RANTOUL, Ill. — Plows and planes provide a unique partnership that has blossomed since the first Half Century of Progress Show was held at the former Chanute Air Force Base in 2005.
Community-owned Rantoul National Aviation Center is a fully functioning airport. Its 1,192 acres includes hangars, support buildings and two asphalt runways – one 5,001 feet long and the other 4,894 feet long – that are bordered by cropland farmed by the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club and used during the biennial show.
During the show, harvesting, plowing and other demonstrations are conducted on the airport’s land.
“They farm several hundred acres within the confines of the fence and naturally when they are farming and the airport is fully operational they have to not only abide by the common-sense rules of being a farmer, but they also have to be aware of all of the regulations and requirements of being inside the fence line of an active airport,” said Carson “Corky” Vericker, airport operation supervisor.
“So, there are added stipulations on to that. You’re head has to be on a swivel and you have to have blinking lights operating and all of that stuff going on and never ever cross a runway. Like I explain to them, even a larger aircraft can appear out of nowhere at the blink of an eye.”
During the first few shows, the airport remained open and barricades were place along the east-west runway. It is now closed during the show for safety.
“From a logistics standpoint with the show getting so large, it’s hard to contain that many people. So, the decision was made that we’re just going to shut it down,” Vericker said.
The tenants who utilize the airport have been very understanding of the need to temporarily close the airport to traffic for the show.
“Our tenants that are based here are some of the best people in the world. They are extremely understanding and they know that every odd year toward the end of August the farm show is here,” Vericker said.
“The amount of people that it draws is getting larger every year. It’s getting huge which is awesome. That means people are coming to Rantoul. They’re coming to a great farm show, a working farm show that is probably the only one in the country like that. You get to see what your granddad and great-granddad worked with and that’s amazing.”
The show also benefits the airport financially as the money received for using the property is invested directly back into airport improvements.
“Right now, I have a huge construction project going on where they’re realigning a couple of taxiways and it’s not costing the taxpayers anything,” Vericker said.
Vericker also has enjoyed the working relationship with the vintage agriculture equipment club that farms the ground and runs the show.
“I have nothing but high praise for all of the people at I&I. I work closely with John (Fredrickson) and Russell (Buhr),” he said of the show’s co-chairs.