Pilots Maintain Grassroots Aviation Growth at Liberty Landing Airport

By Robert Mark on September 10th, 2008

To most pilots who fly over it, Liberty Landing Airport (4MO4) isn’t anything special. On the sectional chart it’s just another private airport, an empty circle around an R that stands for restricted about 20 nm east, southeast of Kansas City International. From the air it’s a 40-acre rectangle surrounded by several thousand acres of Missouri River bottomland farmed by the airport’s owner.

From one end to the other Runway 4/22 stretched 1,850, according to FAA data, which also says it is 36 feet wide and paved with gravel. That may have been the case way back when, but now only about 15 feet of its width is gravel, and the rest is turf. The merry band of pilots who maintain the airport like it that way.

JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol-2

Fifteen airplanes, give or take one or two, call Liberty Landing home, and I didn’t see one of them with a nosewheel. A third of them have two wings or more. Better known as the Kansas City Dawn Patrol, the pilots of these VW-powered World War I replicas have protected their home drome since 1988. And because they brought it back to life after the Flood of 1993, its future as a fertile field on which grassroots aviation grows is safe.

JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol-1

When the Flood of 1993 inundated the bottomland with 20 feet of water, all that was left of the airport were the hangar frames with loose tin banging in the breeze, says Dick Starks. And the left-behind mud raised the elevation by two feet. (Mother Nature still gets cranky periodically, and the protectors of Liberty Landing must retreat to higher ground about one week a year. )

JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol-3

The farmers who own the land and the airport are pilots, and in return for digging it out of the mud–and maintaining it ever since–the Dawn Patrol gets a sweet deal on the big hangar. I promised not to tell how sweet, but per airplane it costs more to rent a storage unit in town. Needless to say, they keep the grass trimmed and buy a load of gravel when needed. JetWhine_KC Dawn Patrol-4

There’s a long wait for hangars, and because the airport is on the flood plain, the county won’t allow the construction of new hangars, Dick says. And that’s fine with all involved because this airport exists for one purpose: to have fun with airplanes and the people who like to watch them fly.

What makes Liberty Landing special to those who know it is this: It is an airport out of time, a robust survivor of what aviation and local airport life was, social center for aviators, the seedbed of grassroots flying. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be closer to it.

On any given weekend there are burgers and dogs on the grill and the hangar fridge is full of Dr. Thunder. Many of the pilots here fly as sport pilots, and while the ultralights are inspecting the surrounding fields of beans and corn, the Dawn Patrol is flying top cover, with an occasional smoking low pass to see if it’s time to eat. — Scott Spangler

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3 Responses to “Pilots Maintain Grassroots Aviation Growth at Liberty Landing Airport”

  1. Michael Says:

    For those of us happy few who grew up at this little airport with these wheatfield aviators, (okay, so it’s mostly soybeans) this airport and the extended family we aquired there is part of that larger sense of belonging everyone calls “home”. I raced go-carts with other kids around the gravel road surrounding the hangars, and learned to drive in an old cushman driving up and down the taxi-ways. We held flashlights and fetched tools and when, after I was far away in the Navy, I saw pictures of the hangars covered in water with nothing but the windsock showing, it was as if someone close to me had died. Fortunately for all of us, these happy goofballs are stubborn enough to raise from a muddy grave a home for memories worth keeping and saving..

    Thanks for writing about my heros,

    Mikel Lemons
    aka “hot-rod”

  2. New Book Holds Hope for Aviation’s Future - Jetwhine: Aviation Buzz and Bold Opinion Says:

    […] Patrol in 1985. Fokkers starts, more or less, with the Great Flood of ‘93, which inundated Liberty Landing International, a grassroots private strip about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City Downtown Airport and 20 miles […]

  3. New Book Holds Hope for Aviation’s Future | RENT-A-PLANE Says:

    […] Patrol in 1985. Fokkers starts, more or less, with the Great Flood of ‘93, which inundated Liberty Landing International, a grassroots private strip about 15 miles northeast of Kansas City Downtown Airport and 20 miles […]

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