Aviation enthusiasts will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Bakalar Air Force Base in Columbus during this year’s Aviation Day at the Columbus Municipal Airport.

Seventy-five years ago, engineers from the U.S. Corp of Engineers in Louisville, Kentucky were surveying what would eventually become the city’s airport. But back then, it was a site for an Army air base, with construction work beginning on Aug. 13, 1942.

The airport is now a home facility to sleek aircraft transporting corporate clients from Columbus’ manufacturers around the country and is a popular refueling stop for pilots passing over Indiana.

But it saw its first aircraft in September 1942, when a Navy plane made an emergency landing on an unsurfaced runway at the air base that was still under construction.

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In addition to celebrating the Bakalar history, this year’s Aviation Day event on June 10 will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum.

The museum chronicles historical moments such as that first landing at the airfield and the stories of people who served at the air base over the years, including the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Last fall, new highway signs designated the stretch of Interstate 65 from Seymour to the Bartholomew County/Johnson County line as the Tuskegee Airmen Highway in honor of the aviators, some of whom trained at the air base in Columbus and in Seymour during World War II.

Aviation Day is now in its fourth year in Columbus, a free event designed to highlight all aspects of aviation, airport director Brian Payne said.

An estimated 5,000 people are expected to attend this year for the day-long aviation celebration from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., similar to attendance numbers for last year, Payne said.

The goal of the event is to offer information about aviation and aircraft, but also to showcase the city’s airport to people who may not have had a chance to explore it, he said.

“It’s something that the general public doesn’t see every day, and we’re excited about that,” he said.

In 2016, Columbus Municipal Airport was named the Airport of the Year by the Aviation Association of Indiana, in part because of the airport’s continuing dedication to its Education Pathways Initiative. The initiative encourages students from prekindergarten through college to learn about aviation.

Learning opportunities will be available for all age ranges during Aviation Day, from airplane rides to an air show.

Aviation Nation, a local after-school program that gives high school students a chance to learn how to build an airplane, will have representatives at Aviation Day. Students from Columbus North High School, Columbus East High School and CSA New Tech are working on a project that will be displayed at the event.

Last year, the airport decided to donate its $1,000 prize money from the Airport of the Year award to the Aviation Nation program to support the students efforts to build an RV-12, a two-seat all-metal aircraft that is expected to take two years to complete.

Ivy Tech Community College’s aviation program will also be highlighted during the event. Ivy Tech officials have said the airport has been instrumental in collaborating with the college which offers a technical certificate and associate’s degree in aviation technology management, in addition to aviation operations certificates.

Organizations including Young Eagle Flights will provide free airplane rides to children ages 8 to 17 through the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Waldo Wright’s Flying Service will also provide 15- to 20-minute aircraft rides with its airplane known as the New Standard D-25, which introduced people to aircraft rides when aviation was still in its infancy, according to its website. The cost for a trip on the plane, which can hold a maximum of four individuals, will be $75 per person, Payne said.

Fixed-base operator JeffAir, which operates at the Columbus and Greenwood municipal airports, will also take passengers aboard its three-person Cessna 172 aircraft for $35 a person.

Two air shows, scheduled at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., will feature airplane acrobatic acts by the Vanguard Squadron and pilots Vlado Lenoch and Bob Richards.

New to this year’s event will be a car show, the Bakalar Cruise-In, which will be open to various vehicle makes and models. The cost to enter the show is $10 per person, which can be paid the day of the event with awards being given out in the afternoon.

Food vendors, children activities and an opportunity for kids to get close to city police, fire and street department vehicles also will be offered.

Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum officials are still in the preliminary stages of planning for Aviation Day, but public tours of the museum and its chapel will be provided, said Nick Firestone, museum board president.

The chapel remains the only surviving barracks building on the airport property after it was converted to a municipal airport, Firestone said.

Aviation Day

Aviation Day will be held from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 10 at the Columbus Municipal Airport, 4770 Ray Boll Boulevard. The event is free.

About Columbus Municipal Airport

  • Columbus Municipal Airport has two runways, a primary runway that is 6,401 feet long and 150-feet wide. The crosswind runway measures 5,000 feet long and is 100 feet wide.
  • Fixed-base operator services are provided by Jeff Air, which includes flight training, an avionics and maintainance shop and service area. For more, visit jeffairpilotservices.com
  • Blackerby’s Hangar Five Restaurant offers breakfast and lunch at the newly remodeled airport terminal.
  • Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum features the military history of the airport, memoriabilia from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The historic air base chapel has been restored and was named in honor of Jeanne Lewellen Norbeck, a Bartholomew County resident and former WASP, who died in service to her country.
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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com