is a popular stop for area pilots
owners say annual fly-in
is an economic boon to county
(January 2008) Rich Davidson heard the talk by
other pilots of a grass airstrip situated in a picturesque spot along
the Ohio River near Hanover, Ind. Curious, Davidson decided to fly over
the quiet, rural airfield to see if the rumors of its unique beauty
were true. What he saw was a place that appeared untouched by time since
the early days of aviation.
Little did he realize during that first flyover how his
life would soon become intertwined and passionately connected with the
little piece of aviation history called Lee Bottom Flying Field.
Today, more than a decade later, Davidson, 39, and his wife, Ginger,
43, own the airstrip. And they have worked diligently to preserve the
Lee Bottom Flying Field as an aviation refuge. While the airstrip is
a public access facility open daily for small aircraft usage, it is
also a place where aviation enthusiasts with vintage aircraft are more
In fact, for the past 11 years during the third weekend in September,
Lee Bottom Flying Field becomes the hot spot for vintage aircraft during
the annual Wood Fabric and Tailwheels Fly-In. During the event, pilots
with vintage aircraft that date to the 1940s gather by the hundreds
for good, old-fashioned fun and flying. Scores of visitors from across
the region flock to Lee Bottom to see the spectacular old birds
as they circle the grassy landing field by the dozens.
From its inception in 1996, the annual Lee Bottom fly-in has grown from
just a few more than a dozen pilots gathering at the field for some
friendly socializing to more than 1,885 registered visitors during the
2007 Wood, Fabric and Tailwheels Fly-In. It was held Sept. 29-30. More
than 150 planes landed on the Friday night of the latest event, while
450 classic and vintage aircraft landed Saturday.
Despite the fact the event is relatively unknown to most residents in
the Madison-Hanover area and those directly across the river in the
Kentucky counties of Trimble, Oldham and Carroll, people and planes
from across the country, including visitors from Alaska, Florida, California
and several New England states participated in the event. There were
even several international tourists, including people from as far away
as Australia, South Africa, England and Canada.
Although the fly-in has attracted some business sponsorship in recent
years, the Davidsons believe more local civic and corporate support
could turn the event into an economic opportunity for the entire community.
According to the economic figures tallied during the last fly-in, the
economic impact on the entire community totaled more than $300,000.
While we want to maintain the current friendly and non-commercialized
atmosphere of our event, we believe it ties in perfectly with the rest
of the historic aspects for which our community is known, said
Ginger. We think this is a wonderful chance for local businesses
to get involved and find a way to capitalize on our event because it
attracts so many visitors to our community.
The history of Lee Bottom
Lee Bottom Flying Field has been an airstrip since the
1930s, when aviation was in its infancy. According to Rich, during the
late 1920s-1930s there was a camp near Hanover Beach of pilots called
Barnstormers, or flying gypsies. These people would give
rides in their planes, which would land on the grassy strip of land
that later became known as Lee Bottom Flying Field.
For several decades, the airstrip remained relatively the same until
the 1950s. At that point, Tony Harmon and Dale Munday bought the land
and started an aircraft salvage shop. The field became nationally known
as a place to find old aircraft parts.
The airport was simply covered with old wreckage of planes,
said Rich, who is also a commercial pilot for a regional airline.
provided by Rich Davidson
late Fritz Hagemann poses with
his dog, Casper, next to a bi-wing
airplane at Lee Bottom Field.
By the 1980s, the partners sold the property to a lumber
mill, which in turn sold the property in 1985 to Fritz Hagemann, a retired
U.S. Air Force pilot and mechanic. Hagemann, who was residing in Miami,
had always wanted to own a shop. He saw an ad for the land and knew
he had found the perfect opportunity. Fritz said he retired on
a Tuesday and bought the airfield on the following Thursday, said
Hagemann realized the airfield would make a wonderful destination for
owners of antique and classic aircraft.
He set out to make improvements to the property that would help attract
such visitors. Initially, the landing field was 1,800 feet by 26 feet.
He bought an adjacent farm field and enlarged the runway to 3,000 feet
by 100 feet. He also added restroom facilities and a picnic shelter
area to make pilots feel welcomed, and then obtained the airfield licensed
as a public use airport.
