Wilbur Wright once said, “There is no sport equal to that which aviators enjoy while being carried through the air on great white wings.”
And as our very own Tri-Cities Regional Airport celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year, I decided to look back in time to learn about our local history of aviation.
In May of 1911, pilot Fred Eells introduced locals to the excitement of flight by organizing an “air meet” at the Fairmount Golf Grounds in Bristol. People came from miles around — by horse-drawn carriages — and were fascinated with the flying machines that were invented by the Wright Brothers only eight years earlier.
Almost a decade later, a pilot flying a Curtiss “Jenny” over Johnson City was forced to make an emergency landing in a grassy field. It didn’t take long before other pilots started asking for permission to keep their planes there as well, and the little field affectionately called “Johnson City Airport” soon began hosting weekend air shows and regular events.
But by the early 1930s, with the increased popularity of flying, the airfield wasn’t large enough to be practical. Talks began of building a centrally located airport to provide service to the area, and a 323-acre site near Blountville was named as the future home of the Tri-Cities Regional Airport.
On October 12, 1935, construction began. And within two years, two small runways, a terminal building and an aircraft hangar were complete, and the airport was ready for the landing of its first commercial aircraft — an American Airlines DC-2.
In 1941, the War Training Service was an integral part of aviation activity at the airport. Aviation cadets came from King College in Bristol and the State Teachers College (now East Tennessee State University) in Johnson City to receive basic flight instruction to become WWII pilots, navigators and bombardiers.
Virtually every type of civilian and military aircraft, fixed-wing and helicopter, has visited the Airport at one time or another over the past 75 years — from DC-3s to F-28s to Air Force One itself! Today, the airport currently covers an area of 1,225 acres and offers nonstop flights to four major hubs.
So next time you fly through the friendly skies of Northeast Tennessee, think back to the innovation, passion and hard work of local aeronautical heroes — they have left a true legacy.
Learn more about the Tri-Cities Regional Airport