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.
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.
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. )
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.
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