For the 17th consecutive year, Abel Island will host its annual Fly-in, Float-in, Potluck and Barbecue on Saturday, Aug. 19, from 12 noon to 3 p.m.
“This event is open to all airplanes, whether they are members of the Island Aviation Association, or not,” said organizer and island resident Gary Fisher. “This is one of the limited number of times where island members, as well as area residents, may invite their pilot friends to fly in and enjoy our island without being a full dues-paying aviation association member.”
Fisher and his wife started hosting the event for just a small crowd of planes, but it has grown in popularity in the many years since it began. An estimated 50 planes flew and floated in for the potluck barbecue in 2016, but the average number is normally closer to 70.
Planes have come from as far away as West Virginia, Nevada, Minneapolis, and Louisiana. The core group comes from Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, the Quad Cities, and Monticello. A small number of float planes come from the Twin Cities, Chicago, and the Quad Cities.
Fisher himself is a licensed pilot, as are his son and daughter. “Aviation is such an integral part of our life. I often fly to Kansas City to pick up our five and eight-year-old granddaughters and bring them back to Abel Island to spend time with us,” he said, adding that the flight takes travel time from six hours by car to just one-and-a-half hours. “Our six-year-old and twin four-year-old granddaughters from Iowa City are starting to think everyone gets picked up for a weekend in an airplane.”
The Abel Island event is particularly unique because of the grass airfield itself, which attracts vintage ‘tail dragger’ planes. Its location along the Mississippi River makes it ideal for float planes, and the combination of those two assets are one-of-a-kind.
Camaraderie among pilots and their families, as well as interested members of the community, is a big part of the fun. Fisher and his wife provide grills, tables, coffee and water, and smoked chicken legs for open cockpit WWI and WWII planes that are unable to transport their own food for the potluck. Those who are able, bring meat, a covered dish, table settings, and drinks.
“We want to share our passion for flying and airplanes, as well as our love for the Guttenberg and Abel Island area with as many people as possible, so please come join us,” said Fisher. “We also want to encourage residents of the Island and surrounding areas to come join our potluck BBQ and enjoy looking at a variety of different airplanes and interacting with pilots from around the Midwest.”
Photo by author