Story by Elroy Hilbert, EAA 166928
Photos by Michael Dziadus, Chuck Belanger, and Matt Milligan
All the snow is gone, and the sky is gray. But last February, Cottonwood Airport (1C8) in Rockford, Illinois, had a skiplane fly-in on a perfect winter’s day. The air was bright blue, the snow was perfect, and the wind was wistfully calm. Cottonwood is a tiny airport on the northwest side of Rockford. It has a 2,600-foot north-south grass runway and were it not for the large row of trees on the east side (including many cottonwoods), it would be wide enough to be called 36/18 left, center, and right. Founded in 1946, Cottonwood is quietly celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Fortunately, its founding pre-dates the high school across the street by 14 years, otherwise it just would not be. Cottonwood could be known as a refuge for the many older airplane enthusiasts, who were forced out of their aerial abodes by the modern age of metropolitan expansion. Machesney Airport, Hononegah, Wagon Wheel, Franklyn Field, and South Beloit Airport were just a few of the surrounding airports that were closed. Some say it is Rockford’s only remaining public-use airport, since one would have to search under “Chicago” in the FAA’s Digital Chart Supplement to find the “other” airport. Cottonwood is also home to one of the early EAA chapters — Chapter 22, founded in 1957.
In what seems like drier times for aviation activity, this small airport and Chapter 22 have remained fairly active. Chapter 22 meetings are the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., usually preceded by a cookout. The local Boy Scouts troops have used our grounds for campouts and training for aviation merit badges and are planning a big campout this fall. Chapter 22 has a Murphy Rebel build night on Mondays, a free ground school on Wednesday nights, a Cessna 150 rebuild project on Thursdays, a VMC club once a month, several student pilots pursuing pilot certificates, several aircraft being built or under restoration, and three or more fly-ins a year. This past February’s skiplane fly-in was a perfect combination of great weather, great snow, and fun.
The sky was blue, and the snow was superb. We had just over a dozen skiplanes and a handful of wheeled planes fly in. We must have had 100 or so people come to Cottonwood to enjoy our little get-together. Many came out from the suburbs and Chicago area. A few folks drove down from Oshkosh. We had a group of dedicated airplane photographers who usually take pictures at ORD and other big airports. They really enjoyed being on “our” side of the fence where they could get up close and personal and take some awesome pictures. Some even got skiplane rides. Two matching Champs were giving airplane rides non-stop, both flying more than three-and-a-half hours that day. They did several fly-bys and teamed up with a third to make a fantastic formation low-speed pass down the runway.