The Bowman Field Flying Club is a bit unusual. It doesn’t operate any aircraft. It did once, but that was so long ago that airport manager and flying club treasurer Ken Lyman can’t remember when.
What the club does is run the airport (B10)—a 2,101-foot grass strip about 20 miles west of Augusta, Maine. The 35 club members pay dues of $40 a year and are expected to help out with field maintenance, which mainly consists of mowing the grass. And, of course, they are expected to help out with the annual fly-in each August.
On August 24 and 25, the flying club will host the 27th Annual Bowman Field Fly-In. “Basically our fly-in makes us the money so we can keep the place open,” Ken said. “Dues goes part way to that, but without the fly-in we would not be able to do improvements and maintain the lawn.”
Most years about 75 aircraft fly into the event each day, although if the weather is good, it’s possible 100 planes may show up. They get everything from Piper Cubs to Sonexes, Beech Staggerwings to Cessna 172s, and even seaplanes. The airport is near the Androscoggin River, so there is an area for floatplanes to land and tie up as well.
Planes have come in from as far away as Connecticut and Massachusetts. Last year there was even a plane that came in from West Virginia. Ken wasn’t sure how many people come each year but his best guess is anywhere from 800 to 1,000.
“People start showing up Friday night. They camp under the wing, some people bring campers in just to spectate,” Ken said.
The remarkable thing about the fly-in is that admission is free! So how do you have a fly-in fundraiser if you don’t charge?
Well, all the club members and airport neighbors clean out their barns and basements and donate goods to a giant yard sale. Everything from books to furniture, clothes and electronics fill two hangars, which are cleaned out just for the sale. One year someone even donated a wedding dress, but Ken didn’t think that sold.
Besides the yard sale, the club sells hot dogs to generate funds. “We have a concession stand where we have burgers and hot dogs, French fries and chicken nuggets,” Ken said “We also serve breakfast Saturday and Sunday morning. We have door prizes and we have a raffle.”
Ken didn’t give an estimate of how much is raised each year to support the airport, but the money raised goes to paying the airport taxes and maintain the tractor and snow blower, as well as basic airport upkeep.
However, the 50/50 raffle usually brings in about $100, while ticket sales to raffle off door prizes usually generate about $800. In addition to the money raised by the concession stand, there also is a spaghetti and bake bean dinner for about $5 a plate on Saturday night and a breakfast of eggs and bacon can be purchased each morning.
Ken grew up at Bowman Field. It was founded in 1959 or 1960 when he was three or four by Ken’s grandfather, Royston “Stubby” Lyman and Winn Bowen, Stubby’s brother-in-law. Stubby had a farm where he raised beef and milked cows, and when he got out of that business he and Winn plowed the pasture, smoothed it out and put in a 1,600 runway for Winn’s J-3 Cub. Over the years the runway was lengthened and shortened to its current length of 2,101 feet.
Ken earned his license in 1986 and has a Cessna 150 converted to a tail dragger. He owns the property around the airport and looks after the place and keeps it going.
There are 15 privately owned hangars on the field and three planes tied down. Everyone who is based at the airport is required to be a member of the club. The first Sunday of each month the club meets in its clubhouse on the field to conduct airport business. During the winter when it gets dark earlier they hold potluck supper meetings and share stories and pictures of flying trips.
The highlight of the weekend fly-in is the candy drop for the kids. “We line all the kids up at the edge of the runway; I bet there are 200 kids out there. Both afternoons we do that,” Ken said.
“We stand at the edge to keep the kids off the runway; we load the airplane up with all kinds of candy. They take off and we tell the kids that when they come by they have to really holler so the pilot can hear them and they’ll drop candy if they can hear them,” Ken said. “The first pass they can’t hear them, so he does a fly by. Then the next pass around, they tip the candy out of the plane and it lands on the runway and as soon as the plane has gone by, the club members let the kids go out there. They’re just like little vacuum cleaners, picking up 30 pounds of candy spread over 300 or 400 feet.”
One of the main reasons the club hosts the fly-in is to introduce kids to aviation. Besides the candy drop there is a hangar set up with games. “Basically we want to get kids around the airplanes, let them look at them. That’s what it’s all about, trying to get the interest up and keep things going,” Ken said.
In addition to the Candy Drop, there will be a live band, Cold Blue Steel, playing on Saturday night, as well as plane rides and an FAA safety seminar.
As Ken said, Bowman Field has “a unique atmosphere—it’s a grass strip, and everything is laid back.” It takes you back to a bygone era and “that’s what we’re trying to preserve.” The small community that is the Bowman Field Flying Club is doing just that—preserving the best of the past to inspire the future.