Fritz Hagemann was a fine man and a true lover of aviation,
said George Pascal of New Castle, Ky. Pascal was a long-time friend
of Hagemann. Pascal, a pilot for United Parcel Service, had heard about
the old-time grass airstrip across the river, so when he bought his
1943 Stearman airplane, he decided to fly over it.
I kept coming back, and Fritz and I became good friends.
Pascal has been attending the annual fly-in at Lee Bottom Field since
it started. It was a small affair at first, he said. It
is very special, and of all the fly-ins I attend, the one at Lee Bottom
is my favorite. He brings his family to the yearly event, and
said everyone, even those with no aviation background, will love the
family fun at Lee Bottoms fly-in.
He believes the success of the fly-in is because of the friendly atmosphere
of the event and the efforts by the Davidsons to recreate the atmosphere
of the 1930s-1940s. During that era, airports were important social
gathering spots for people.
It was actually Pascal who introduced Rich Davidson to Hagemann. I
told Rich about the field, and I helped foster their friendship,
In 1995, Rich was in between jobs and didnt have a home location,
although he was operating primarily out of Columbus, Ind. He decided
to visit the little airfield he had heard so much about. I met
this neat old guy at a grass airfield in the middle of nowhere,
said Rich. He was just a great person, and we became friends.
Rich began to help Hagemann out with little chores around the airstrip,
including mowing grass and other general maintenance. As time progressed,
Hagemann let Rich live in a little trailer located on the airfield in
exchange for the upkeep of the airstrip.
In the meantime, Hagemann had no family to help him, and his health
began to fail. Rich ended up taking care of Hagemann. He became
my adopted grandfather, said Rich. My family became his
family and loved him.
and Ginger Davidson have
worked hard over the last decade
to establish one of the regions
largest aviation events.
Fritz died Dec. 29, 2000, of heart failure at age 75.
Rich became the owner of the airfield. By this time, Hagemanns
dedication and passion for the airfield of the bygone days had become
Richs passion, too. Aviation represents freedom, he
said. You forget your restrictions and just simply live.
He said the attraction for the vintage planes was very simple. Its
like riding a Harley with wings.
Rich went solo for several years in working to promote the airfield,
but then he met Ginger during a party in an airport hanger. In 2003,
the couple wed, and Ginger joined his quest to preserve the airport.
Ginger runs the daily operations at the airport, which can have up to
15 planes landing each day. She also is licensed to teach pilots how
to fly antique aircraft. Her interest in flying was peaked when she
was a child. After traveling by car with my family to 49 of the
states in the country, I realized we could have gotten there faster
by plane, she said.
Recently, the couple received a 501-c3 nonprofit status to start an
airport history museum at the airport. Once complete, the museum will
house old airport artifacts that have been discarded and replaced, including
old lights, signs and other airport memorabilia.
Eventually, we will have living aviation history events, with
possibly a replica 1940s village, said Ginger. Our
long term goal is to capture and preserve the overall essence of aviation.
Wood, Fabric and Tailwheels Fly-In
In 1996, Rich asked Hagemann to consider the idea of hosting
a fly-in for antique and classic aircraft. An avid aviation buff, Rich
realized there was a lack of opportunity for other antique and classic
aircraft admirers in the area to get together.
Our area was deprived of antique and classic aviation, he
said. I was looking to make an opportunity happen.
provided by Rich Davidson
line up along Lee Bottom
Field during last Septembers
weekend fly-in event.
Hagemann was worried no one would come to that first fly-in,
but they did. Drew Middleton of Crestwood, Ky., was one of the pilots
at the first fly-in at Lee Bottom Flying Field. Middleton, a pilot for
United Parcel Service, owns a 1947 Piper Super Cruise. It is a cloth-covered,
My family and I just love the annual fly-in at Lee Bottom,
he said. My daughter made her first trip there when she was just
three days old.
During every fall, he visits more than a dozen fly-ins within a 100-mile
radius of Louisville. He said fly-ins are like antique car shows where
people get together to socialize and talk about their vehicles, but
even average people with no flying background would be fascinated to
attend one. The fly-ins are certainly a spectacle to see,
he said. The old planes from bygone days are interesting and amazing
Middleton said there is a huge general aviation interest in this area,
and the fly-in at Lee Bottom Field is definitely filling a niche for
those interested in the older planes. He believes the event is growing
larger each year because of the tremendous efforts by the Davidsons
to make everyone feel welcome.
