Monday, October 24, 2016

Airport History: Cheyenne Regional Airport Historical Markers

The Cheyenne Regional Airport in Cheyenne, Wyoming has been in existence since 1920. It's located on the east/right hand corner of the one way going north Warren Avenue (Highway 85/Greeley Highway) and 8th Avenue.

I'll be writing more about this airport in future posts, but for now I'm going to share the information available from the three two-sided historical markers that are placed about the facility.

Cheyenne Regional AIrport: Jerry Olson Field

As you turn right from Warren Avenue onto 8th Avenue, you'll drive an 8th of a mile or so (past the sign above)  to turn left into the airport parking lot. The first marker you see explains why the Cheyenne Air Field (as it was known from its inception in 1920) was built.

(Click on each image to see it at a slightly larger size. Note that the text for each marker has been transcribed.)

FIRST HISTORICAL MARKER AT

CHEYENNE REGIONAL AIRPORT

First Historical Marker as you enter Cheyenne Regional Airport Parking Lot
THE FIRST TRANSCONTINENTAL AIRMAIL ROUTE*
CHEYENNE AIRFIELD
The First Transcontinental Airmail Route*
Cheyenne Airfield
The U.S. Post Office Department authorized the first experimental mail flight in 1911 at an aviation meet on Long Island, New York. By 1912 it had authorized 52 flights at fairs, carnivals and air meets in more than 25 states. From 1912 to 1916 they urged Congress to appropriate money to launch airmail service and in 1916, $50,000 was authorized but no aircraft were received due to the absence of suitable planes. In 1918 appropriated $100,000 to establish experimental airmail routes and the Post Office encouraged the Army Signal Corps to lend its planes and pilots to start the service. They argued that this cross-country flying would provide invaluable experience to the student flyers and the Secretary of War agreed. In the fall of 1918 the Post Office purchased six specially-built mail planes and hired civilian pilots. Early airplanes had no radios, instruments or other navigational aids and pilots flew by dead reckoning. Few facilities existed and pilots were often forced to land due to bad weather; however, fatalities were rare.
General William “Billy” Mitchell, a staunch advocate of aviation, put together a U.S. Air Service transcontinental air race in October 1919. Although a number of aviators had flown across the United States since Cal Rodgers first accomplished the feat in 1911, there was no organized route and landing areas were few and far between, especially in the western U.S. The route used was later adopted by the Post Office as the most practical. Of the original 48 aircraft that would depart New York and 15 that departed San Francisco, only 33 would complete a one-way crossing and only eight would make the full round trip. Seven lives were lost.
Although at first the routes were short (e.g. New York to Washington, [DC]), the Post Office envisioned a transcontinental airmail route from New York to San Francisco to better its time on long hauls and to lure more people to use airmail. The first leg of the transcontinental route was from New York to Cleveland in 1918; the Cleveland to Chicago leg was established in 1919; Chicago to Omaha in 1920; and the last segment from Omaha to San Francisco was opened on September 8, 1920. This last leg included stops in North Platte, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Salt Lake City, Elko and Reno.
Reverse: Information from the United States Postal Service
* Information from a history of the U.S. Postal Service


In May 1920, Post Office superintendent of airfield construction John A. Jordan arrived in Cheyenne to begin planning for an airmail station. He believed Cheyenne to be perfectly suited as a major division point along the transcontinental airmail route due to the fact that it was almost exactly in the middle of the direct flight route between Chicago and San Francisco; the city lay at the foot of the lowest crossing point of the treacherous Rocky Mountains; and the Union Pacific Railroad ran through the city which meant easy re-supply of the airmail station. The railroad line itself had significance, serving as a landmark pilots could easily follow across the continent during the daytime.
Initial plans called for the first airport at Cheyenne to be co-located at the landing field for Fort D.A. Russell; however the city along with Laramie County secured the current airport site and started construction of a hangar to hold up to dix mail planes. On September 6, 1920, the U.S. Air Mail Service began operations in Cheyenne when pilot Buck Heffron left town with 400 pounds of mail destined for the West Coast. The next day, James “Jimmy” Murray landed with the first load of mail from the east. Murray returned with the first east bound mail on September 13, thus helping complete the inaugural circuit of the first transcontinental air service in history.
At first mail was flown by day and loaded onto trains for night travel, then reloaded and flown the next day. This method bettered the all rail service by 22 hours. By August 1920, the Post Office had begun installing radio stations at each flying field. Radios replaced the telegraph. By November 1921, the mail was flown both day and night for the first time. Congress was impressed and appropriated $1,25 million dollars for expansion of the airmail service. In addition to adding other landing fields, the money was used to equip existing fields with towers, beacons, search lights and boundary markers. Also planes were equipped with luminescent instruments, navigation lights and parachute flares.
The first commercial airline air mail flight occurred in February 1926, and soon after the Post Office transferred all of its facilities to the Department of Commerce. The transfer included 17 fully-equipped stations, 89 emergency landing fields, and 405 beacons. Terminal airports were transferred to the municipalities in which they were located.
This project completed through the cooperation of the City of Cheyenne and its Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board. Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and funded through a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Preserve America.

SECOND HISTORICAL MARKER AT

CHEYENNE REGIONAL AIRPORT

View of "Aviation in Cheyenne (1920-1930s) Historical Marker in front of Terminal



Aviation in Cheyenne (1920s-1930s)
Cheyenne Airport
This marker is just to the left of the terminal doors, with the parking lot to its left.

