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'Let’s go commit some aviation''Let’s go commit some aviation'

Aero Mark’s Round Engine Round-Up is pure aviation

Most Americans experience flying in the doldrums of cramped commercial jets and trudging through the maze of overcrowded airline terminals. Pilots, however, have experienced the wonder of flight from the front seat with a bird's-eye view of the world and the joy of controlling the aircraft. Even fewer have had the chance to taste some of the purest aviation has to offer—being at one with the sky in an open-cockpit biplane, motoring low and slow across the terrain in aircraft recognizable to aviation pioneers. The annual Round Engine Round-Up hosted by Idaho Falls Regional Airport FBO Aero Mark is one of those places where some of the purest forms of aviation come together with a welcoming community and fast-forming friendships.
  • Bob and James Hoff flew in formation around the Rainbow Ranch in a pair of classic 1940s Stearman biplanes. Photos by Chris Eads.
  • The sun sets gracefully over the Idaho potato fields at the Hoff Family's Rainbow Ranch while Mike Lindemer's 1941 Piper Cub rests next to a restored airport beacon.
  • In addition to the Round Engine Round Up's attendees flying out to Smiley Creek Airport, several other groups were using the airfield managed by the Idaho Bureau of Aeronautics. A modified Cessna takes to the runway for departure from the 4,900-foot-long airstrip.
  • James Hoff brings his 1943 Stearman in for a perfect three-point landing at the Rainbow Ranch.
  • Round Up regular Mike Lindemer has command of his 1941 Piper Cub as he waits for one of the Hoffs' Stearmans on a fly-by before departing the Rainbow Ranch for some trips around the pattern with another Round Up attendee.
  • As the sun sets on the Hoffs' Rainbow Ranch, a Piper Cub, a Stearman, and a North American T-6 all rest from an afternoon of heavy aviating.
  • Bob Hoff's 1941 Stearman rests in the setting sun at Rainbow Ranch.
  • On the Sunday of the Round Engine Round Up, diehards traveled another 200 miles north to Seeley Lake, Montana. Pilot Pat Napolitano taxis Mid-Continent Instrument & Avionics' Beechcraft Staggerwing into the Eagle Port Lodge adjacent to the airfield. The 1941 aircraft is believed to be the only Staggerwing currently in use as a corporate aircraft.
  • Beechcraft Staggerwings are the star of the show, to include this aircraft owned by Aero Mark founder Bob Hoff.
  • Bob Hoff and son James stand in front of an immaculate 1948 Beech 18 as the Round Up attendees prepare to fly to Smiley Creek for a breakfast served by the Recreational Aviation Foundation.
  • Seen here from short approach to runway 14, Smiley Creek Airport is situated deep in the remote backcountry of Idaho, surrounded by mountain peaks of the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.
  • A Canadian-owned Staggerwing rolls out after landing at Smiley Creek.
  • The Hoffs' Beech 18, built in 1948 and restored to immaculate condition, rests after carrying several Round Up attendees to breakfast at Smiley Creek with the Recreational Aviation Foundation.
  • Resting next to the Smiley Creek windsock, Ben Scott's 1929 Stearman 4E Jr. Speedmail receives admiration from other event attendees. The aircraft was purchased new by Ben's father in 1929, and then later sold. After decades of the aircraft being owned by others, Ben tracked it down and brought back into the family.
  • Three generations of the Beechcraft Heritage clan regularly gather for their event, including Bob and Jane Hoff (third and fourth from left).

The beer and wine were tucked away in coolers to wait until the flying was over. As the sun set in a beautiful, cloudless sky over the Rainbow Ranch, an Idaho potato farm owned by Aero Mark’s founder, Bob Hoff, came alive as several dozen pilots and round-engine enthusiasts gathered eagerly along the edges of the 2,500-foot grass airstrip that cuts through the fields.

“Ever been in a Stearman?” Hoff asked. A silent pause marked with a smile was quickly addressed as Hoff motioned toward the aircraft. “C’mon,” he said. “Let’s go commit some aviation!”

As the 1941 Boeing Stearman Model 75 lifted off the grass runway, a second red-and-white Stearman piloted by Hoff’s son James soon joined up for a formation flight around the farm that included several low flybys along the runway. This was just one example of the dozens of rides and demonstrations freely given to the attendees who were eager to experience the joy of flight in these classic aircraft. Also making trips around the pattern were a North American T-6, a Piper Cub, and a 1930 Stearman Model 4E Speedmail. At least one Beechcraft Staggerwing also made an appearance over the farm for a flyby.

