Mike Frederiksen photo The Journal
Steve Thomas, Founder of Poplar Grove Airport says a few words on his father, Dick Thomas and his own connection to the Chief.

By Mike Frederiksen
Curator/Education Coordinator
Vintage Wings & Wheels Museum
For Fred Machesney, flying was a lifelong passion. A pilot for 57 of his 79 years, Machesney fell in love with aviation at a very young age and dedicated his entire life to promoting it. He received flying lessons from Art “Bird Boy” Smith in a Curtiss Jenny in 1918 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Machesney founded Rockford’s first official airport in 1927. He ran the airport continuously himself for 47 years, a record at the time of the airport’s closing. Machesney Airport was a beacon for aviation in the area from the lean years of the Depression until the 70s. With his airport, Machesney not only created a commercial center for the local industry but a community as well. The airport was a popular stop and hang out for many local aviators and those around the country including the National Guard, Army Air Corps, and Navy.
Machesney himself was figure larger than life and inspired countless youth and adults to take up aviation. Today, the aviation industry is a large part of the Rockford area identity. That industry owes a lot to Fred Machesney who almost single-handedly introduced aviation to the area.
In 1941, Fred Machesney purchased a new Aeronca Chief (NC36529) to supplement his flight school fleet. In the mid-1960s, the same Chief was purchased by Dick Thomas, founder of the Poplar Grove Airport. The Thomas family also followed their own vision to create an air park community surrounded by those passionate about aviation.
Today, the Chief is still inspiring the community. Around 2005, the Thomas family re-purchased the Chief to serve as a restoration project for the Vintage Wings and Wheel’s Youth Exploring Aviation group. For over 10 years, the group worked to restore the Chief to flying status. Last fall the Chief, once owned by Machesney and Thomas, took to the air again and is once again inspiring youth to take to the skies.
For this event we invited as many people as we are aware of that have worked on, flown, or otherwise been associated with the restored Aeronca Chief (NC52936) throughout its life span. If there is anyone else that remembers the airplane or Fred Machesney, we would love to hear from them.

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