Three or four mornings a week, Tina Thomas takes her 1952 Twin Beech 18 for a sunrise spin around the pattern at Poplar Grove Airport in Illinois. And the neighbors relish the rumbling wake-up call of the Beech's radial engines. It's one of the reasons they live here.
It's a beautiful morning, and winds are light. Soon antique and classic tailwheel aircraft are queuing up to take off and land on one of Poplar Grove's two manicured turf 2,500-foot runways. A pair of Van's RVs departs the pattern in knife-edge formation flight as a Cessna 172 drones along on a more leisurely downwind leg. New production, antique and classic, homebuilt and experimental aircraft play well together at this airport and its community of some 111 homes located about 90 minutes from Chicago.
Curt Tobin has heeded the siren call of the Beech 18. When he finishes his morning pattern, he taxies his 1972 Cessna 172L to the fuel pump and walks into the FBO office to greet airport owners Tina and Steve Thomas. "I heard you up there, and I had to do a pattern," he tells Tina. The paved runway is just a few minutes' taxi time from Tobin's home and hangar in Bel Air Estates. "Here, it's easy to say, 'I'm going up to do some touch and goes,'" he says.
The people who live here are friends and neighbors as well as flying enthusiasts. The FBO office is a gathering place, as residents stop in to chat with the Thomases or play with Charlie, the airport dog. Today Tobin and the Thomases exchange pleasantries with James Hanson Sr. Hanson shares that he has "just lit up" the instrument panel in the RV-7 he's building.
By noon, the light winds have become a brisk northwest breeze, and the tailwheel traffic has slacked off. Poplar Grove's flight school rents a Piper J-3 Cub and a Cessna 140, but the taildraggers have a 12-knot wind limitation. Private pilot Lori Glawe studies her flight plan in the FBO office as she waits for chief flight instructor Randall Harris. She's taking Harris with her to Thunder Bay, Ontario, to help her navigate the Customs process.
Meanwhile, the usual Saturday-afternoon activities are unfolding in Bel Air Estates. Homeowners are raking, or mowing, or repositioning sprinklers. Everywhere, there are visual reminders that this is an aviators' enclave. Hangar doors are open like the lids of jewelry boxes to reveal the treasures within: one or two airplanes per home; here and there a classic car; and an endless assortment of airplanes in progress.
The nice weather is a boon to all. "It's good to see things pick up," Tina Thomas tells a customer. "It was a long winter."
E-mail the author at [email protected].