When you arrive at a new airport, have you ever wondered how it was there? Sometimes the factors that usually determine the development of airports, such as proximity to major cities, business centers or vacation destinations, seem to be absent. Indeed, many airports are located far from obvious points of interest.
Like the first motorable roads, railroads, and highways, America’s airports reflect the needs of national defense, commerce, and travel at the time they were designed and built. The growth of the airmail service led to a boom in airport construction during the golden age of aviation between the two world wars. The network continued to grow with the need for training bases for pilots and aircrew during World War II.
More public-use airports sprung up in anticipation of the rapid post-war growth in general aviation that experts had predicted. This growth turned out to be far below expectations, as the combination of family cars and falling air travel prices pushed personal aircraft lower on the priority list for most consumers.
For those of us who fly today, what appears to be a possible miscalculation in infrastructure development has resulted in a long list of flight destinations. Pilots also benefit from a rather efficient way to get around while avoiding many of the delays and other hassles associated with traveling by car, train, or plane.
The following airports have interesting stories to tell, some famous, some obscure. A little research on your home airport might reveal similar stories from a historically significant past. It’s worth a look.
Almost Isle International Airport (KPQI)
Almost Isle, Maine
Pilots approaching Almost Isle for the first time and spotting its intersecting tracks at 7,441 and 6,000 feet long, respectively, might wonder how the place got so big. But those who have read Ernest Gann Fate is the hunter already know the story. The field was a military air transport hub for aircraft flying between the United States and England during World War II. Today, it is an ideal destination for private pilots exploring northern Maine and learning about aviation history.
Pearson Field Airport (KVUO)
Another former Army Air Service base, Pearson is also one of the earliest airports, thanks in part to aviation pioneer Lincoln Beachey. In 1905, Beachey landed an airship designed and built by Thomas Scott Baldwin at Vancouver Barracks military post. Three years later, the Army Signal Corps convinced the service to acquire one of Baldwin’s airships, the Army’s first powered aircraft.
Iowa City Municipal Airport (KIOW)
Iowa City, Iowa
Lincoln Beachey really traveled. He was to perform at a flight demonstration in Cedar Falls, Iowa, in 1912, but agreed to deliver the mail when a postal worker asked for his help. Beachey’s biplane carried mail pouches on its lower wings. Iowa City Municipal Airport, which opened in 1918, made history in 1920 when Postal Service officials designated it as a stopover for the first transcontinental mail flight which took place from August 8 to September 11, 1920. In 1929, Boeing Air Transport (parent to what would become United Airlines) built a unique “taxi-in” hangar to accommodate travelers without exposing them to the vagaries of Iowa weather.
Sussex Airport (KFWN)
Sussex, New Jersey
In the 1970s, people who passed this quiet northern New Jersey field probably had no idea that aerobatic pilot Leo Loudenslager was building his Laser 200 monoplane in one of his hangars. Loudenslager was based in Sussex for many years, including winning the World Aerobatic Championship in 1980. He also won the United States Aerobatic Championship seven times between 1976 and 1982 and performed regularly at the annual Sussex Air Show. His red, white and blue laser in Bud Light livery hangs in the National Air and Space Museum.
Stinson Municipal Airport (KSSF)
San Antonio, TX
Another of the oldest airports in the United States, Stinson has been around since 1915, when members of the Stinson family leased the land to start a flight school. The school was popular but had to cease operations when civilian flying was banned during World War I. After the war, the land became the San Antonio General Aviation Airport and served as an Air Force training base during World War II. Today it houses the Texas Air Museum, flight schools, police aviation units, and a well-known barbecue restaurant.