Virgil I. Grissom Municipal Airport, Bedford, Indiana

Honoring Gus, one of the Mercury Seven

Virgil I. Grissom Municipal Airport (BFR) in Bedford, Indiana, lies smack in America’s heartland, where many of our pioneering astronauts were born and raised.


The airport was named to honor Virgil “Gus” Grissom, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts and the United States’ second man in space. Grissom was born and raised eight miles south of the airport in Mitchell, Indiana, where you can visit a museum dedicated to the hometown hero—featuring his Gemini 3 spacecraft—and walk through his birthplace.

Grissom was born in Mitchell on April 3, 1926, the son of a railroad signalman. His interest in aviation started, as it did for many boys in the 1930s, with model airplanes in grade school. He joined the Boy Scouts and enjoyed camping, hunting, and fishing for the rest of his life. Like many industrious boys of the time, he delivered newspapers, picked fruit, and worked at a gas station. Grissom haunted the Bedford airport where a local attorney would take him flying and taught him the basics. After Grissom graduated from Purdue University, he joined the U.S. Air Force and flew 100 combat missions in F–86 Super Sabres during the Korean War. In 1957, he completed the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and was assigned as a test pilot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

In 1959, Grissom was selected as one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts. He flew the second flight of the Mercury program in July 1961, a suborbital flight that lasted just 15 minutes. On splashdown, the capsule’s hatch blew off, causing the spacecraft to flood, and Grissom nearly drowned when his spacesuit took on water. He was rescued by helicopter and later selected to command Gemini 3, the first manned Gemini flight—becoming the first person to fly into space twice.

Grissom was selected to command the first flight of the Apollo program, but was killed in a fire in the spacecraft during a launch pad test at the Kennedy Space Center, along with pilots Ed White and Roger Chaffee. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery beside his fellow Apollo 1 astronaut, Chaffee.

Grissom Memorial

The Grissom Memorial is a small museum that recounts the life of Grissom. Exhibits include Grissom’s Gemini space suit, the Gemini 3 spacecraft he named Molly Brown, and personal artifacts. The Grissom Memorial is located within Spring Mill State Park, three miles east of Mitchell.

The park itself is an excellent destination with many recreational opportunities, such as hiking and biking trails, swimming, boating, and caves you can explore. The Pioneer Village exhibits 20 historic buildings, the centerpiece being an 1817 gristmill that still grinds corn today.

Plan ahead to visit Grissom’s boyhood home in Mitchell, as it’s open only a few hours a week.

Standing in downtown Mitchell is a 44-foot-tall limestone carving of the Gemini-Titan II rocket that launched Grissom on his Gemini 3 mission. The “Virgil I. Gus Grissom Rocket Monument” was built of local Indiana or “Bedford” limestone for which the area is famous. The stone has weathered to a dull gray with all the appeal of a Soviet-era monument. It was erected on the site of Grissom’s elementary school.

More Indiana astronauts

Apollo astronaut Frank Borman was also from Indiana, while numerous astronauts of the moon-landing era, including two moonwalkers, attended Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue alumni include Neil Armstrong, Gus Grissom, Gene Cernan, and Roger Chaffee.

Virgil I. Grissom Municipal Airport (BFR) Bedford, Indiana

Pilots could make a stopover at Grissom Municipal Airport to visit his birthplace and museum during an east-west cross-country flight. It is 370 miles from Atlanta and 375 miles to Oshkosh, so that’s a good spot to stop and fuel. The airport is 55 miles northwest of Louisville, Kentucky, and 65 miles south of Indianapolis.

Grissom Municipal has two runways, 13/31 and 6/24, at 727 feet msl. Both runways are concrete with pilot-controlled lighting and the longest, 4,501 feet, is grooved. Both 100LL aviation fuel and Jet A (with the aviation fuel system icing inhibitor) are available.

The airport offers a crew lounge with internet, Wi-Fi, conference room, vending machines, showers, and TV, which is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but accessible by a code that pilots can decipher 24/7. Enterprise Rent-a-Car has a branch in Bedford that will deliver a car to the airport and a courtesy car is often available. For more information, call Jeff Lytton at 812-278-6325.

Spring Mill Inn at Spring Mill State Park

Probably the best place to stay in the area is the Spring Mill Inn, which is on the grounds of Spring Mill State Park. Spring Mill Inn is an historic stone inn with rustic décor, a pool and easy access to the park’s attractions. The Millstone Dining Room serves meals featuring Indiana specialties, including local desserts such as granny white cake, cornmeal pie, and persimmon pudding.

Dennis K. Johnson

Dennis K. Johnson is an aviation writer and pilot living in New York City.

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