Visiting memories in “Mad City”
Even after takeoff from Centerville, Iowa, I waffled about whether to land at Madison, Wisconsin’s Dane County Regional Airport-Truax Field where I learned to fly, or nearby Middleton-Morey Airport outside the Class C.
“Middleton will be quieter and simpler,” said Jean, settling the matter. We crossed Iowa’s Cedar River and the broad Mississippi, then the northwest corner of Illinois. Ninety minutes after takeoff, Madison’s signature four lakes appeared on the horizon. This would be stop two on our zigzag birthday-and-reunion journey from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Chicago.
“Madison Approach, can you approve aerial photography over downtown?” I radioed, with a lump in my throat. For 35 years I’d waited to revisit “Mad City,” my aviation birthplace.
“Approved,” came the reply. “Watch for a Cherokee also on the ‘city tour,’ and remain west of the Capitol building.”
Downtown Madison, including the state capitol and University of Wisconsin campus, floats magically on a 1/2-mile-wide isthmus between Lakes Monona and Mendota. Handing Jean the camera with far more instructions than she needed, I circled offshore over Lake Mendota–Is there a prettier city, anywhere?
Upon landing, I learned from the Middleton Airport attendant that Frickelton Aviation’s building at Truax Field where I trained had long been torn down, erasing any regret at not touching tires there. Moments later, our host Brett Kelly arrived. Brett and his wife Kathy are longtime friends.
“I know you’re eager to revisit UW, Greg,” offered Brett. “Let’s stop there before going home.” Ghosts of classmates past soon joined us wandering campus, and sipping beer on the Wisconsin Union terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, where I once rented sailboats. Between classes, I drove my old ’39 Chevy across town to Truax Field – there to soar over these very lakes on flying lessons with the UW Flying Club (See “Flying Carpet: Forty Years Aloft,” November 2012 Flight Training).
My Badger stint occurred at the height of the turbulent Viet Nam antiwar movement. My friends and I were no activists, but demonstrations sometimes intercepted us on our way to class. Once, protesters deflated city-bus tires to block State Street; another time police shot tear gas into our dorm, forcing everyone into the street. (My buddy Fred, an army veteran, showed us how to soak handkerchiefs for tear-gas protection.) Every day I walked by the empty shell of Sterling Hall, blown up by antiwar activists a year earlier (See “Flying Carpet: Flying the Mists of Time,” March 2013 Flight Training).
There were more benign protests, too, as when feminists stormed the men-only swimming pool in the UW Armory. Guys swam nude there, so the intruders stripped their clothes and jumped in too. (No, I wasn’t there.)…
**READ THIS MONTH’S ENTIRE COLUMN, “Aviator’s Birthplace.”**
Top Photo: “Downtown Madison, with Wisconsin State Capitol at left, and the University of Wisconsin campus at lower right.”
Lower photo: “UW Wisconsin Union and Terrace from the air.”
(This column first appeared in AOPA Flight Training magazine.)
©2015 Gregory N.Brown
If you enjoyed this story, you’ll love Greg’s book, Flying Carpet: The Soul of an Airplane. Autographed copies available!