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Historic Bowman Field, a Louisville icon and an aviation treasure, was established nearly 100 years ago. One of the longest-running commercial airports in the United States, Bowman Field is situated on 426 acres with three buildings and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

You might pass by this iconic landmark and not think much of it – there’s a dive bar and a seemingly vacant building nearby. But this historic treasure has plenty of people striving to keep its history alive.

During World War II Bowman Field served as one of the nation’s most prestigious training bases and as the nation’s busiest airport. It was also the Air Force’s school for flight surgeons, medical technicians and flight nurses.

Today Bowman Field is no longer bustling with war-torn aircraft or soldiers in training, and now serves a different purpose – sharing history. Between military and civilian involvement, it’s hard to find someone who has not been touched by Bowman Field.

Since 2014 Bowman Field officials have hosted BowmanFest, a celebration of the iconic Louisville landmark. The event includes military and civilian aircraft exhibits, an airshow, plane rides, reenactments and live music.

Festival director Pat MacDonald developed the event in anticipation of Bowman’s 100th anniversary in 2020.

At the festival, attendees can get a taste of what a soldier might encounter in years past. Military tents from previous wars, restored aircraft and live music all bring yesteryear back to life through hands-on experiences.

Those attending the festival might see future soldiers peering through the belly of a massive military helicopter, or testing their imagination while sitting in the cockpit of a personal aircraft. It’s all a part of a collective effort to keep Bowman Field’s history alive.

“Word spread pretty quickly about the festival and a lot of people wanted to be involved,” MacDonald says. “There’s a community of airshows and festivals celebrated around the country. Those that are involved come and help us find the historic aircraft that are important to the history of the field.”

The 100th-anniversary event, which is planned for October of 2020, will have an airshow featuring current aircraft and futuristic models.

More than 30 military and civilian airplanes were shown at the previous festival, along with military re-enactors and encampments, historic military and aviation exhibits, vintage cars, motorcycles and military vehicles. The C-130 Hercules, one of the largest aircraft to ever land at Bowman, was also present with other aircraft flyovers and air show maneuvers.

Adults can also participate in Four Roses Bourbon tastings as well as educational sessions, craft beer and food trucks.

MacDonald believes that in order to keep history alive for younger generations, experiences like BowmanFest are necessary. 

“It’s such a unique experience and we didn’t want the anniversary to pass without Bowman getting the recognition it deserves,” he says.

Each year MacDonald and his team have slowly expanded the festival, incorporating a mix of both military and civilian aircraft. Feedback from the community fuels ideas for the following year, and people come from all over the state to experience the history of Bowman Field.

“Since 9/11 the (security) fences have gotten taller, and there’s no longer a big push to get people on the field to experience the aircraft and aviation industry as they have in the past,” MacDonald adds.

It’s hard to imagine what the next 100 years will look like, especially in the aviation industry. More than likely, MacDonald says, some of the people who visit space will have experienced Bowman Field.

For more info on Bowman Field and the annual BowmanFest event, call 502-509-2383 or visit bowmanaviationfest.com

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