Tucked in the tiny Platte County town of Waldron is a spot that might attract people worried about recent flood warnings.
But if you head to Noah’s Ark, you won’t be escaping the danger via boat. You’ll be taking to the sky.
Although it’s near the Missouri River, Noah’s Ark is no seacraft. It is a small private airfield built by William Noah Dunagan for his own use. Since Dunagan went by his middle name, “Ark” was added to the airport’s name as a joke when planes were marooned in their hangars there by high water.
Dunagan, a resident of Waldron, died in 1992 at age 93. His widow, Mina, operated Noah’s Ark Airport for several years before selling it. It passed through several hands before it was purchased by Ron and Charlotte Sharp.
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Today the airport is the home of their Falcon Skydiving Team. It offers tandem skydiving and certifies skydivers. But it’s perhaps best known to the public as the team that performs throughout the area, dropping into stadiums and wowing crowds at celebrations like the one in Parkville on the Fourth of July.
The Falcon Team’s slogan: “To those who jump, no explanation is necessary. To those who don’t jump, no explanation is possible.”
Payton Feugate recently had not only his first skydive, but his first plane ride.
“It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” said Feugate, 18. “The coolest thing. I loved it.”
Feugate now wants to be certified as a skydiver.
Falcon Team leader Ron Sharp said his motto is, “If you love it, stick with it.” He has done almost 10,000 jumps over 32 years. His father was an influence, Sharp said, adding that his dad parachuted into France on D-Day in World War II.
Everyone who knew Dunagan, a Platte County farmer, seems to have a story or two about him.
“I loved him,” said his flying instructor, John O’Connor, “but it was love and hate at the same time.”
Once, O’Connor said, when an ultralight craft missed the Noah’s Ark runway and crashed into Dunagan’s cornfield, he chastised the pilot. O’Connor then chided Dunagan for not showing any compassion for the pilot or his craft.
“He ran me off” with a few expletives, O’Connor said. “Called two days later and apologized.”
Dunagan developed a love of flying early in life. Then in 1946 he was hired as a fire inspector for Transcontinental and Western Air Inc., which later became Trans World Airlines.
He bought his first plane in 1953, and built a hangar and a grass landing strip. Sometimes he would fly to work in the Fairfax area of Kansas City, Kan., said Jim Getty, who wrote a book about the airport for its 50th anniversary.
When Dunagan’s colleagues at TWA wanted a place for their planes, Dunagan built more hangars to meet the demand. He also lengthened the runway to 2,900 feet, paved it and lined it with lights for night landings.
The 1960s brought a flying school to Noah’s Ark, said Butch Carter, a farmer whom Dunagan taught to fly. Like Payton and skydiving, Carter’s first plane ride was a turning point in his young life. He worked for Dunagan to pay for flying lessons. To date he has owned 25 airplanes.
In the ’70s, Carter said, there were about 70 planes at Noah’s Ark and as many as 12 at a time in a queue to take off. Today less than half that number are housed there, and skydiving is the main activity.
Dunagan did not like the Federal Aviation Administration, the Platte County assessor or anyone using his airstrip who did not have a plane there. The late Bill Cliff had a flying school in Kansas City and used Noah’s Ark to practice landings. To stop the plane, Dunagan would park his farm truck in the middle of it. Cliff buzzed him with his Waco craft before flying off. Cliff eventually moved his biplane to the airport and, skilled at aerobatics, did rolls 100 feet off the runway, O’Connor said.
Dunagan and Mina, who died in 2004, were known for being frugal. As O’Connor wrote in a poem, Dunagan “loved his nickels and worshiped his dimes.”
The Dunagans used his airline passes for annual trips. But sometimes he used his passes to fly to Hong Kong to have his suits made there because they were less expensive.
He once used hay bales to hide a newly purchased plane from an assessor. He was not around, however, when the assessor came by and Mina proudly showed it to him.
One often hears these stories about the Dunagans, as well as tales about flying and skydiving, at Noah’s Ark, which has become something of a hangout for pilots, divers and locals.
Veteran pilots like Carter, Getty, O’Connor, Tom Rourke, Ron Anderson, Charlie Laymon and Charlotte Sharp, who fly the skydiving aircraft; skydivers like Greg Palmer, Ray Brown, and Ron Sharp; and master parachute riggers like Dave Peuster belong to the same unofficial fraternity as Dunagan.
They have a camaraderie found in those with a passion for floating above the clouds and diving toward the Earth.
About the Falcons
The Falcon Skydiving Team was formed 15 years ago and the name chosen by the members, said Charlotte Sharp. Sharp with her husband, Ron, own the organization as well as Noah’s Ark, the team’s home base. Charlotte, a pilot, and Ron, a veteran skydiver, met participating in the sport they both love.
The seven-member team performs every Friday night at T-Bones baseball home games.
“When the (fall semester) starts,” Charlotte said, “we will perform at college games, and we are scheduled to do the Leavenworth High School opening football game.”
Skydiving is available Tuesday through Sunday at Noah’s Ark Airport in Waldron for the novice as well as the experienced. Minimum age is 18.