Cliff Robinson, a Madison, Ind., Realtor and pilot, is also one of the
original pilots to attend the Lee Bottom fly-in. He is a well-known
pilot in the local area. Each year during the Madison Regatta, Robinson
performs amazing daredevil stunts during the annual air show.
Last year, Robinson flew his black-and-silver 1941 Stearman bi-plane
to the event. He said the event is beginning to receive nationwide attention.
The beautiful setting of the grass airfield between the Ohio River
and a tree-lined hilltop is one of the main attractions of the event,
he said. Its also like aviation used to be with the long
grass field and all of the socializing.
He is thrilled with the amount of non-aviation people who are showing
up to the fly-in, and he believes the event is definitely something
local tourism leaders should look to help promote. It is an excellent
attraction for people of all ages and backgrounds.
Economic and tourism potential
The Lee Bottom fly-in received national recognition in
2006 when it was spotlighted in a national syndicated Sport Pilot TV
segment. The Davidsons began an email correspondence with the director
of the series. Impressed with their efforts at airfield, the director
agreed to film a segment during the annual fly-in if funding could be
raised for filming and travel.
The Davidsons approached the Jefferson County Board of Tourism with
their funding request. The board agreed to sponsor the filming, which
It was a good one-time promotion for our area, said board
president Dave Dionne. Anything filmed carries on even after the
event is finished.
He believes, however, that the fly-in held limited future potential
as something the board would sponsor, even though it is an excellent
event for people to know about.
Madison and Hanover should work hard to capitalize on the Wood,
Fabrics and Tailwheels Fly-In, said Ray Johnson of Marion, Ind.
He coordinates his citys annual Fly-In Cruise In, which is sponsored
by the City of Marion.
The event, which was started as a fundraiser for the local high school
band, is similar in size to the Lee Bottom Fly-In but also features
antique and classic cars and tractors on display. It is free for visitors,
including parking. Funds are raised for the band during the event by
a pancake breakfast.
by Don Ward
Bottom Field is
but a narrow strip
of grass along the
Ohio River a few
from Madison, Ind.
Last year, more than 3,000 people were served pancakes
by volunteers. More than 5,000 people visited the event, and $10,000
in proceeds was donated to the band for equipment, uniforms and travel
Local people support our fly-in, and airplanes come from everywhere,
said Johnson. He said the event is great for his city because it helps
showcase and promote the airport and city. People travel in, stay
in hotels, buy gas and eat at restaurants; everyone benefits from these
Johnson flies a 1947 Aeronca Chief to the Lee Bottom Field fly-in. He
said it is the most unusual fly-in around. Nothing beats Lee Bottom
because of its picturesque setting, its grass airstrip and its unique
old-fashioned atmosphere, he said. It is a wonderful opportunity
to showcase the entire area.
Madison pilot Cris Sauer says he also loves to attend the Lee Bottom
Field event. Sauer attends numerous fly-ins and has even traveled to
what is considered the worlds largest such events, the EAA AirVenture
Oshkosh, held in Oshkosh, Wis.
The Lee Bottom fly-in is the highlight of the season for most
of us because it is so different than the rest of them, he said.
Its about as close as it gets to how it used to be.
Sauer also helps produce Aviation Awareness Day at the Madison Municipal
Airport. The event, which includes an air show, is a collective effort
to help promote the airport. Our event is more civic-minded; its
to promote business at the airport, he said. On the other
hand, the Lee Bottom fly-in is just terrific fun and friendship for
the entire family.
Sauer, whose Shipleys Tavern is the title sponsor for T-shirts
at the annual Lee Bottom event, believes that if word got around through
more promotions it would be good for everyone.
Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Linda
Lytle has also attended the Lee Bottom Field annual fly-in. It
is a fabulous event that more people in the area should try to see,
Unfortunately, the Wood, Fabric and Tailwheels Fly-In has always been
held on the same weekend as the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art,
which is operated by the tourism bureau. Lytle saw only limited potential
for tourism to get involved in promoting the fly-in because of that
There are only so many hotel rooms in the area, and most of them
fill up because of the Chautauqua, she said. She also said the
event had limited possibilities for promotion because of the limited
parking and space available at the event.
Ginger acknowledged parking is a challenge that must be overcome, but
she believes it can be solved.
Any time an event brings visitors to the area, it is good for
all of us, she said.
For more information about Lee Bottom Flying
Field or the Wood, Fabric and Tailwheels Fly-In, call (812) 866-3211
or visit: www.leebottom.com.
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