Iowa City Municipal Airport celebrates 100 years of history

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IOW 100: Celebrating the First Century of Firsts

Iowa City Municipal Airport, 1801 S Riverside Dr — June 8-10

The Tin Goose, a 1926 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft at the Iowa City Municipal Airpont, June 7, 2018. — photo by Jason Smith

About 15 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first flight in a powered aircraft, the Iowa City Municipal Airport opened on local farmland, where it remains today. Though its role and services have evolved since 1918 — as has flight itself — the airport continues to grow, and this weekend it’s celebrating a century of history.

The main feature of the June 8-10 anniversary celebration is the “Tin Goose” — a 1926 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft, restored and open for public rides. Henry Ford’s successful attempt to break into the airline travel business, the Tri-Motor is considered to be the first plane designed for passenger transport. It has three engines for extra reliability and a comfortable cabin considered the height of luxury for its time.

Ford Motor Company produced 199 Tri-Motors from 1926 to 1933, some of which flew out of the Iowa City Municipal Airport. Only a handful remain flight-worthy today; EAA has brought theirs to Iowa City.

Tickets to ride the Ford Tri-Motor cost $70 in advance, $75 at the door. Other planes will be available for rides, including “Scooter,” the American Barnstormer’s four-passenger 1929 New Standard D25 (tickets $80) and Jet Air’s Cessna, available for sunset and night flights (tickets $25). Hot air balloons will fly Friday night at dusk, drone demonstrations will be held all day Saturday and a series of other events and programs will take place throughout the weekend. A full schedule can be found at the airport’s website.

Iowa City as seen from a window of the Tin Goose, June 7, 2018. — photo by Emma McClatchey

The Iowa City Municipal Airport is the third most active general aviation airport in Iowa, and the oldest civil airport west of the Mississippi. It became a designated fuel stop for transcontinental air mail flights in 1921 (just five months after the system started). In 1927, the first commercial passenger flight came into Iowa City; that same month, Boeing Air Transport, who handled certain airmail routes, assumed responsiblity for the airport, and ultimately invested more than $200,000 in improvements — equivalent to well over $1.5 million today.

By 1940, three United flights were going in and out of Iowa City every day. The start of World War II halted funding for half-paved runways that wouldn’t be completed until after the war. United, the acting airport manager, also withdrew during this time, and airport staff elected the first Airport Commission, a board that continues today.

The war brought new activity to the airport as U.S. Navy military training in Iowa City expanded. From 1939 to 1944, 2,500 pilots were trained at the airport in conjunction with the University of Iowa College of Engineering. An airline service industry boom after the war benefited the airport as well, until 1958, when the “Jet Age” began. The Iowa City Council refused United’s request to lengthen the airport’s runways to accomodate larger planes, which led to both United and the U.S. Postal Service moving their operations to Cedar Rapids.

E.K. Jones and his family saved the Iowa City airport by starting Iowa City Flying Service, providing charter services to the UI and area businesses between 1960 and 1997. After Jones’ death, management of the airport fell into chaos until Jet Air of Galesburg, Illinois won the contract. The company is still managing the airport, and is currently working to expand it.

The Iowa City Municipal Airport conducts approximately 36,000 flight operations annually. They continue to provide flight school, charter flights and rental aircraft today. The city estimates the airport generates approximately $11.2 million for the local economy every year.

For more information on the history of the airport, visit the city’s website for the airport.

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