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The Machesney Project had its beginnings in the fall of 2018 as a budding idea for a museum exhibit at the Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum in Poplar Grove, Illinois.  At the time the museum's YEA (Youth Exploring Aviation) Program had recently completed a 10 year restoration project of a 1941 Aeronca Chief airplane.  To celebrate their accomplishment and commemorate the history of the airplane, we conducted extensive research on the history of the Chief and the planes ownership connections between Fred Machesney and Richard Thomas, founder of the Belvidere (now Poplar Grove) Airport.  The research culminated in a multi-year exhibit currently on display at the museum which explores the innovative foresight of each man and the hard work and beautiful accomplished by the YEA.  

Fred Machesney pictured with an Aeronca Super- Chief, an airplane very similar to the one restored by the Youth Exploring Aviation program

Through the process of researching and developing this exhibit, we discovered the abundant contribution Fred Machesney made to Rockford aviation and how relatively unrecognized he is even a mere forty years after his death.

One of our most surprising discoveries- or perhaps lack of discovery- was that a book has not been written about Machesney’s life. His full life story, including the details of the founding and daily operations of his airport, his contribution to the regional development of aviation and aeronautical training during World War II, and his dedicated mentorship and training of countless civilian and general aviation pilots has not been chronicled or recorded in a single volume.     
After the completion of our initial project, it did not take long for us to realize that continuing the research and developing it into a book project would be a fitting and necessary tribute to Fred Machesney and an important contribution to the records of our local history.

The Machesney Project is an ongoing research and writing project aimed at uncovering and recording the life and significant community contributions of Frederick Eugen Machesney and his wife Mae.  Our ultimate goal is to develop this research into a published book, but along the way we would like to share Machesney’s history with the community, pulling from historical sources as well as the memories of those who knew, worked with, and/or remember the Machesney family. 
We would love to hear from you! If you have a memory of Fred or Mae Machesney or Machesney Field, we invite you to visit our Share Your Memory Page and do just that! Your memories are important pieces of our local aviation history.


Mike Frederiksen graduated from Carleton University with a degree in psychology and history. His love of history developed at a young age under the guidance of his adventurous parents, particularly his father. No family vacation growing up was complete without a visit to a historic site or famous museum.

During his years studying history Mike has developed a soft spot for people who have not received the recognition they deserve.  Fred Machesney is a perfect example of this.

Mike currently serves as the curator, collections manager, and education coordinator for the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum. He is also a board member for the Rockford Historical Society and The Boone County Arts Council.  He has spoken extensively on Fred Machesney and early aviation in the Rockford Area.

Mike was a co-writer for “Images of America: Belvidere and Boone County,” (Arcadia Publishing, 2014).

Joanna Dowling is a creative historian whose work focuses on researching and interpreting twentieth century transportation history.  Her love of history and travel has led to the development of an extensive body of research and photography documenting Americas’ non-commercial roadside spaces, including rest areas, roadside parks, waysides, and scenic overlooks.   

Joanna was a co-writer for “Images of America: Belvidere and Boone County,” (Arcadia Publishing, 2014) and historical consultant and text author for Ryann Ford’s, “The Last Stop Vanishing Rest Stops of the American Roadside” (PowerHouse Books, 2016).  Her work has been published in the Journal of the Society for Commercial Archeology and The Journal of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among others.  She has interviewed for NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous online and print sources regarding roadside history and redevelopment.  Joanna is a board member of the Boone County Arts Council and advisor to the board of the Poplar Grove Vintage Wings and Wheels Museum.  

Joanna has a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Southern Oregon University and a masters degree in historic preservation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  She works as an independent consultant in the areas of historical research and interpretive design.  You can find her online at and  


Jill Fuller is a librarian, writer, and historian with a particular passion for Irish history and the life and works of Louisa May Alcott. She graduated from Winona State University with a B.A. in History and earned a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked in the library, museum, and archive fields for over 10 years in genealogy reference, adult programming, and marketing and communication.

Jill was the Project Manager and co-writer for “Images of America: Belvidere and Boone County,” (Arcadia Publishing, 2014) and is currently working on a family history memoir. She also writes at

Fred Machesney (pictured second from left) gives chartered flight to three “nimrods” to hunt pheasants

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