Master Mechanic

Robert L. Taylor, founder of the Antique Airplane Association, received the FAA’s Charles E. Taylor Master Mechanic Award during the AAA’s 2008 Annual Labor Day Fly-in at Antique Airfield near Blakesburg, IA. The commendation read in part: “This award acknowledges your exemplary service, professionalism, devotion to aviation safety, recognition by your peers, and appreciation of countless pilots to whom you have made powered flight possible.”

Military background
Taylor grew up in Ottumwa, IA, and completed his first solo flight just before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He served with the Sixth Air Force during World War II as a crew chief on P-38s and P-39s.

He was recalled as a technical instructor for F-89s and J35 engines at Chanute Field in Illinois during the Korean War. After working for Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, and TWA, he returned to Ottumwa and opened a flying service in 1953 at the old Ottumwa Naval Air Base (now known as the Ottumwa Industrial Airport).

Taylor’s passion has always been for the preservation, restoration, and flying of antique airplanes, and he founded the Antique Airplane Association in 1953. It was during a visit to his friend and mentor “Andy” Anderson at his airstrip in Mansfield, MO, that Bob began thinking of more ambitious tasks. “That was really my inspiration,” Taylor recalls. “It gave me the desire to start up the Airpower Museum in Ottumwa, and later develop both organizations here at Antique Airfield.”

Airpower Museum
The Airpower Museum was started as a 503c organization in 1964, first located in the old U.S.N. Link Trainer building at the Ottumwa Airport. “We had our offices and displays there and we hosted a lot of events, like AAA chapter meetings, air shows, aerobatic events, and always the big fly-in on Labor Day weekend.”

In 1971, the Airpower Museum Board and Antique Aircraft Association voted to move the entire museum and related fly-in events to a site near Blakesburg, IA, about 12 miles southwest of Ottumwa, where Taylor had purchased 147 acres of land and built a 2,200-foot grass strip. “It was just going to be for my own use,” he says. “I like being able to do what I want to do when I want to do it. But we gave up the air shows. Just too much liability and headaches we didn’t want.”

The events at Antique Airfield continue to attract thousands of visitors and hundreds of restored aircraft. The themes vary from year to year. Last July, they hosted a “Depression Era” Antique Homebuilt Airplane Fly-In, attracting Pietenpols, Heaths, Corbens, and other designs of the 1930s.

As Taylor explains, “The true appeal of this event is that it tends to be more of a reunion-type thing. Members strive to get their restoration projects done to fly them here and show them off.” This year’s theme was “Air Mail Days” with actual airplanes that flew the U.S. Air Mail, such as a Curtiss Jenny, Boeing Model 40C, De Havilland DH-4, Ford Tri-Motor, and several others, taking off each day to Ottumwa and Iowa City to have special mail covers canceled and returned to Antique Airfield.

The museum boasts its own collection of more than 40 antique airplanes, including a 1931 Stinson JR-S, a 1929 Brewster Fleet Model 7, a 1925 Anderson Model Z, and a Pietenpol Sky Scout and Air Camper, all of which are located in the main hangar adjacent to the museum’s 20,000-square-foot display area that includes a large collection of antique aircraft engines, as well as exhibits demonstrating the achievements of pioneers from every era of aviation’s history.

Taylor is especially proud of the Library of Flight, a building that houses more than 4,000 books, thousands of magazines, and original blueprints. All are carefully preserved, organized, and available for researchers and enthusiasts.

While the Airpower Museum facility and fly-in events are impressive and popular, it is Taylor’s lifetime commitment to aviation enthusiasts that deserves special recognition. From his second floor office in the AAA headquarters, Taylor greets visitors and answers telephone calls from anyone who is interested in airplanes. It might be a local teacher planning to bring a group of kids to the museum, or an aviation researcher for whom Taylor digs into his personal files to provide a helpful old photo or article. Often it’s someone restoring an old airplane thousands of miles away with a technical question. In each instance, Taylor enjoys the conversation and is glad when he can help.

“Aviation technology is moving ahead so quickly, it is important for us to preserve the historical aircraft and the engines that powered them so those still unborn will be able to savor the reality of such flying machines in flight,” he says.

Taylor is the personification of the AAA motto: “Keep the Antiques Flying.”

Scott Fisher is based in Iowa. He is an A&P and received his training at Dakota Aero Tech in Fargo, ND.