Gabe Riggert and Wyatte Dykhuizen are much younger than the vintage Stearman they climbed into Saturday at the Wings & Wheels Festival at the Pekin Municipal Airport, but one day they may be able to fly the historic plane.
Riggert, 4, of Metamora, and Dykhuizen, 3, of St. Paul, Minnesota, were helped into the plane by their grandfather, John Komnick, a pilot and vintage plane enthusiast. The plane is owned by a Havana resident. Komnick flew it to Pekin so that others could enjoy a bit of history. The festival is an example of why his pastime is so important to him.
“It’s just this — the camaraderie of the people, being able to share this with people and give them rides,” said Komnick, a life-time pilot. From 1941 to 1945, the Stearman, said Komnick, were the model of plane used by the Tuskegee Airmen to train for battle. Komnick said he did not know the history of this particular plane, but it was manufactured in 1941. He was sure it was used in some training programs.
The seventh annual Wings & Wheels featured a fly-in from around the country, plane rides, a car/motorcycle show, the PEKIN RC Club, South Pekin Town Twisters vendors with various goods for sale, SCCA Autocross and more.
JAARS, the Jungle Aviation and Radio Service founded in 1948 to advance the translation of the bible into foreign languages, came to the festival to make the public aware of what the group does. The organization in the past 70 years has grown to provide other services. The main focus today is transportation — air, sea and land; the use of technology to relay the scriptures, media and local languages; and training in those areas.
“We’re here today at the invitation of the airport to participate in the Wings & Wheels Festival, but to us, it is an opportunity to share with people about the work of JAARS,” said Mike Mower, JAARS Director of Missions at the airport. “And they might become involved with us.”
Mower said there are five ways to get involved — prayer, giving, advising, local advocacy and volunteer service. The group provides logistical support for missionaries, governments in natural disasters. They operate 24 planes in seven countries in Asia, the Pacific, South America, Africa and the United States.
People lined up for the rides, which took them over the countryside and over Pekin.
“It was real exciting,” said Karis Elder. “I’ve never been in one of these types of planes before.
“I’ve only been in really big flights overseas and things like that. It was really cool to be closer to the ground and be able to actually see more detail.”
One of the group’s aircrafts was damaged at the festival when the propeller clipped a cone when entering the taxiway and had to be grounded.
The airport is also used twice a year by SCCA Autocross for times races. The local chapter of the organization helped with Wings & Wheels.
“It’s just about giving back to the community,” said Joseph Fister, membership chairman for the group.
The Pekin Pilots Association, the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, puts on the event. Steve Huey, spokesman for the organization and a member of the Pekin Airport Commission, said the organization’s goal is to make people more aware of what is offered at the Pekin Airport.
“This place has many more purposes and operations than people realize,” said Huey. “The big thing is we are part of economic development, bringing businesses into the community.
“We have several businesses in the industrial park and in the general industrial area that are based here and use this airport to fly in and out of. In fact, several of them came here specifically because of the proximity of Pekin Airport. The biggest one is the (Federal Correctional Institution-Pekin). They always build prisons close to general aviation airports such as this.”
Airport Manager Todd Dugan said the fly-in is a chance for citizens to get a “glimpse of the airport.”
“People have a fun day, bring the family and kids out and experience the airport,” said Dugan. “Especially Father’s Day weekend — a lot of people come into town for the weekend and people never know what to do for dad. What dad doesn’t love cool cars and airplanes?”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin