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Fly High and Fast – Vol. II Chapter 10: Flying Iowa USA

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JJ Meehan
The Meehan Family

Iowa is a beautiful state and each year hundreds of visitors flock to the state to be able to take part in the Ragbrai Bicycling Tour of Iowa each year in July.  They come to enjoy the beauty of Iowa.  The following are a few pictures of their journey.


My journey was by plane and I loved every trip.  Many of the settlers of Iowa were from Ireland and Germany.  Most were farmers and I have a feeling that Iowa might have felt like home to them.  Over 60% of the land in Iowa is productive and used for farming.  Yet Iowa has one of the highest educated populations in the USA.  Iowa students rank in the top spots on most college entrance exams.  The land is beautiful and the people friendly.  The western half of Iowa gets more snow than the eastern half.  Each city has a history of it’s own.  The larger cities are Des Moines, which is also the capital, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Davenport, and Waterloo.  Thanks to my job and my ability to fly, I have been able to visit most the cities, large and small across Iowa from Sioux City in the Northwest to Keokuk in the Southeast.  From Decorah in the Northeast to Shenandoah  in the Southwest.  I hope to share some of my memories in this blog on “Flying Iowa”.  You can read about the history of Iowa and gather other facts from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.   I just want to give you a little insight into the Iowa that I love.

I was born in Detroit and only moved to Iowa after my parents died.  I had a choose of living with other relatives in other states but I choose Iowa.  There are many winters that I have questioned this decision but as I review my life in Iowa, I made the right choice.  Iowa is a very productive and beautiful place.  By now you know that I live in Marion, Iowa which is a suburb of Cedar Rapids.  Cedar Rapids is located in the eastern half of the state which is over 300 miles wide east to west and 200 miles from the southern point to the northern point.

Sioux City, Iowa is on the western edge of the state.  It is 200 KM by air from Cedar Rapids and due west (270 degrees).  Located on the Missouri River it was a meat packing center for many years.  Today it is a growing city with a diversified business base.

Sioux City is a city in Plymouth and Woodbury counties in the western part of the Iowa. The population was 85,013 at the 2000 census; census estimates showed a slight decline to 82,807 by 2008.  Sioux City is the primary city of the four-county Sioux City, IA–NE–SD Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), with a population of 143,053 in 2000 and a slight increase to an estimated 143,157 in 2008.  The Sioux City-Vermillion, IA-NE-SD Combined Statistical Area has an estimated population of 156,762 as of 2008.  It is the county seat of Woodbury County, in which the large majority of the city lies.  Sioux City is at the navigational head of the Missouri River, about 90 miles (140 km) north of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. Sioux City and the surrounding areas of northwestern Iowa, northeastern Nebraska and southeastern South Dakota are sometimes referred to as Siouxland, especially by the local media. Sioux City is the second largest city in the Sioux Falls-Sioux City, SD-IA-MN-NE Designated Market Area (DMA),with a population of 1,043,450.  Sioux City is the home of Morningside College, Briar Cliff University, St. Luke’s College and Western Iowa Tech Community College.

In 2005, Sioux City, along with Coon Rapids and Clinton, was awarded one of the inaugural Iowa Great Places designations.  In March 2009, the Sioux City metropolitan area was recognized by Site Selection Magazine as the top economic development community in the United States for communities with populations between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The Sioux City metro also received the same recognition by Site Selection magazine in 2008.


We had a branch in Sioux City and I spent a lot of my time working with this branch and with the businesses of Sioux City, Iowa  It is also located just 75 miles north of Denison, Iowa where I finished high school.

On July 19th, 1989, Sioux City was the place that United Flight 232 crash landed.  Captain Al Haynes stated in his recap of the events that they were lucky to have be able to land in Sioux City because of the number of hospitals and the number of friendly helping people.  “Fortunately, there was an open field at the far end of the runway. The controller cleared them to use the closed runway and the crew managed to get the aircraft flying straight. Unfortunately, they couldn’t accurately control the airspeed and sink rate. They were descending at over 1,600 feet per minute at around 215 knots. In an incredible feat of airmanship, they managed to touch down near the beginning of the runway just off the centerline. Unfortunately, the starboard wingtip touched down just prior to the landing gear, pulling the aircraft sideways. The excess airspeed and high sink rate caused the aircraft to break up on impact, igniting into a huge fireball. Amazingly, despite the explosion and high speed break-up, 185 people survived the accident, including all four cockpit crew members”.   The Sioux City Airport was my home away from home many nights.

One of my favorite places to visit was Albia, Iowa.  Bob Kaldenberg was President of the the bank, my friend and customer.  Located just 70 KM southwest of Cedar Rapids by air, Albia is one for prettiest towns in the USA.  Many towns have tried to create an historicla downtown area.  Albia accomplished it and made the downtown area beautiful as shown in the picture below.

The Albia airport was typical of most airports in Iowa.  They had a radio beacon which was used for Automatic Directional Finding (ADF) approaches.  This is a very hard approach to learn and accomplish but it does the job with little expense.  There is always coffee on and the guy managing the airport is more than glad to give you the keys to his car so that you can drive into town.

