Yeager Airport History
- 1929 – City of Charleston purchased site at Institute, WV, six miles down river from city limits, named it Wertz Field.
- 1930—City lacked funds to develop and operate field so leased tract to group of business men who formed West Virginia Airways, Inc. West Virginia Airways, Inc., was able to provide aviation facilities for the next 12 years. July 4, Wertz Field was dedicated. Later, with help of federal funds, a large administration building was completed.
- 1933—West Virginia up to this time was one of but two states which did not have air mail services. In October, American Airlines was awarded an air mail contract route, and opened passenger service between Washington and Chicago, via Charleston, serving intermediate cities of Elkins, Huntington, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis.
- 1937—Pennsylvania Central Airlines (Capital Airlines) established a branch route passenger service between Charleston and Pittsburgh. Larger passenger planes having been put into service by air carriers, Wertz Field began showing its inadequacy. American Airlines notified City of Charleston that it would be forced to discontinue service because Wertz Field was too limited for landing larger planes. City’s aviation enthusiasts prevailed on American Airlines to continue service, using smaller DC-2 planes.Leaders in Charleston Chamber of Commerce realized that site for a new airport must be found. Committee appointed consisted of D.M. Giltinan, D.N. Mohler, D.C. Kennedy, Charles E. Hodges, Fred Alley, J.B. Pierce. This committee was asked to make survey of airport needs and to study all possible airport sites within 25-mile radius.
- 1938—After a year examining on foot, by car and topographical maps every possible site; committee reported that the valley floor offered no suitable site large enough to meet area’s growing needs. Even Wertz Field did not permit expansion. Committee decided that “We must build on the hilltops.”
- 1940—Harry Campbell, City Engineer, and Fred Alley, a committee member and airport manager for West Virginia Airways at Institute, suggested site known as “Coonskin Ridge,” a series of hills not far from Charleston’s city limits. Fred Alley, after studying topographic maps, had made the first visit to the location on Saturday, September 12. From this visit all later developments stemmed. Committee approved location after examining it, and requested preliminary surveys and sketches to show possibilities. Sketches were made by Louis Hark, assistant city engineer; aviation consultants were called in for consultation. The “upstairs” airport met with general approval, though all agreed that the undertaking would be expensive.City engineers prepared plans for construction of three 4,000-foot runways, and a fourth of 3,400 feet, submitted them to WPA, with the proposal that the site would be provided by the City of Charleston, the building costs be borne by the WPA. The offer was rejected because the contribution of the City was disproportionate to the estimated cost.Because Charleston had no levies to support a bond issue, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce proposed to the County Court of Kanawha County that the project be made a county project. The County Court agreed to the proposal.
- 1941—Bond issue of $1,000,000 was ratified by overwhelming majority. (This issue, however, was never used.) An active program to enlist Federal Aid was begun. Federal government, however, was engaged in huge national defense program, and aid restricted to projects certified as essential to national defense. Pearl Harbor intensified this situation.
- 1942—Charleston lost its airport on May 12, 1942, when Wertz Field, after 12 years of operation, was closed when approaches were blocked by the erection of the government’s synthetic rubber plant. Efforts to obtain federal aid were continued.
- 1943—The president of the County Court, W.T. Brotherton, proposed a new bond issue of $3,000,000, which would enable the project to go ahead without waiting for federal assistance. Charleston and Kanawha County had become a highly important defense area, and air transportation was needed greatly.In November, the larger bond issue was approved by an overwhelming ratio of 22 to 1. The firm of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, Baltimore, was retained to prepare a master plan. The County Court proceeded in ensuing months to acquire – by negotiation and condemnation – the title to the Coonskin Ridge area.
- 1944—In June the bonds were sold, bids were advertised for such portions of the work that were within available funds. Bids were opened in September, and the “first stage” contract was awarded to Harrison Construction Co., of Pittsburgh. This “first stage” included approximately 5/8 of the total grading, sufficient to permit two runways and their completion to a point where commercial air service could be resumed.On October 18, ground for the construction of Kanawha Airport was broken, and work proceeded continuously thereafter until grading was completed in May 1947.
