Iowa City Airport | 100 Years of History

by Jim and Melanie

The Tin Goose

We visited our local airport in Iowa City on 9 June 2018 as it celebrated 100 years of service to the community and the country. One of the highlights of the visit was the Ford Tri-Motor, which offered rides for $75. What a beautiful and graceful machine. We watched it fly over our neighborhood several times before we went to the airport. It deserved a closer look. The corrugated metal structure gives meaning to the nickname of “Tin Goose.”

It first flew on 1 December 1928. It was sold to Transcontinental Air Transport in January 1929 and was named City of Wichita. The TAT logo is on the fuselage. It and sister ship City of Columbus inaugurated transcontinental commercial air service in 1929.

Pictures don’t do justice to the plane. We arrived just as the plane returned from a flight with some passengers. It was a lovely big bird, with wood paneling and broad windows.

Wood lined interior for 10 passengers.

It was soon readied for another flight around the area. Spectators were moved aside to safety. The engines started easily. The Tin Goose started rolling toward the runway. It taxied about a half mile downwind, turned to get ready for take-off, and revved up the engines. It was airborne after a very short acceleration. Watch Melanie gesture with her arms at how quick it was airborne.

Its original crew included a pilot, co-pilot, and stewardess, and it could carry 8 or 9 passengers. Passenger seats could be removed, too, to transport cargo instead. Imagine being one of those early passengers, thrilled with anticipation of swift conveyance and the potential risks in the unproven method.

Some History of the Airport

The Iowa City airport has a rich history over the past century. This article describes in more detail the highlights listed below.

  • The airport opened in 1918 and is the oldest civil airport west of the Mississippi River still in its original location. The first air mail flights and early commercial aviation flew through Iowa City. Wiley Post, Jack Knight, Charles Lindbergh, and Will Rogers are a few who landed here. Today it serves business, medical, charter and private pilots year round.
  • In 1840, Jeremiah Stover laid claim to a 240 acre farm where the Iowa City Municipal Airport is located today. He paid $1.25 per acre. A descendant, Russell William Stover, had Iowa City connections and started the Russell Stover Candy Company.
  • The first powered flight near what was to become the airport took place on 12-13 October 1910 piloted by Thomas Baldwin. “The biplane rose when two thirds of the way down the field and flew over the trees at the west end of the area. Baldwin circled upward until he reached an altitude of about 125 feet and then flew southward in a long sweeping turn.
    Then heading north, Baldwin flew directly over the grandstand, circled the field, and landed in the center of the grounds. The crowd cheered and clapped.”

  • On 8 January 1920, Iowa City was the only stop for the first air mail flight from Chicago to Omaha. When pilot Walter J. Smith returned to Chicago in his open cockpit biplane, he stopped in Iowa City to pick up a 10 lb pig. The pig arrived safely in Chicago.
  • The first transcontinental air mail flights started on 8 September 1920 but were only made in daylight hours. The Iowa City airfield was designated a fuel stop in February 1921 for the first day/night air mail flights. Relay teams of pilots flew the 2600 miles hoping to show Congress it was feasible. Success convinced Congress in 1926 to set up 18,000 miles of routes all over the country.
  • In 1927, the Boeing Air Transport company included commercial service through Iowa City as part of their San Francisco-to-Chicago route. They also carried the mail on that route. BAT later took over the Chicago-to-New York route. They merged in 1931 with National Air Transport, Pacific Air Transport, and Varney Air Lines to create the company called the United Airlines.
  • During the war years, over 2,500 pilots were trained at Iowa City by Shaw Aviation in conjunction with the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. Shaw used 22 Flight Instructors and 41 aircraft. The Iowa College of Engineering ran the aeronautical ground school.

  • The jet age was nearing by the late 1950s. United Airlines asked Iowa City to extend runways to handle the faster jets. Iowa City refused. Ozark Airlines then brought service on the Chicago-to-Des Moines route for a few more years. By 1972, Iowa City lost commercial and air mail service.

We’ve been privileged to visit several aeronautical museums, giving us a peak at the history and development of aircraft and the industry. It’s fun to reflect on how our local, municipal airport fits into that history. Thanks for joining us for a brief look at it.


6 thoughts on “Iowa City Airport | 100 Years of History

  1. The Belmont Rooster

    AWESOME POST! The way the engines sounded at first would make you wonder if it would ever get off the ground. I can’t imagine being inside the plane and wondering. I may have wanted to get off! We have certainly come a long way. Thanks for sharing!

  2. shoreacres

    I was interested to see the inside of the plane. It reminded me of some of the early racing sailboats — and some that were more recent. Before everything turned to fiberglass, stainless steel, and kevlar, even the racers were well appointed with luscious woodwork and such.

    It was interesting to me to read that the Iowa City airport opened in 1918, which was the year my mother was born. A century isn’t quite as long as we sometimes imagine. I enjoy reading about these local airports. There’s a lot of activity that takes place in and around them. They’re still flying biplanes out of a local airfield not so far from me. In fact, it’s so close that I often watch the pilots practicing (and showing off) over Galveston Bay.

    1. Jim R Post author

      This airport is usually fairly busy with local businesses, University, Hospital traffic, and hobbyists. We see biplanes now and then and some corporate jets.


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