AOPA Pilot Magazine
August 2007 Volume 50 / Number 8
Poplar Grove, Illinois
The welcome mat is out
There are a couple of reasons to make a stop at Poplar Grove Airport in Poplar Grove, Illinois. One reason is that the fly-in community seems to have more than its share of beautifully maintained antique and classic tailwheel airplanes. The spring weekend I visited this bustling airport, taildraggers flew almost non-stop from the airport's turf runways. The other reason is that the people who live at Poplar Grove's residential airpark are just so darn friendly. The danger, of course, is that once you drop in for a visit, you'll want to move your airplane and your family here.
Although all of the 140 lots originally developed for the adjacent fly-in community known as Bel Air Estates have been sold, a number are available for resale. Bel Air Estates is also building condominiums next to a lake on the airport property. These won't have taxiway access, but hangar space will be made available to anyone who purchases a condo.
What to do
One of the main attractions at the airport is the Poplar Grove Vintage Wheels and Wings Museum. Here, you'll find buildings, exhibits, and artifacts that vividly illustrate the history of transportation in the United States.
The airplanes and cars are housed in vintage buildings, for that matter. The "queen of the campus" is a 1937 hangar built in Waukesha, Wisconsin, as a Works Progress Administration project under President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. Earmarked for demolition, the hangar gained a new lease on life in 2000 when museum volunteers took it down, loaded its sections onto flatbed trailers, and reconstructed it at Poplar Grove.
The Waukesha hangar is where you'll find a 1928 Cessna AW, a 1931 Corben Baby Ace, and Wright artifacts such as a signed check and a Wright R-1820-97 Cyclone radial engine. Vintage car aficionados will find a 1930 LaSalle two-passenger coupe with a rumble seat, a 1928 Ford Model A Roadster, and a 1910 Hupmobile Raceabout.
Other vintage buildings include a 1920s-era Sunoco gas station brought down from a small town in Wisconsin, complete with restored gas pumps.
The museum hosts numerous volunteer restoration projects and an active program for youngsters called Youth Exploring Aviation. Participants who range in age from 14 to 21 years of age are hard at work restoring a 1940s-era Aeronca Champ. You can see examples of their work at the museum.
Poplar Grove Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. On Saturdays from May through October, hours are 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Poplar Grove Airport and the museum host a number of events each year, including fly-in pancake breakfasts and car shows. The museum invites visitors to a "dogs 'n brats" (hotdogs and bratwurst, in case you were wondering) on the first Saturday of each month May through October. A Boots and Bonnets car show featuring "the best in British cars," from Triumphs to Spitfires, is scheduled for mid-July. A mid-August fly-in and pancake breakfast offers airplane rides for 10 cents a pound, static displays, and antique and vintage aircraft. A classic car show is scheduled for late August.
The city of Rockford, Illinois, 10 minutes away by car, offers a host of activities that range from Nascar action at the Rockford Speedway to a family-friendly water park to live theater at the Coronado Performing Arts Center, a vaudeville theater built in 1927 that has been restored to its original ornate splendor.
Where to eat
There are several chain restaurants nearby the airport. See AOPA's Airport Directory for listings. Also check the Belivdere Chamber of Commerce online for more information on the area restaurants.
Where to stay
Rockford has built a 59,000-square-foot sports dome to attract tournament action, and offers more than 1,000 hotel rooms to visitors from around the country. You can take your pick from chain accommodations such as Candlewood Suites, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, Holiday Inn Express, and more. If you prefer a B&B-type accommodation, Rockford's Fox Run Bed & Breakfast Inn has five theme rooms in a nineteenth-century Victorian.
Poplar Grove Airport (C77) is located three miles south of Poplar Grove, Illinois, on the Chicago sectional. Runway 12/30 is paved and is 3,773 feet long and 50 feet wide. The turf runways are 9/27, 2,709 feet long and 200 feet wide, and 17/35, 2,467 by 150 feet.
The airport is open sunrise to sunset and has a full-service FBO, flight school, and a 20,000-square-foot maintenance facility. While there is no car rental facility at the airport, owners Steve and Tina Thomas offer to give visitors a ride to nearby Rockford to obtain ground transportation.
If you are traveling commercially, Chicago/Rockford International Airport is 14 nautical miles southwest of Poplar Grove. Chicago O'Hare is about 66 miles southeast by car.