The Liberty Gazette
June 21, 2011Ely Air Lines
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Friends of ours are selling their beautiful 1948 Luscombe 11A. Their recent post on an aviation Internet group spurred some chat about Luscombes in general. One member reminisced about the more utilitarian interior of the first Luscombe Sedans (Model 11) with their removable rear seat for hauling cargo, such as milk cans. He claimed that when the Flying Farmers market went bust, Luscombe sharpened up the interior to the same level as higher priced cars and called it the 11A. His comment spurred me to do a little digging on the Flying Farmers. To my pleasant surprise I learned they are not “bust.” True, the group has a much reduced membership from its peak in 1977, thanks to increased fuel and operating costs, more restrictive federal regulations, and product liability litigation (lawyers, that is). But there are still farm families who rely on their airplanes, and still enough of them to have annual conventions, scholarships, a magazine, and a website with great historical information, from which we get the following interesting stuff.
Their Cessnas, Beechcrafts, and Pipers are no different from their combines, tractors, and pickup trucks. After all, flying farmers’ airplanes are workhorses too, for hauling supplies, checking irrigation systems, and compressing the time between the farm and parts store. Even some real estate agents take customers up to show them land from the air.
Now called the International Flying Farmers (IFF) the Wichita, Kansas based group began in 1944 in Stillwater, Oklahoma when H.A. "Herb" Graham, director of Agricultural Extension at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, and Ferdie Deering, farm editor of the Farmer-Stockman magazine, traveled across the state meeting with farmer-flyers. They came across wheat farmer Henry G. "Heinie" Bomhoff, a “colorful character,” whom Graham and Deering thought would be an ideal subject for a magazine feature.
Mike: Out of that interview Graham and Deering learned there were many other farmers who owned and used airplanes in their farming and ranching operations. So they began meeting and by the next year, Dec. 12, 1945, the National Flying Farmers Association was incorporated in Oklahoma. They helped develop tax rules on equipment deductions, renter's insurance for pilots, and the specific design of aircraft for aerial applications (crop dusters), as opposed to modifying existing war-surplus or passenger aircraft.
The FAA had not yet complicated airplane ownership. Farmers fixed their own airplanes and their own tractors. If they couldn't find a part, they made one. During harvest time, they would land in the fields to talk with the harvesters, or in pastures during calving time to check on their livestock. One husband-wife team used its Piper to locate 200 prized Herefords scattered throughout a thousand-acre pasture. That colorful character, Heinie Bomhoff, became the group’s first leader. He had 4,000 hours logged, most of it flown less than 100 feet off the ground while hunting coyotes. A self-taught flier, Bomhoff shared his passion, teaching some 200 of his neighbors to fly.
They used their airplanes to deliver groceries, mail, livestock feed, and at least once, a subpoena via air drop. The airplane continues to serve as a farm workhorse, and we’re happy to report that the International Flying Farmers continues as well. You don’t have to be a farmer or a pilot to join. Check them out at www.flyingfarmers.org.