We recently returned from St. Petersburg, FL to Asheville on Allegiant Airways. One hour and twenty minutes. No stops. Lovely. We had a clear day and were able to identify a number of landmarks as we came in for our (on-time) landing. It made me wonder about the earlier days of flying in this mountain city, and the North Carolina Room was again a font of information, particularly pictorial.
Asheville’s first landing strip was on what was known as Baird’s Bottom, the land that was later flooded to create Beaver Lake which is owned and maintained by the North Asheville residents of Lake View Park.
Above, on June 19, 1919 Henry Westall prepares to take off from Baird’s Bottom in his plane the Asheville. Westall was an army Signal Corps pilot in World War I and started a commercial aviation business here in 1919 with shares selling for 50 dollars each. He purchased a surplus Canadian training plane and some parts, and “voila” the Asheville Aerial Corporation was in business. Rides over Asheville were available for 15 dollars, a hefty sum at the time. Also in 1919 Westall was the first aviator to fly over the Blue Ridge. It took him less than an hour to fly from Asheville to Morganton, NC. The rest of the story, is hearsay, but interesting. Henry Westall only flew for about 18 months, and on his last flight, after landing, he kissed the wing of his plane, and never flew again.
The second landing strip was Dillingham Field established in 1920 when Scott Dillingham turned a cornfield in Haw Creek into an airfield. Dillingham bought Henry Westall’s plane, hired a pilot, and also went into the passenger flying business. His organization flew people over Asheville for two dollars (which is a pretty serious reduction from Westall’s charge of 15 dollars).
Here Scott Dillingham and others stand in and around a three-passenger British built plane. The pig (in the center of the photo) was a present for the Asheville police force from the Waynesville police force (another day’s story).
Our next “airport” was Emma Air Park a 14 acre tract of land located about a half mile west of Emma. Mrs. Vance Spivey in aviator’s clothing looks to board one of the small planes to her left. On January 24, 1928, Harry Brooks, Henry Ford’s test pilot, attempted to fly from Ford Field in Dearborn, Michigan to Miami, Florida. This first long distance attempt in the Ford Flivver landed short in a forced landing at Emma Air Park in Asheville although Brooks did set a non-stop distance record in his small, single seat, 36 horsepower plane. The Detroit craft flew 790 miles on 20 gallons of gas. Harry Brooks was killed in a crash in 1929 and his death, along with the depression, caused Henry Ford to pull out of the business of manufacturing airplanes.
Owen Field in West Asheville was our next airport. Owen airport was originally called Carrier Field from the days when it was used for horse racing. It was renamed for Dr. James E. Owen, a local dentist and old-time barnstorming aviator. After the airport closed, the Asheville Speedway was built on the site opening as a dirt track in 1961 and paved for the 1962 season. The Speedway closed after the 1999 season and the land was converted to a city recreational place that we enjoy today as Carrier Park.
As early as 1925 the Asheville Chamber of Commerce recognized the possibilities for tourism and appointed a committee to research areas for a future airport. In 1936 a government consortium (Asheville and Hendersonville) purchased the land for a commercial airport. From 1943-1947 The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers operated the airport. During this time, the Federal Works Progress Administration spent $170,000 to build runways. Known as the Asheville/Hendersonville airport or sometimes “Lakeside Airport” it was located in the Arden/Fletcher area where larger tracts of flat land were available. Delta, Capital and Piedmont Airlines all flew into this air field.
An aerial view of the Asheville/Hendersonville airport taken in March of 1950. Note the crisscross runways and passenger building in center with a commercial plane pulled up in front. Numbers of small planes also dot the field.
The Asheville/Hendersonville airport runway as a plane taxis in. March 1950.
This is Western North Carolina’s first Wing Scout troop at the airport in a ceremony on March 12 of 1950 as the scouts received their pins. The troop was led by Ms. Anne Shields (second from right) who trained fighter pilots during World War II. Note the Capital Airlines plane in the background.
By the late 1950’s air travel was increasingly popular and there was need for a yet larger airport with longer runway capacity to handle the bigger, speedier aircraft. Another tract of land was purchased – this one about three miles to the west of the earlier Asheville/Hendersonville airport.
A proud billboard announces construction of the new Asheville Airport to open in 1960.
The airport under construction in 1960.
In January 1961, just a few months late, the new Asheville Regional Airport opened. The airport continues to grow with its traditional carriers – Delta, United and US Airways and by adding new carriers like Allegiant.
Interiors are continuously updated and refurbished and as the Asheville Citizen Times reported on July 19, 2014 the airport is “poised for growth.” During the next five years the runway will be replaced and a taxiway added. As a spokesperson for the airport stated; “this is the biggest construction project since the airport was built and opened in 1961.”
Posted by Lynne Poirier-Wilson, Volunteer