For the last 21 years our club, the Iowa City Aerohawks, AMA charter club #824, has been putting on a free annual air show for the general public. The original concept was to do the show to promote our hobby and grow our membership. Since we operate our facility on City of Iowa City reclaimed landfill property we also felt it was important to give something back to the community in appreciation to the City for their generosity.
Initially, the show started as a demonstration day, dubbed “Demo Day” with no formal show and very few planned flying events. It was primarily open flying, a static display and answering questions. The first Demo Day drew around 100 people and there seemed to be a lot of interest from the people in attendance. One of the few planned events of the first show was a candy drop for the kids, an event that featured a plane carrying Tootsie Rolls taped to streamers, dropped from a height of a couple hundred feet. The first drop plane was a modified Sig trainer capable of dropping approximately 50 Tootsie Rolls, more than enough payload to take care of the demand at that time. The second year attendance grew to nearly 200 people, primarily from word of mouth advertising, as we had no advertising budget to promote our free show. More people resulted in more kids and a higher demand for candy, but still manageable with our Sig trainer drop plane.
By the third year we felt we needed to step it up a bit and add some things to the show as we were seeing some of the same people coming back each year. At that time we added more structure to the Demo Day by adding things like streamers cuts, combat, a limbo contest, scale events and numerous comedy routines while choreographing everything to music and assigning time limits to the featured events. We also felt we needed to stop referring to the event as Demo Day and call it what it was evolving into, a radio controlled Air Show. We also decided to try to advertise the show by participating in a local community 4th of July parade. We built a float to look like an aircraft carrier, filled it full of airplanes and handed out flyers as our club members walked in the parade. The advertising worked, as attendance soared and our show continued to grow each and every year. Since many of the same people continue to come back, year after year we felt the need to keep adding additional events and routines to keep the show fresh. From trainer fly-bys to jet turbine demonstrations flown to music, the show has gotten bigger and better every year. The end result has been a 3-1/2 hour show geared primarily towards the entertainment of the crowd, but also educating people about our hobby. This recipe has shown to be pretty successful as we have had as many as 2,000 people in attendance at our shows and typically gain 3 -4 new club members annually.
While we shuffle some events in and out of the show each year, we do keep the popular routines in the show year after year. One of those more popular events has to be the Candy Drop as parents look forward to watching their kids running and squealing with delight as they grab the colorful streamers with the little chocolate morsel attached. Over the course of the last 21 years, the Candy Drop has been part of every show and has become one of the most anticipated events of the day. Along with the increase in attendance, the need to drop more candy for the children has also grown. Obviously our Sig trainer wasn’t keeping up with the demand, so one of our member’s scratch built a specially modified 12 foot wing span Telemaster, dubbed “The Candy Bomber” capable of carrying 8 pounds of candy payload to help meet the rising need. We now drop over 16 pounds of candy at each show to the delight of over 300 screaming children.
About two years ago, one of our club members, Marc Niehus, started to build a giant scale C47 with the intent of adding it to our air show as part of our “WWII Fly-by Tribute”, honoring our veterans and the planes of WWII. It wasn’t until the plane was nearing completion that Marc shared with me his intentions for finishing the plane in colors to honor the original “Candy Bomber” flown by Colonel Gail Halvorsen back at the end of WWII, and the story behind the aircraft. As if this story wasn’t interesting enough, he went on to tell me about his mother Greda and how she was one of the children standing at the end of the runway as Captain “Uncle Wiggly Wings” made his approach and shoved the candy through the flare door to the children below.
All these years I was under the impression the Iowa City Aerohawks had coined the terms “candy bomber” and “candy drop” but much to my surprise I was wrong. While listening to this story I thought it would be fun to give the crowd the true history of the candy drop and share Marc’s story with everyone. It was at that time we decided to feature the “Candy Bomber” and Marc’s mother in a special tribute at the 2013 Air Show. While I felt the tribute would be of interest to those attending the show, I wasn’t prepared for the emotion exhibited while the story was being told, not only by Marc and his mother Greda, but just about everyone at the show. What made everything so touching was Marc’s mother had no idea of the planned tribute and was surprised by the presentation. She thought she was going out to show center just to have her picture taken. There were very few dry eyes in the house during the telling of her childhood story. Truly one of the more special moments in the last 21 years that I will soon not forget.