Long before the ground beneath Adventureland Resort became the home for rollercoasters, it housed another form of thrills— an airport that was the site of everything from legendary celebrity visits to high-action air shows.
The Des Moines Aviation Park in Altoona had a short-lived but rich history that helped advance Iowa’s aviation industry. When it was founded in 1926, it became Iowa’s first municipal airport, containing the state’s very first airline hangar!
Preparing for Takeoff—How it Started
In the 1920s, interest in aviation was soaring all across Iowa and the nation at large. Needless to say, when Altoona opened this centralized space for pilots and onlookers alike to share their passion for flight—people flocked.
The 16-acre airport was pretty “bare bones” by today’s standards, but it was a welcomed advancement for the time period.
As mentioned earlier, it even housed the state’s first airline hangar! This metal structure was 100 x 100 feet in size and cost $22,000 to build (worth over $330,000 in today’s currency).
Interestingly enough, the airport had no formal runways or traffic control processes, so pilots simply took off and landed as they pleased!
From Celebrities to Stunt Shows—Notable Appearances
In its heyday, the Des Moines Aviation Park was a high-action, high-flying place. Notable figures and events marked the location, which helped to solidify its place in Iowa aviation history.
In August of 1927, Charles Lindbergh—famous for his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean earlier in the year—came to Altoona for the airport’s dedication ceremony.
He dedicated the airport’s aptly-named Hanna airfield to the man who owned the land—James R. Hanna. His visit came as part of his national tour promoting aviation, but he made sure to visit the Iowa State Fair while he was in town as well.
Charles Lindbergh wasn’t the only airborne legend to grace the property, though. Amelia Earhart and Art Goebel also made appearances at the Des Moines Aviation Park!
The airport even became a venue for air shows in 1928. These exciting events featured wing-walking, parachute jumps, and other thrills that helped to draw in 50,000 Iowans from all across the state.
The Airport is Gone, but the Thrills Remain
Perhaps the most impactful aspect of the Des Moines Aviation Park’s legacy was simply the way it brought people together to learn more about aviation. Folks could make their way over to the airfield to be inspired by the machinery, people, and overall excitement that makes flying so special.
The Des Moines Aviation Park’s run came to an end in 1933. That year, the Des Moines Airport on Fleur Drive opened, which left its counterpart in Altoona to be abandoned but never forgotten.
The thrills of this plot of land did not end with the airport, though! It’s now the home of one of Iowa’s most famous attractions—Adventureland Resort.
So, the next time you’re at Adventureland enjoying the rush of a high-flying rollercoaster, remember the high-flying excitement that used to be the Des Moines Aviation Park!
3200 Adventureland Drive