Earlier, I mentioned that I finished high school in Denison, Iowa.  Denison is located in western Iowa and is 75 miles northeast of Omaha, NE and 75 miles southeast of Sioux City Iowa.  My father, Michael F. Meehan, was born in Manilla  just south of Denison, had been in the Army and I grow up on Military Bases around the world.  Denison became my home for just one year but I still consider it my hometown.  It is the town where Donna Reed grow up.  It is without a doubt the town that would have easily become the site for the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”.   Again there was always a car for me to use when I would fly into Denison if my aunt, Clare Meehan could not pick me up.  Again they had an ADF approach that I used many, many times.



Please remember that Iowa has a lot of fantastic places and people, I’m showing just a few.  Des Moines Iowa USA is probably my most visited city other than Cedar Rapids by air.  I was flying Mooney N6419U out of Des Moines one evening when I lost power on take-off.  The airport was pretty busy with at least 5 departures and several arrivals.  I’ll never forget the Tower Control, who very calmly told me to turn left and contact the Ground Controller after I landed without power the same runway that I was using for take-off.  I don’t believe traffic was delayed because of my problem.  I was about 50 feet in the air on take-off when the engine just stopped.  I was able to restart the engine after landing but did not want to try taking-off again without a mechanic looking over the plane.  They diagnosed that both of my fuel pumps had failed.  I was able to catch a flight home to Cedar Rapids via Waterloo later that evening.  Several months later, I was flying a Baron with a full load of passengers to Oshkosh Air Show.  We stopped for dinner in Dodgeville, WI USA.  At the time there was a motel and restaurant with a landing strip on the property.  They had been built by a pilot that lived in the area and had flown for a mining company in South America.  Anyway, I can remember taking off into a very dark night. The Baron need all of the runway and I wondered what would have happened if I had lost power on take-off.  It was a twin but I would not have been able to maintain flight with the load of passengers I had on board.  There was nothing but trees and hills at the end of the runway.  Food for thought.   Anyway, Des Moines is the capital of Iowa and a very beautiful city.  Des Moines is the home of the first political Caucus for the Democrats and Republicans in the USA for the Presidential Elections and it also has some of the finest restaurants in Iowa.


Just south of Des Moines is Winterset, Iowa USA.   This is the home of the Bridges of Madison County.



My wife’s hometown is Dyersville, Dubuque County, Iowa USA.  It is an amazing city with the only Catholic Basilica, the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier, in Iowa and the home for the movie “Field of Dreams”.  This is the church were we were married.




Dyersville is located on US Highway 20 about 25 miles west of Dubuque and about 55 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids.  The area has some of the best farmland in Iowa.  About 25 miles to the northeast of Dyersville is Balltown, Iowa.  Balltown had been a stage coach stop in 1850 for passengers traveling though Iowa.  Located on very beautiful hills in northern Dubuque County it is the home of the oldest restaurant in Iowa.



Many of you know the story of Buddy Holly.  His last performance was in Clear Lake, Iowa USA on February 2nd, 1959.  Following a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa on February 2, 1959, Holly chartered a small airplane to take him to the next stop on the tour. He, Valens, Richardson, and the pilot were killed en route to Moorhead, Minnesota, when their plane crashed soon after taking off from nearby Mason City in the early morning hours of February 3. Don McLean referred to it as “The Day the Music Died” in his song “American Pie“.

The Surf Ballroom is still used today for conferences and musical performances and there is a reunion each year on the death of Buddy Holly and the others.  I have attended several conferences at the Surf and I can still remember the first Banking Conference that I attended with my boss, Joe Phernetton.  It was in January a few days before the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death.  We flow up in N3028W and for dinner and the conference.  It was a clear night without a moon and you could see Waterloo, which was 45 miles to the southeast in the distance as we climbed through 3,000 ft.  We could see Cedar Rapids from north of Waterloo from about 60 miles.



My home is Marion, Iowa USA which is a suburb of Cedar Rapids, Iowa USA.  Marion is about 30,000 in population and is a very quiet community with several churches and excellent schools.  Lt. Colonel William N. Reed, who was a Flying Tiger was from Marion, Iowa.



Cedar Rapids is a large Metropolitan area with a population of over 150,000.  There are 3 excellent colleges in the area, Mt. Mercy, Coe and Kirkwood.  The University of Iowa is located about 30 miles to the south in Iowa City.  The airport is one of the finest the USA with two ILS approaches and several non-precision approaches.  Cedar Rapids offers several fine restaurants, theatres and other sources of entertainment including baseball and hockey.



Iowa is in the heartland of the USA and I was able to fly in a lot of different directions and experience a lot of fantastic adventures but Iowa also is home of some of the nicest people and interesting places in the USA.  I hope you will be able to visit someday.

Please visit my WEB Site on Flying at “FLY HIGH AND FAST”.


Written by jjmeehan13

January 14, 2010 at 11:54 am

Posted in Flying

One Response

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  1. John these pictures and your description of each visit adventure is awesome. Thank you so much for putting all this fantastic personal information for friends to share. I am just flabbergasted.


    January 14, 2010 at 12:51 pm

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