By John Busbee
Iowa is part of what’s been derisively referred to as “fly over country.” Yet had it not been for many Iowa contributions in the early 1900s, those flying over today may very well not have been flying at all.
Most in the Heartland have long released any sense of being slighted, as we understand the important roles played throughout history of Middle America’s contributions to our nation’s greatness. When it comes to ascending into the heavens, the Iowa Aviation Museum (IAM) soars above the rest. Learning about Iowa’s important, diverse role in the growth of aviation is like learning that the quiet great uncle was a highly decorated World War II hero, with a full, colorful and exemplary life he never talked about. In this case, the great uncle most likely flew prototype airplanes, designed by savvy engineers who had the ability to consider the challenges, then create the answers to the problems … and, was a barnstormer. This is heady history, with the ability to fill young and old minds alike with imaginative visions of their own conquests above the rolling Iowa terrain.
The Iowa Aviation Museum, celebrating its 25th anniversary, has taken firm root in the rich, rolling landscape just north of Greenfield, and a short drive off of U.S. Interstate 80. Continuing to grow on the crown of a large field, this cultural treasure is one of Iowa’s great celebrations of aviation history. The museum became operational in 1988 by order of proclamation from Gov. Terry Branstad. The original mission of the museum was “to preserve, restore and display antique aircraft of the ‘golden era of aviation’ and related memorabilia all for the education and pleasure of the public, and to honor Iowa aviators of the past, present and future.”
Although agriculture may reign supreme as the economic, cultural and social driving force here, to explore Iowa’s legacy in aviation development in America and the world can be eye-popping, jaw-dropping fun. Who’d have thought that a land perceived as filled with people whose hands are deep in the rich, dark loam could have such influence in the world of aviation? At least one man did.
A father’s eye-to-the-sky passion becomes a hangar filled with vintage aircraft, stories and rich history.
That visionary in capturing this aviation history was John E. F. Schildberg, an aviation enthusiast, with 17 aircraft in his collection when he died in 1981, cutting short the full realization of his dream. Each he had personally collected, each with its own story. He had an eye for rare, unique aircraft, many of which would become the heart and soul of the museum. John also was meticulous about being sure each of his aircraft was in top condition, and flight-worthy. After his death, his wife, Yvonne, continued the dream. She donated eight pieces from John’s collection, the nucleus for the Antique Preservation Association, which evolved into its more accurate name, the Iowa Aviation Museum.