All of these aircraft were part of the fifth annual Round Engine Round-Up June 23 through 26, where more than a dozen classic radial-engine aircraft gathered at Idaho Falls, Idaho, for a weekend of camaraderie, flying, storytelling, and celebration of some of aviation’s richest history. Seven Beechcraft Staggerwings, two twin Beech 18s, several Stearmans, and one homebuilt Howard (an improved version of the famous 1930's racer, Mr. Mulligan), flew in along with a handful of Bonanzas, a Cessna 180, and a Piper J-3 and a Super Cub.

Mountain flying in Idaho is a spectacular view, as evidenced by this California-based Staggerwing as it navigates through passes below snowcapped peaks topping 12,000 feet. Photo by Chris Eads.

The Round-Up began several years ago as an informal reunion of childhood friends who had grown up visiting Tullahoma, Tennessee’s Beechcraft Heritage Museum while their parents built that world-class museum to honor the Staggerwing. Originally held at the immaculate grass airstrip in Seeley Lake, Montana, it quickly outgrew the capacity of the tiny airfield nestled at 4,256 feet in the mountains. The Hoff family—who also were a part of the original Beechcraft Heritage Museum clan—offered their FBO some 200 miles to the south in Idaho Falls to host the now formalized event. Hoff founded the FBO in 1984.

The Hoff family works together on their various ventures. Bob and Jane Hoff’s two sons are deeply involved: Thomas Hoff now manages day-to-day operations at the FBO, while James Hoff runs the family potato farm, Rainbow Ranch. Jane manages the accounting for the farm. Thomas and his wife Heather do much of the work to organize the Round Engine Round-Up.

Each year, the Round Engine Round-Up grows as more newcomers learn of the gathering.

“If you don’t feel welcome here and connected, there is something seriously wrong,” Wade McNabb, one of the event’s original founders, said with a grin. He was right—the hospitality and friendliness of the regular attendees toward their new guests was unmistakable. Several newcomers who came by themselves to the event were instantly drawn into friendship, offered airplane rides, and engaged in robust conversation. The event founders had an impressive ability to retain names of those they had just met, making everyone feel a part of the excitement.

James Hoff's red and white Stearman formed up on Ben Scott's Speedmail for fly-bys at Rainbow Ranch in Idaho Falls. Round Up attendees were treated to an entire afternoon and evening of dozens of fly-bys from a number of antique aircraft operating off the 2,500 grass strip on the Hoffs' potato farm. Photo by Chris Eads.

In addition to several tastefully catered meals, two fly-outs to remote grass airstrips were a part of the event. A Saturday morning flight to Smiley Creek, Idaho, had attendees meet up with the Recreational Aviation Foundation for home-cooked breakfast burritos under the shadow of the nearby 10,000-foot snow-capped mountain peaks of the Sawtooth Wilderness Area.

“This is what aviation is all about,” said Recreational Aviation Foundation president John McKenna as he addressed well over 100 attendees at the breakfast at Smiley Creek—from both the Round Engine Round-Up group as well as other aviators who flew in for the breakfast. A representative from the Idaho Division of Aeronautics also spoke, underscoring the state’s commitment to maintain backcountry aviation. Recreational Aviation Foundation Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Chandler said the breakfast event “is my favorite RAF event every year.”

Pilot James Hoff glides his Beech 18 along short final to runway 14 at Smiley Creek. Photo by Chris Eads.

On Sunday, a handful of diehard Round-Up attendees made their way back to Seeley Lake to stay in the Eagle Port Lodge adjacent to the airfield and dine at Lindey’s Prime Steak House, owned by one of the founders of the Round Engine Round-Up, Mike Lindemer, who also piloted the 1941 Piper Cub providing rides all weekend at the Hoff's airstrip in Idaho Falls.

Attendees to the Round-Up came from as far as Alberta, Canada; southern California; Ohio; and Virginia. Their love for aviation was unmistakable, their warmth and hospitality contagious, and their aircraft immaculately maintained. With formation flights, fly-outs, and hours of “hangar talk,” much aviation was committed in the Idaho and Montana mountains.—by Chris Eads

Topics: Recreational Aviation Foundation, US Travel

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