LEGACY IN FLIGHT
OUR AVIATION HISTORY
-Contributed by Elsie Mae Cofer
The first air show in Ottumwa, Iowa, occurred June 6-8, 1911 at Wildwood Park. Crowds came from afar, waited long hours until wind and weather conditions moderated and witnessed daring demonstrations of the flying machines. Rene Simon of the Moisant International Aviators rose to 3,000 feet, switched off the engine, pointed the nose of his monoplane to earth and began his "dip of death." Spectators gasped, sure that he would crash; but at barely 100 feet above the ground, Simon suddenly added power and the plane soared into the sky. A deafening ovation greeted his landing, and those who had come for the show would remain engrossed in what the aeroplane could do.
Aviation development continued. Defying risks, attempts to break altitude and speed records became the norm. State and county fairs, Fourth of July events and other celebrations often featured stunt men and women: wing-walkers and dare-devil plane danglers. Barnstormers crossed the country landing in fields and giving rides to those who gathered round.
MORE THAN JUST ENTERTAINMENT
By the 1930's, people began to realize that air travel was more than entertainment. Ottumwa was fortunate to have Clifton P. "Ole" Oleson as its airport manager. Oleson was a seasoned pilot of the First World War. He offered rides to businessmen and interested persons to demonstrate the value of air travel. He organized fly-in breakfasts, gave flying lessons and encouraged young model airplane enthusiasts in the Rocketeer Model Airplane Club.
A PERPETUAL AIR SHOW
When America entered World War II, Oleson was called into the service of his country for the second time, and big changes were being made in Ottumwa. The U.S. Navy acquired 1440 acres of prime farm land, and a first rate airport was constructed six miles northwest of town. Ottumwans were then treated to a perpetual air show. Twice daily 300 yellow Stearman airplanes took to the air from the two landing mats "like a swarm of bees coming off the ground" according to one new trainee. Loops, snap rolls, figure-eights, Immelmans and spins were among the antics in the air. By the time the war ended, about 5,000 pilots had completed primary flight training at NAS Ottumwa.