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City's Airport Among Oldest

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From The Sky in 1944


From 10,000 feet, white – washed stones spell out city’s name, beckoning air travelers. The stones are still there, but this was in 1944 after the large east-west runway was added, plus extensions on the other two runways. State Road runs north – south and is visible in the upper right portion of the photo. Airport offices and airplanes are just to the west of State Road.


Aviation Legends Traced Here 


City’s Airport Among Oldest 


(Editors note: James Taylor used to be a flight instructor at the Ann Arbor Municipal Airport and has provided us with the following history of the airport. He is now an instructor at the Detroit Institute of Aeronautics at Willow Run Airport, which is a school for aircraft technicians.)


By James Taylor


At 8:30 on the morning of June 10, 1929 an assortment of 50 planes began taking off from the newly opened Pontiac Mich. airport. Departing at one-minute intervals they began what was known as the First Michigan Air Tour and Dedication Air Meet. The flight lasted five days, completely in circling the outline of the lower Michigan mitten and touching down at airports of 32 cities, one of which was  Ann Arbor municipal airport. 

It appears that one could point to this as the day Ann Arbor joined the national mainstream of air Commerce. Less than half a century later a traveler can leave this city and circle the world, comfortably and economically in the same span of five days.

In 1928, the acquisition of the Steere  by the city water department, progressive minded citizens began I the expanse of land as possible flying field. With  Eli Gallup aeronautics department at the University of Michigan among those leading the way this acreage with the clear to be suitable for the purpose. After council approved the property was transferred to the Parks Department. 

The Ann Arbor Flying Club was as then  organized by members of the Chamber of Commerce and with money raised by sales of memberships, to install tile and smooth the field, work was started in March that same year.

Andrew Carmen, who was in charge of the construction work and still reside here, recalls that advisory people from Lansing had offered recommendations on how one should proceed to build an airport in 1928.Eli and Andy didn't agree entirely with these suggestions, so “on the spot” changes sometimes were made, resulting, in one case, in a slight “dog-leg” and on a runway which puzzled pilots for years afterward.

“We got halfway down the runway with our clearing work,” Andy said, “when Eli came out one day to check out progress.“

“Andy, if we keep going like this the airplanes are going to run right into the cupola on that barn. Let’s cant a little to the right to clear it.” 

Andy agreed…and that was that. No interminable meetings of committees were needed to make decisions in those days.

The first manager of the airport was Lieutenant Leonard Flo who also piloted the first plane to land on the field on May 19, 1928 with Harold Ristine, reporter for The Ann Arbor News, and Eli Gallup as passengers. The following winter Lieutenant Flo, who then operated Flo Flying Service at Ann Arbor, generated considerable enthusiasm in commercial aviation by flying nonstop from the Canadian border to Florida – a flight which is now duplicated regularly by residents of this area every winter.

Among the first to learn to fly at Ann Arbor Municipal Airport was Harry Carver, professor of mathematics at the U-M. Prof. Carver became an advisor to the US Air Force on navigation techniques during World War II and in later years wrote text books on the subject for the newly created Air Force Academy. Never losing interest in aviation, Prof. Carver ultimately was to be awarded this nation’s highest civilian decoration. 

As the fledgling aviation industry steadily developed during the 1930s a steady succession of airplanes and flyers who were to become legends in the annals of aviation came to Ann Arbor Municipal. The early air mail carriers stopped here, frequently with passengers whose pioneering spirit led them to pay to ride in the noisy, cold and slow airplanes of the time.

As the world moved inexorable  towards World War II  events that were to influence the future of this nation begin to unfold. In 1939 the Civilian Pilot Training Program was begun. At Ann Arbor airport one of four flight training schools in the nation was organized by George Downs and Dwight Reynolds, operators of Ann Arbor Air Service. Among first several hundred pilots trained here were men who just two years later would man the outer perimeters of our defenses in the Pacific in a desperate effort to stay the assault by the vastly superior forces of the Japanese, giving this country the few precious months needed to develop our own military capability. 

After the war, Ann Arbor Municipal became a hub of activity in flight training and general aviation. The late 1940s saw the start of an incredible expansion of air travel. Airlines spread a web of commerce and air travel across this country and soon leaped the oceans. Economic links between the United States and the rest of the world soon were established beyond any possibility of ever again considering ourselves along and separate.

Our airlines called upon dozens of the pilots who learn their profession here. Dozens more went out to fulfill the needs of the part of the industry broadly refer to as General  Aviation. This consists of thousands of two engine corporation aircraft utilized in high speed transport materials in personnel of industry where are other thousands of smaller personal business and pleasure aircraft as well as agriculture, utility patrol craft in law enforcement and emergency aircraft. It generally surprises most people to learn that in the aviation industry there are approximately only 3000 airline transports an 138,000 aircraft in General Aviation. 

Every major city already has its well established terminal airports for the airlines. Clearly, a vital need of aviation in this country is for airports like Ann Arbor Municipal. 

One day soon, an airport will depart some far off small community in speed toward Ann Arbor bearing a critically ill or burned patient needing treatment at our University Hospital. It will only be repeating an event which has taken place countless time before.  And when an Ed Murrow of the future comes to Ann Arbor to report the joyous news of a vaccine or cure for some dread disease to frightened millions of parents, as happened with Salk’s victory over polio, he also will probably land at Ann Arbor Municipal. 

If you happen to go by Ann Arbor Municipal Airport why don't you pause briefly and take a thoughtful look at it? You will be looking at one of the oldest municipal airports in this country. Try to visualize the field as it must have been on that day 45 years ago when State Street was still a gravel road and 50 magnificent airplanes of the past swarmed in to welcome Ann Arbor into the existing new world of aviation.