Aviation in Iowa - Iowa aviation history

Iowa has a long and varied aviation history. Among others, early pioneers such as Clyde Cessna, the Wright Brothers and Amelia Earhart lived in Iowa in their childhood years.

Balloon and glider flights began in Iowa in the 1880s. Then in 1910, just seven years after the first powered flight by the Wright Brothers, the first powered flight took place in Iowa. The remainder of the 20th century witnessed the development of a mature air transportation system throughout Iowa and around the globe. From the development of airports and aviation services to the introduction of modern aircraft, Iowa has experienced significant increases in the utilization and safety of the air transportation system throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.


Aviation pioneers

The list of pioneers who impacted Iowa’s deep aviation history is extensive. Following is just a highlight of some well-known aviation pioneers with Iowa connections.

Charles Lindbergh

Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902 - 1937)

Lindbergh flew in and out of many locations in Iowa and dedicated several airports. During August 1927, Lindbergh visited several Iowa cities on a nationwide tour to promote aeronautics.

Amelia Mary Earhart

Amelia Mary Earhart ( 1897-1937)

Earhart, Americas famous aviatrix, moved to Des Moines in 1908 as a young girl. At age 10 she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. She left Des Moines in 1914 and moved to Chicago. She eventually learned to fly in California, taking flight lessons from Ames, Iowa, native Neta Snook Southern. Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (June 1928) and made the first solo flight from the Atlantic to the Pacific Coast (September 1928). Shortly thereafter she visited several Iowa towns on a series of lecture tours. On June 1, 1937, she began her attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. On July 2, 1937, her last voice transmission was heard, "KHAQQ calling Itasca (U.S. Coast Guard cutter). We must be on you but cannot see you . . . gas is running low . . . " The fate of Earhart has fascinated Americans since she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared during that flight.

Arthur Collins

Arthur Collins (1909 - 1987)

Collins began assembling radio transmitters in a basement workshop as a young man. In 1933, Collins opened a radio factory in Cedar Rapids that later becomes Rockwell Collins.

Arthur Collins

Clarence Duncan Chamberlin (1893-1976)

Chamberlin, born in Denison, Iowa, in 1893, captured the nonstop, long-distance record by flying from New York to Berlin, and was the first to fly a paying passenger across the Atlantic Ocean. In April 1927, at age 34, Chamberlin gained worldwide fame by breaking the world endurance record in his Bellanca monoplane; he stayed in the air 51 hours and 11 minutes.

Ellen Church

A Cresco native, Church became the first airline stewardess in the country. She had approached the traffic manager of Boeing Air Transport (United Air Lines) with her idea of hiring nurses to serve passengers. Still somewhat skeptical of the idea, the board of directors did hire Church as the chief stewardess. Church subsequently hired seven more nurses and helped design their uniforms. The women began working May 15, 1930.

Eugene Ely

Eugene Ely

Born in Williamsburg, Iowa, in 1886, Ely became one of the premiere pilots during the early days of flying. Ely’s daring bravery and love of flying lead him to pioneer the world of flight from a ship. In 1910, Eugene Ely became the first pilot to make a successful unassisted airplane takeoff from the deck of a ship. He made history again in 1911 when he successfully landed an airplane on a ship, the USS Pennsylvania. He is also credited with designing the arresting gear that helped stop the airplane upon landing. This principle is still used today.

Iowa’s early fixed-based operators

The development of air transportation was dependent on PDF documentearly fixed-base operators (FBOs) providing aviation services and promoting the practical applications and enjoyment of aviation in Iowa.  These operators worked long hours and were grass root builders of general aviation in Iowa.  An exhibit at the Iowa Aviation Museum in Greenfield includes a list of people from across Iowa that managed early FBOs.


History at the Iowa State Fair

Giving an Early Lift PDFA fascination with aviation made the Iowa State Fair a perfect venue for showcasing new forms of flight. Many saw their first airplane at the state fair.

Early demonstrations included exciting crowd-pleasing flight demonstrations and daredevil feats.

PDF documentView Iowa State Fair poster


Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame

The Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame honors Iowans with significant accomplishments in aviation. 
View the list of Hall of Fame inductees.

Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame

Thank you to the Iowa Aviation Museum at the Greenfield Municipal Airport (www.flyingmuseum.com) and to Ann Pellegreno, author of the trilogy Iowa Takes to the Air, for their contributions to this brief compilation of Iowa’s extensive aviation heritage. For more information on aviation history in Iowa, visit the aviation museums listed on this Web site.