31 July 2016 - I Love Airplanes

In case you are not aware of it by now, I love airplanes! That love affair started when I was in grade school and my Dad bought two $5.00 tickets and we both went for our first plane ride in a Piper Cub at the Vernon County Fair in Wisconsin. I have never forgotten that experience and have been fortunate enough, during my lifetime, to fly in many types of airplanes, commercially around the world, as well as general aviation, single engine and twin engine, pistons and jets.

Since 1984 I have been fortunate to own a single-engine Cessna 210 that has saved me countless hours of driving, going to farm shows, county and state fairs and speaking engagements across the Midwest.

So why am I writing about airplanes? What do airplanes have to do with agriculture? A great deal, of course, and I’ll connect those dots a little later. But now, I have to share with you that on July 24th I took the greatest airplane ride of my life when I sat in the cockpit of a B-17 Flying Fortress, the workhorse bomber that played a major role in defeating Adolph Hitler and the Nazis in World War II.

Fourteen-thousand B-17s were built, only 11 are still flying in the world and I was blessed to be able to fly in one for thirty minutes and think about the Greatest Generation and what those brave young fliers experienced to preserve our freedom. They were kids, late teens, early 20's. They had to be very agile because this plane was not designed to carry big people, just big bombs, and space was at a premium. At 228 pounds, I struggled to get all the way into the cockpit, but I made it!

As the plane took off with it’s four powerful engines roaring, conversation was impossible because of the noise. We reached a cruising altitude of 2,000 feet and were in the air for thirty minutes, but instead of looking down at France and Germany, I was looking at lush green corn and soybean fields around Janesville, Wisconsin.

I could only imagine what these young pilots and crew members were seeing as they started their bombing runs in 30-below-zero temperatures inside the plane, bursts of anti-aircraft fire outside the plane, seeing other planes in their squadron going down in flames with their buddies on board and wondering if they would be able to get back to their base in England. They and all the other people in the military truly deserve Tom Brokaw’s title of The Greatest Generation.

Now back to the connection between planes and agriculture, beyond being a great tool for farmers. I know that many of those pilots and crew members were farm and ranch kids from across the U.S. who volunteered after December 7, 1941. My guess is that some of you reading this today flew in the Flying Fortress or had a family member who did in World War II. Again, let’s salute the Greatest Generation!

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