Jan. 25--Weeds may grow out of their runways today, but many of Arizona's smallest and oldest airports were once on the cutting edge of air travel during the golden years of U.S. aviation from the mid-1920s through World War II.
Although preservation of Arizona's historical railroad and mining locations is common, these original airports and landing sites have been overlooked and only four aviation-related sites are listed on the state's register of historic places.
Arv Schultz, president of the Arizona Pilots' Association, is passionately interested in the preservation of Arizona's historic landing fields. He is active in the association's efforts to rescue these fields by finding creative new uses for them, such as youth aviation academies and camps and educational historic displays.
Schultz will present a lecture and slide show on the subject Saturday evening at Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.
"There's so many of these little airports," he said Monday, in a phone interview from his home in Phoenix. "Barry Goldwater said he landed in every airport in Arizona. He said there were 200. Some of the older airstrips in Arizona are still in existence. Some were started by ranchers, and some were started by miners."
One of the airfields with a particularly sparkling history is the Winslow-Lindbergh Regional Airport, east of Flagstaff. As chairman of the technical committee for Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), the innovative airline started in 1928 to carry passengers coast to coast, Col. Charles Lindbergh was assigned to map the exact route.
Schultz, a retired airline captain, will give an overview of Arizona aviation history, including the beginnings of TAT and passenger transport through Winslow.
"I'll be starting out referring to the Roaring Twenties and bathtub gin and that type of thing," he said. "Then I'll be talking about how aviation was starting to progress. There was a reward offered, and Charles Lindbergh received the reward when he crossed the Atlantic in 1927. Shortly after, aviation really started to turn around. There were efforts made across the United States, trying to get aviation to move cross-country."
There were airfields sparsely located across the country, but there was nothing to connect them, until TAT, Schultz said.
"Lindbergh made all these tours and eventually became involved in TAT, which spanned coast to coast from California to New York, with many, many stops in between," he said.
Early in 1929, Lindbergh arrived in Winslow to design the new airport. It was to be located south of town in a flat area, well-suited for three paved 3,800-foot runways. He chose the exact spot for a large hangar and terminal. By July, TAT was ready to go.
A complete coast-to-coast journey took about 48 hours, with a one-way fare from $336 to $403, according to literature at the Winslow airport.
The Arizona Pilots' Association, representing 29,000 pilots in the state, is attempting to get the Winslow hangar declared a historic site, Schultz said.
Although it enjoys a place in aviation history, the airport at Winslow is still very much in use.
"We're historic, you betcha," said Norm Steward, a fixed-base operator at the airport. "Winslow is basically just general aviation traffic. We have no air carrier service. I tell people, 'You want a commercial airline, go to Flagstaff." We have military traffic, mostly helicopter. We're a tanker base too, and maybe this summer during the fire season, we'll be very busy."
Planes carrying fire retardant launch from Winslow and cover the Apache and Sitgreaves national forests, Schultz said. In addition to air ambulance service, Winslow provides fuel and service for private aircraft.
Winslow handles about 15 to 20 operations daily, Steward said. The Lindbergh hangar was built to house Ford tri-motors with three engines, one on the nose and two on the wings, he added.
Other historic military aircraft will be joining FIFI at different tour stops
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