Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A runway runs through it

I was giving a ranch tour to some city folk a few years back. As we drove along county roads and trail roads I pointed out crops and cattle and talked about what we do on the ranch and why. The four city folk – husband and wife, son and daughter – seemed interested and asked quite a few of the usual questions. Until the daughter, a mildly sullen 12 year-old, asked, “ How can you stand to live here? I mean, there’s nothing here!”

It was a question I should have been, but wasn’t, prepared for. These days I “head ‘em off at the pass” by emphasizing, at the beginning of the tour, the differences between the High Plains shortgrass prairie and the region they hail from.

But my response to the 12 year-old wasn’t very convincing. Wherever she looked, all she saw was a dreary landscape of grass and some cows. New Jersey, in her mind, was much, much better. People and trees and cool places to go and fun things to do. Nebraska was nothing but miles and miles of miles and miles. Yuck!

As we neared the end of the tour I drove down the county road toward the home place, passing Kimball’s tiny airport on the south. Sitting on the left side of the vehicle, the girl hadn’t noticed it as we motored past at the beginning of the tour. “Hey! Are those airplanes?”

So we stopped and took a quick tour of Robert E. Arraj Field, Kimball’s Municipal Airport. I walked the family through the flight center office, pointing out the phones and computers for checking weather, then out onto the flight line. There were four light airplanes tied down on the ramp: a pair of Beech Bonanzas, a Piper Cherokee, and a Cessna 172. “We can walk right up and look,” I said, “But don’t touch the airplanes.”

As we walked around and looked, I was able to use my aviation background to answer questions about the airport and airplanes. The family seemed to enjoy the tour and were fascinated that we could just stop by and walk on in. “This is soooo cool!” said the formerly pouting 12 year-old, over and over. Chalk that tour up as a success.

I hadn’t thought about the local airport as a potential part of a ranch tour, but I’ve added it to the itinerary. And why not? In my life it’s always been there, just across the county road from the home place. In fact, the airport is pretty much surrounded by the EJE. And in addition to operating and housing airplanes, the airport is also a working agricultural enterprise, where a couple of local farmers raise wheat and hay.

And though it’s a small airport, home to less than a dozen aircraft, there is always a good deal of activity. With a wide, modern runway and both jet fuel and aviation gasoline available, Kimball is a popular stop for aircraft passing through. Whenever I drive by I always look at the flight line and I’m often rewarded with a glimpse of an interesting aircraft. Sometimes I stop and visit with the crews.

Monday was a good example. As I drove by the airport I saw a pair of Japanese “Zero” fighters parked in the fuel pits. Zeroes? Sure! Having seen these airplanes before at air shows, I knew what they were, and in the middle of air show season, with Kimball a good gas stop, I wasn’t surprised to see them. So I stopped, visited with the crews, and took a few pictures.
AI-114, Tora Tora Tora Flight of the Commemorative Air Force, on the ramp at Kimball Municipal Airport Monday afternoon. This aircraft was manufactured as a North American Harvard during WWII, then rebuilt by the film industry in the early 1970's to resemble a Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" for the movie "Tora Tora Tora."
The airplanes were part of Tora Tora Tora flight of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). The flight formed in the 1970's to commemorate World War II aircraft and the crews who flew them in defense of the U.S. and her allies. The aircraft, North American Harvard (T-6/SNJ) trainers built during the war and later converted by Hollywood for movie work, do a Pearl Harbor reenactment at airshows all over North America. They also continue to appear in movies and on television, most recently in the movie “Pearl Harbor.”
Pilot Ron Wright taxies AI-112 out of the fuel pits at Kimball Municipal Airport Monday afternoon. Wright and his wife Linda, along with Pilot Dan Reedy (flying AI-114), landed their two "Zeroes" at Kimball for food and fuel while returning to their home base in Texas. The two "Zeroes" and six other aircraft of Tora Tora Tora Flight of the Commemorative Air Force were featured at an airshow in Lethbridge, Alberta over the weekend.
The pilots Monday were Dan Reedy and Ron Wright of Houston. Ron's wife Linda was along and riding in the tiny back seat of his “Zero”. They were very nice folks, and even though they were in a hurry to get home, they took the time to tell me about their aircraft and the air show in Lethbridge, Alberta, they’d participated in over the weekend. It happened to be the air show where a Canadian CF-18 crashed, providing spectacular video for television news around the world.
Dan Reedy, "Zero" pilot with Tora Tora Tora Flight of the Commemorative Air Force, visits with a local reporter at the Kimball Municipal Airport (IBM) Flight Center Monday. At left is fellow "Zero" pilot Ron Wright.
Though the paint scheme and some cosmetic changes to the nose, canopy and tail make this aircraft look quite similar to the Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero," it remains a North American Harvard at heart. The engine is the famous Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp.
Zeroes on the Kimball flight line!
Veteran of the movies "Tora Tora Tora" and "Final Countdown" as well as the movie/television series "Baa Baa Black Sheep," this WWII-era North American Harvard trainer has been altered to resemble a Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" fighter.
Even though the Wrights and Reedy were anxious to get home, they took the time to give us a formation flyover – including a shot of air show smoke – as they departed. A very nice gesture.

So that’s why Kimball’s tiny airport is now part of the EJE Ranch tour. There’s more than meets the eye in “flyover” country, including some of the things that fly over!
Form and Smoke! A pair of Tora Tora Tora flight aircraft, Commemorative Air Force, depart Kimball Municipal Airport Monday afternoon following a fuel stop. Many thanks to Linda and Ron Wright and Dan Reedy for your willingness to share your story with us.


  1. I got a total kick out of Scottsbluff's airport when I flew in on my first visit to the area. I'd never been to an airport where the plane just pulls up and parks like a car, and you only have about 6 steps and you're in the airport, right by the baggage claim. No hours of standing in security lines on the way out, either. I <3 small airports!

  2. SNJs make good, if rather well fed looking, Zeros.

    1. heh, they're a little on the chubby/stubby side. As am I.

  3. Sorry I didn't see this post earlier. I used to be part of the unofficial pit crew for an SNJ, AG 76, during the Reno Air Races. Attended various air shows around California with her also. Good times.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. That's cool! Doesn't get better than the SNJ. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.