From 1920 to 1926, pilots braved the toughest conditions on the Transcontinental Airmail Route, contending with Wyoming’s high altitude, unpredictable weather and severe winds. Pilots such as Slim Lewis, Hal Collison, Frank Yager, Harry Chandler and Jack Knight became aviation legends while flying the airmail route through Cheyenne. Each pilot flew by sheer nerve and skill and each could tell stories of narrow escapes and near death experiences flying the route.
A series of five new hangars for the airmail service replaced the original Cheyenne hangar that burned down in November 1924. Although they are all gone now, they were between Central and Warren Avenues directly west of the current Administration Building.
In 1925, Congress passed the Kelly Air Mail Act authorizing the Post Office to turn airmail over to civilian contractors and by July 1927, Boeing Air Transport (BAT) had taken over operations in Cheyenne. The company retained the aviation facilities and many of the airmail pilots, and they also established their main maintenance facility in the city.
In the transition, BAT discontinued the use of the DeHavilland DH-4s that had loyally worked the routes for the previous seven years and replaced them with the lighter and more powerful Boeing B-40 aircraft. These planes were capable of easily flying over the state’s mountain barriers and avoiding its most brutal weather. In addition to carrying mail, these planes were equipped with a small cabin in front of the pilot to hold up to four passengers. In 1928 these planes were augmented by the addition of a three-engined biplane airliner, the Boeing B-80. These planes were luxuriously appointed with individual reading lights, leather seats and wood-paneled walls and could accommodate 18 passengers. Even with rich surroundings, early flights on these planes were loud and frequently cold.
Reverse of Aviation in Cheyenne 1920s-1930s Historical Marker
n 1929, BA Thiel constructed the building currently used for airport administration. The new facility housed the main offices for ticketing, dispatch, communications, employee training and weather monitoring. In 1930 BAT constructed the hangar located immediately west of the Administration Building to protect its aircraft from Wyoming weather while being serviced. 1930 was a watershed year for Cheyenne and commercial aviation in America as BAT, Pacific Air Transport, National Air Transport and Varney Airlines merged to form the airliner powerhouse-United Air Lines. That same year, United also trained eight young women to become the first airline stewardesses in the world and kept Cheyenne as its principle maintenance and training facility for the next seventeen years.
In 1933, United introduced the Boeing B247, the first modern airliner with a single monoplane configuration and an all-metal skin. The new plane was considerably faster than the old B-80, but could only hold ten passengers.
In 1937, as technology improved, United introduced to its fleet the Douglas DC-3, a plane that could carry up to 35 passengers.
This project was completed through the cooperation of the City of Cheyenne and its Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board, Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and funded through grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Preserve America.

Third Historical Marker: Cheyenne Regional Airport

This marker is to the left of the airport terminal, and across the parking lot, so that it is in front of the Aviation Offices Buildng (a rectangular brick building with, as a decoration at the top of the building over the entrance doors,  a blue circle in which is the image of an aviator).
Second marker facing the Aviation Office Building. Look to the
right of the tree at the top of the building to see a circle. That's
the image of a male aviator on a blue background

Aviation in Cheyenne (1930-1950s) marker
It was at Cheyenne’s airport facility that the first de-icing equipment was installed on aircraft. It was also where wide-scale installation of variable-pitch propellers, cabin heaters, and on-board air to ground capable radios was begun. So proficient were United’s Cheyenne mechanics that they brought observes from Britain, France, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. As United continued to update its fleet with new aircraft, its mechanics at Cheyenne developed an international reputation for innovation and problem solving, creating new solutions for old and new aircraft alike. At one time, Cheyenne was considered the largest aviation roundhouse in the world.


With America’s entry into the World War II in 1941, United was asked to put its technical expertise to use for the American war effort. In late December of 1941, two Boeing B-17 bombers were flown to Cheyenne with instructions to modify the planes to carry extra fuel and a battery of cameras for aerial photography. Shortly thereafter, another order was placed to modify eight more B-17s for the British. These aircraft turned out to be photo-reconnaissance aircraft designed to overfly enemy territory from long distances. After the war it was discovered by United officials that the first two modified planes were used in reconnaissance flights over Tokyo in preparation for the famous Doolittle bombing raid of 1942.
United’s Bomber Modification Center #10 in Cheyenne was bustling with activity during World War II. Between January 2, 1942 and July 31, 1945, the facility retrofitted 5,736 Boeing B-17 bombers with equipment the factory could not install because of heavy production schedules.


Second side of Aviation in Cheyenne (1930s-1950)
The Cheyenne airport was enlarged by the construction of two new hangars in 1942 and a third in 1943. By the spring of 1943, 1,600 workers were employed at the center with an average of six planes a day leaving Cheyenne for combat areas. In 1942 United also transferred their flight training school from California to Cheyenne. About 100 students were in training year round. After the war, most of the hangar and rework facilities on the north side of the airport were turned over to the Wyoming Air National Guard and the former Boing/United Headquarters building became the city’s Airport Administration Building.


Because commercial airplanes remained unpressurized until the mid-1950s, most could not fly directly west from Denver over the Rocky Mountains, thus Cheyenne remained a major regional airfield and was often used especially in inclement weather as a place to layover until the weather cleared and flights could resume. United’s stewardess school also remained in Cheyenne until approximately 1956 when it was transferred to Chicago.
The Boeing/United Airlines Terminal, hangar and Airport Fountain in Cheyenne were built for BAT between 1929 and 1934. The Louis Sullivan-influenced designs form a consistent theme at a time when Cheyenne’s Municipal Airport was a major air transport facility. The 1930 hangar was designed by Cheyenne architect Frederic H. Porter and the 1934 Art Deco fountain was designed as a memorial to early aviation history.
This project was completed through the cooperation of the City of Cheyenne and its Cheyenne Historic Preservation Board, Cheyenne Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and funded through grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund and Preserve America.



No comments:

Post a Comment