- 1945—Charleston Chamber of Commerce representatives appeared before a U. S. Senate Appropriations sub-committee, and with able assistance from its two senators, Harley Kilgore and Chapman Revercomb, obtained a recommendation for an appropriation of $2,750,000 to supplement money raised by Kanawha Countians. This was subsequently approved by Congress and the remainder of the original contract for grading added to the original contract awarded the Harrison Company. The government’s contribution was based on the fact that Charleston’s airport had been made useless by the erection of a synthetic rubber plant, which, during the war years, was the nation’s largest producer of that essential product.
- 1947—In January, the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard, was established and activated three months later. This squadron began with 13 officers and 30 enlisted men, Col. James K. McLaughlin, Sr., commanding officer. The 167th made an outstanding record as a fighter group in World War II.Kanawha Airport was formally dedicated on November 3. President Truman sent his plane, the “Independence,” the presidents of all the participating airlines were on hand as well as many governmental officials. Though a cold, rainy day, the event was attended by thousands. Kanawha Airport was presented ready to go, representing one of the most unusual construction jobs in aviation history. The first night landing at the port was made shortly after 10 the evening before by the president of American Airlines.
More Yeager Aiport History
On December 1, Kanawha Airport began operations with 10 daily scheduled flights.
People from all over the United States, from Sweden, England, Cuba, South America and other foreign countries visited Kanawha Airport during its construction. In many instances, they were part of commissions sent to make studies of the most modern methods of moving earth.
An excellent safety record was made during construction. In moving more than nine million cubic yards of earth, there were only three injuries, each caused by falling stones.
Forty feet from the top, or at the 1030-foot elevation, workmen uncovered millions of fossilized fern leaves, which disintegrated shortly after exposure. Just below this was a deposit of large boulders and petrified tree trunks. Under this was a two and a half foot seam of coal, in a bed 100 feet in diameter, all of which, the workmen concluded, indicated that the spot at one time was a pond, and one of the low places of the area.
An idea of the magnitude of the Airport project may be gathered from the following facts: 360 acres of mountainous land were cleared and grubbed before the excavation was started. The paving on taxi-ways, runways and aprons, if converted into 20-foot roadways eight inches thick, would have approximated 30 miles of highway.
A special 1 1/2-inch pipe line, extending 4,000 feet from a rail siding up to the hill-top site, was used by the contractor to bring in the 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel needed daily to operate the more than 200 pieces of equipment. As a consequence, one fuel truck was needed only half-time on the project, instead of two large trucks steadily plying up and down hill.
When opened in 1947, the airport had approximately 225,000 square yards of paving on runways, taxiways and loading ramps; 27,000 linear feet of electric cable for field lighting; 60,000 linear feet of drainage pipe ranging from 6 to 30 inches; and 15,000 feet of telephone conduit.
The access road to the new airport was constructed as a project of the State Road Commission. Grading and draining of the road was itself a major project, requiring the removal of 300,000 cubic yards of earth.
The grading alone on this big project cost approximately $4.5 million, or 34 times the cost of the site.
When the bill providing a $2,750,000 special appropriation directly allocated to the new Kanawha Airport came before Congress in 1945, all of West Virginia’s Senators and Representatives “went to bat” to obtain its passage. Those who shared in this outstanding achievement were United States Senators Chapman Revercomb and Harley M. Kilgore, and Representatives Jennings Randolph, M.M. Neely, E.H. Hedrick, Cleveland Bailey, John Kee, and Hubert Ellis.
In moving the more than 9,000,000 cubic yards of earth and rock, 2,000,000 pounds of explosives were required.
Miscellaneous Airport Facts
Ground Breaking: October 18, 1944
Dedication Ceremonies: November 3, 1947
Opened for Commercial Service: December 1, 1947
Original Construction Cost: $8.3 million
Airport Acreage: 767 (280 usable)
Runway Dimensions: R/W 5-23 – 6,802′ x 150′
Airport Directors (past and present)
1947 – 1959 – Fred C. Alley
1959 – 1976 – Calvin F. Wilson
1976 – 1981 – Ralph R. Cowgill
1981 – 1996 – Jeffrey D. Bubar
1996 – 1999 – Danny C. Huffman
1999 – 2015 – Richard A. Atkinson, III
2015 – present – Terry D. Sayre
Basic Airfield Information
- Communications Frequencies
Ground – 121.8
Tower – 125.7