Archive for Thursday, May 14, 2009

Major events, people and projects in Lawrence Municipal Airport’s first 80 years

May 14, 2009


It’s been 80 years of ups and downs for Lawrence Municipal Airport.

Here’s a look at some of the major events, people and projects in airport history:

Oct. 12, 1929

Dedication: Lawrence Municipal Airport is dedicated, with a crowd estimated at 6,000 people.

The airport started with four runways, all grass.

The site for the airport had won out over a couple of other options, including a site along what is now Wakarusa Drive, as well as what is today the corner of 31st and Iowa streets.


Cinder boxes: The airport’s grass runways get “paved,” when they are covered with cinder unloaded from 15 railcars.


Learn to fly: The airport became a major component of the nation’s defense effort, as the Civil Aeronautics Authority — the predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration — established a flight-training program in Lawrence.

About 400 men were trained at Lawrence Municipal, preparing them to become pilots in the military for World War II.

The program boosted interest in and the profile of the airport.


High-flying visitor: Rich Clarkson, a famed sports photographer who grew up in Lawrence, remembers publishing his own Aero News mimeograph as an elementary student at Pinckney School.

Clarkson loved airplanes and enlisted the help of three classmates to produce the publication that included a “Lawrence Aviation News” feature on the back page of each issue.

One day he took a call from one of his best sources: the head of the aeronautical engineering department at KU, who had a visitor in his office.

“So I rode my bicycle up the 14th Street hill and, sure enough, there was Orville Wright,” Clarkson recalled. “I had just finished the biography of the Wright Brothers the week before, so I knew some questions to ask him.”

Clarkson didn’t get an autograph from the aviation pioneer because that’s not what journalists do.

“As I recall, we put it on the back page,” Clarkson said, with a laugh. “We didn’t put it on the front page. We didn’t think it was newsworthy.”


High-water mark: The flood of 1951 grounded operations at the airport, a decision that became obvious when the runways ended up under eight feet of water.

The community learned of the devastation and widespread flooding thanks to an enterprising pilot: Delbert Richardson, who just before the flood struck had moved his plane from the airport to his backyard landing strip near what is now Haskell Indian Nations University.

Richardson took media members up in the plane to document the damage — taking off from along East 23rd Street, as law enforcement officers blocked traffic.


Light it up: The airport gets a new, paved runway with lights.


Expansion plans: The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce’s Aviation Committee lent support to an airport master plan that called for additional land. The city soon applied for a $560,000 federal grant, which would be matched with $50,000 from the chamber, to purchase 322 acres from the Kansas University Endowment Association.

The additional land would permit the airport to add a 5,000-foot runway, a new terminal and several hangars, including one for Kansas University.


Lloyd Hetrick, of Hetrick Air Services, signs on as the airport’s fixed-base operator, an arrangement that allows the company to handle fuel sales, maintenance and other services on the airport property.

These days, Hetrick sells about 15,000 gallons of fuel each month, and provides storage for more than two dozen airplanes, furnishes certification services, offers flight lessons, conducts charter flights and handles repairs for pilots and crews from all over.


The city opens its new passenger terminal, a $567,000 project.


The airport receives $1.8 million in federal grants during a nine-month period to finance improvements, including a $1.3 million instrument landing system, which enables pilots to land with lower levels of visibility. Also added was a 24-hour weather system to help enable small commercial airplanes to use the airport.

The projects were installed in 1992 and 1993.


The airport played host to the Advanced World Aerobatics Championships, bringing in more than 50 competitors from 14 countries. Some 50 volunteers turned out to help the aviators put on a good show and spread the word internationally about the heartland airfield in “Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.A.”


The FAA commits $3 million for airport upgrades, including the addition of a parking apron and extension and strengthening of a runway.

The work allows the airport to accommodate more, and larger, planes. A full 95 percent of business aircraft can land at the airport.


Life Star, which runs an air-ambulance service, opens a Lawrence base at Lawrence Municipal Airport.

The move brings life-saving personnel and equipment closer to those who need it, including people who are sick or injured in the Lawrence area.

Aug. 28, 2004

The airport celebrates its 75th anniversary with a fly-in breakfast, open house, aerial tours of Lawrence and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for reconstruction of one of the airport’s runways.

June 2007

Lawrence businessman Jes Santaularia files plans for a business park adjacent to the airport, launching a lengthy discussion about the future of development at and around the airport.

The plans are for a 900-acre business park, but those soon are downsized to 144 acres near the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and North Seventh Street.

The project has yet to get off the ground, but the discussion has prompted planning for water, sewer and other services to accommodate future business development.


DAR Corp. of Lawrence says it wants to establish a center at the airport to enable the designing and building of prototype aircraft. Plans call for having 65 people working at the center within five years, with employees earning average annual salaries of $80,000.


Janet Lowther 8 years, 7 months ago

My father was amongst those trained to fly for WWII at the Lawrence airport.

The Navy sent him there as a Naval Aircorps cadet. Unfortunately, (or was it fortunately?) he washed out after an aircraft damaging hard landing.

In the early '70s I spent a Saturday counting the number of "aircraft movements," which were doubtlessly included in the arguments for the airport improvements a few years later. Of course we counted the traffic on the KU-Nebraska game day. . . There were still lots of "flying farmers" back then.

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