The 1948 survey by the Iowa Aeronautics Commission concluded that the future of airplane use in Iowa would expand with more “air-age education” for adults and youth and that airplane use would one day be “commonplace.” Forward-thinking Iowa farmers had recognized the value of airplanes on the farm long before the survey made its findings public.
- “Delivers Seed By Plane,” Rock Valley Bee, Nov. 23, 1934.
- “Following Brother’s Footsteps,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Feb. 27, 1940.
- “Home-made Plane Was Unsatisfactory to William Neff, 54-Year-Old Iowa Farmer, So Today He Has One of Fisher’s Ships,” Des Moines Tribune, April 24, 1926.
- “Iowa Flying Survey Shows Need for Greater Aviation Education,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 13, 1948
- “Johnson County’s Flying Farmer,” Iowa City Press-Citizen, Feb. 5, 1940.
- “Says Someone Must be First,” Des Moines Register, May 26, 1935.
- “Wasted Words Department,” Quad-City Times, 28, 1941.
- Yarbrough, Charles. “Farmer Sprouts Wings,” Des Moines Register, May 19, 1940.