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Bowman Field, Louisville, Kentucky

Bourbon, baseball bats, and mint juleps

Bowman Field, in Louisville, Kentucky, is one airport where you’ll need to plan your be at least eight hours after enjoying the specialties of the region. That’s because Lou’ville—home to the Kentucky Derby and famous for mint juleps—is also the gateway to America’s “bourbon country.”
Photography by Chris Rose
Photography by Chris Rose

Bowman Field (LOU)

Bowman Field’s history reaches back 101 years, far enough that the National Park Service has designated three airport buildings as the Bowman Field Historic District.

After World War I, Louisville businessman and aviation enthusiast, Abram Bowman, purchased a few acres on the edge of town and a Curtiss “Jenny” biplane, and started selling rides. By 1921, a hangar was built, and the site considered an operating airfield. In 1922, the 465th Army Pursuit Squadron arrived at Bowman and the military and civilian pilots shared the airfield for a few years. Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis at Bowman during his 1927 American tour and construction of the administrative (terminal) building began in 1929. During World War II, the military trained glider pilots, flight surgeons and nurses, plus thousands more recruits there, making it a bustling place for the duration.

Continental Airlines, Eastern Air Lines and Trans World Airlines flew to Bowman Field from 1928 until 1947, when the airlines moved to what is now Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF). Bowman Field hosted private aircraft during the post-war boom and was recognized as the United States’ busiest GA airport in 1957.

The notorious Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus was based at Bowman Field, from where they launched an aerial gas attack on Fort Knox, as seen in the 1963 James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Today, Bowman is an active GA airport with about 250 daily operations and nearly 200 based aircraft. Businesses provide flight instruction, aircraft charters and scenic flights, fueling, and maintenance. When planning your approach, be aware of nearby Louisville International Airport (SDF), five miles southwest of Bowman.

Louisville’s Bourbon Trail

Frazier History Museum is the home of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center. Pick up a guide to the Louisville Bourbon Trail, which details the numerous Louisville bourbon distilleries, plus bourbon-centric bars and restaurants. Wander through the museum’s “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibit, which showcases the “history, craft and culture of Bourbon whisky - America’s only native spirit.”

Walk east on West Main Street to Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, just across the street from the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Join a guided tour and tasting to learn how American whiskeys are made, and perhaps wander up to the Bar at Fort Nelson, on the second floor, for a classic cocktail or a modern creation.

Back on Main Street, continue eastward and you’ll discover the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Old Forester Distilling Company, and the Angel’s Envy Distillery. Louisville is home to about 15 distilleries and it’s hard to find one that doesn’t offer tours and tastings.

If you arrive in May, you’ll be able to attend the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. The “Run for the Roses” is the oldest sporting event in U.S. history, held annually since 1875.

Dennis K. Johnson

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

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