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Iola, Wisconsin, Airport Renamed After Local Aviation Icon
By Larry Stencel, EAA 115011
August 20, 2015 - The Central County Flyers Association - which operates the privately owned public access Iola, Wisconsin, Central County airport northwest of Oshkosh (68C) - surprised one of its own aviation icons during its infamous Friday fly-in lunch on August 14. Paul Johns, EAA 280702, thought that the group was just holding an Appreciation Day in his honor, but instead got a very big surprise prior to the start of lunch.
Former Association President Bill Kinsman called the attendees together to retell Paul’s aviation history, then made the surprise announcement that the airport would henceforth be called Paul Johns Field.
In his usual, affable way, soon-to-be 102-year-old Paul Johns took it all in with style and a smile. Thanking all, he said, “I didn’t really do anything,” but the lunch crowd in attendance didn’t agree. He’s done much during his 66 active years aviating and they recognized the honor with a rousing ovation when a plaque was given to Paul.
Paul’s aviation memorabilia is already on display in the association’s hangar, so renaming the airport after him was a natural additional honor. Paul was also given the first hat embroidered with the new airport name.
Born in 1913 in Indiana, Paul first soloed a Waco glider in 1929 at age 15. He went on to solo a Curtiss Junior two years later and earned advanced pilot and mechanic ratings at Curtiss-Reynolds Field in Glenview, Illinois.
In 1939, Pan American Airways hired him to set up an instrument training program using Link trainers in Florida. From there, he went on to realize his dream of flying the DC-3 as a line pilot to Caribbean and South American destinations. In 1944, he transferred to California to fly the PB2Y-3 Coronado and Boeing 314 Clipper flying boats, completing 220 Pacific crossings during the war, flying for the Naval Transport Service. He was also an experienced celestial navigator/instructor.
After the war, he flew as a corporate pilot in Wisconsin until his retirement at age 60. At 75, he built a Kitfox in 11 months and flew it until 1995 when he voluntarily grounded himself.
The Iola airport’s year-round Friday lunches are a local phenomenon for aviators in Wisconsin and surrounding states. During this year’s July 3 fly-in lunch, 62 airplanes and 260 people were in attendance, the second highest ever tallied.
The airport has been in existence since the late ’40s on the site of a former potato field. Because of its infamous lunch destination reputation, the airport is nicknamed “The Busiest Little Airport in Wisconsin.” It’s also worth noting that the airport accepts no federal money and is totally self-sustaining thanks to the Friday lunches and the many volunteers who put it all together.
Paul Johns has been previously recognized by the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame and is one of EAA’s Timeless Voices. Now, he has an airport named after him. He is truly an inspiration to all who come to know him. Congratulations, Paul.