FLYING INTO FRANKLIN — THE CITY’S AVIATION HISTORY
As a rural town and then a city, Franklin was fortunate enough to have two small airports within its boundaries and to have been the original home of the EAA –Experimental Aircraft Association — museum and international headquarters. It was after World War II that Franklin became the home of Cronin Field and the Hales Corners Airport. Cronin Field was located on 76th Street south of Ryan Rd. and the Hales Corners Airport was on Hwy. 100 and College Avenue within the boundaries of Franklin.
CRONIN FIELD (RAINBOW AIRPORT)
Cronin Field was owned by Ed Rediske and his partner Roy Younker, whose family owned a Chevrolet dealership in West Allis. Because this airport was started soon after the war, planes and automobiles were nearly impossible to get. However, a deal was made to supply a Chevrolet automobile to a Piper dealer at Mitchell Field and in return the airport received its first J-3 Piper Cub. In those days a customer could come to the airport and rent that plane for $25 a day! For the first few years the airport was called Cronin Field, named after the first aviator from Wisconsin to be killed in WWII. After a while people began asking why it wasn’t named after Rediske, so then it was decided that the airport needed a new name and a new beginning. One day after a storm, there was a beautiful, vivid rainbow and when Rediske saw it he said that is what the new name should be. Rainbow Airport would signify that new beginning and that elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Rediske constructed many of the buildings on the property and eventually Roy Younker was bought out by Harry Fowles. Together Rediske and Fowles built hangars and expanded the operation. Later Fowles was bought out and Rediske quit his day job to work fulltime at the airport. A flight training base was established and remained in existence until 1996. In the 1960’s the late Leonard Benning had a plane there and would fly sky divers, taking them up to 10,000 ft. at which point they would jump out of the plane. One of Benning’s tricks was to see if he could beat the sky divers back to the airport with his plane!
Even though the airport was open for business, it was not on the aeronautical charts. This led to many funny incidents. If a plane landed, and the pilot was not someone local, they knew that the pilot was lost. “Macho” pilots would try to find out where they were and never admit that they were lost. One way they used to find out where they were was to buy fuel. After they got their gas receipt, they found they were in “Franklin, Wisconsin”. However, the only Franklin on the aeronautical chart was near Sheboygan, clearly 45 miles away and with no airport! Eventually, by 1956, the airport went on the aeronautical charts and that ended the “lost pilot” fun but increased business! At one time, Rainbow Airport was the 3rd largest airport in Milwaukee County.
By the mid 1960’s Rainbow Airport began to use the modern Cessna 150’s as trainers. Cessnas cost $13 per hour to rent as compared to the Cubs which rented for $8 per hour. In the late 1960’s Leon Rediske, Ed’s son, left his regular job and became a fulltime flight instructor and helped with airplane maintenance. In 1973 he bought the business from his father and continued to wear many hats –CEO, aircraft salesman, aircraft mechanic, flight instructor and even grass cutter! Eventually the Milwaukee County Park Commission took over the property and it is now part of the flood plain along the Root River. So after 50 years the business ended and the house, office, and most of the buildings were torn down leaving behind many stories and memories.
HALES CORNERS AIRPORT
The Hales Corners Airport was actually located in Franklin on Hwy. 100 and College Avenue and was started in 1945 by Bob Moody on land leased from the Falk family. This land had a few rolling hills on it, which made landing a plane an adventure. Air shows, like those of the Cole Brothers, would occasionally come to the airport and offer quite a show. There was at one of these shows a wing walker from Illinois who fell and landed in Whitnall Park — so that was the end of that show! Local people may recall that Duane Sweeney, a flagman for the Hales Corners Speedway (also a Franklin property) and for the Indianapolis 500, would fly into the Hales Corners Airport to flag the races on Saturday nights.
The airport began a flight service flying 3 Cessnas and through the years gave flying lessons for as many as 500 students. Years later many vintage aircraft would fly into the Hales Corners airport to be exhibited at the EAA museum. By 1971 the airport closed and the airplanes were sold.
EAA — EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT ASSOCIATION
Small airports like the Rainbow and the Hales Corners offered flying lessons and flights to anyone interested, but there was another area of aviation of interest to flyers and that was the building of their own airplanes — called home builts. Because of the lack of guidelines and regulations, plus faulty workmanship, there were many unfortunate accidents. The FAA, at the time, wanted to restrict this kind of building, and so there was an organizational meeting held at Curtis Wright Airport (now Timmerman Field) in 1953 with about 30 people in attendance. The first officers elected that night were: President, Paul Poberezny; Vice-President, Carl Schultz; Secretary-Treasurer, Robert Nolinske. What is a significant fact is that the first constitution and by-laws were written around the kitchen table at the Franklin home of Carl Schultz in St. Martins. These men felt that an organization like the EAA could provide rules and regulations to make for safer building and flying of planes. The hope was that the FAA would relax restrictions so home builts would be legal.
The first EAA museum was built on Forest Home Ave. in Franklin. The dedication of the Experimental Aircraft Association Museum and International Headquarters occurred in January of 1967. As the organization grew so did the demands of the museum and it greatly outgrew the facility. It became apparent that it would be better if it were located on airport ground so that visitors that flew into Milwaukee or Hales Corners would have an easier way to visit the facilities. The first thought was to relocate to Burlington Airport, but shorter runways and a lack of sewers changed their plans. The EAA was offered a place on Whittman Field in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. This has proven to be a good place for the EAA, with its longer runways, a welcoming community, and room to accommodate many people who gather for the annual EAA Fly-In held each summer. So even though Franklin is no longer the home of the EAA, the city and some of its residents did play an important part in the development of the internationally known facility.
– Judeen Scherrer