The pioneers. The adventurers. The people who thought they could fly.
The Duluth International Airport has a rich history that tells a story of the emergence of North Eastern Minnesota as a vital location for the ever growing avaition sector of our society.
We've collected some images to tell the history of avaition in our area. It's a story of determination and perseverance. We salute the brave men and women, avaition pioneers, who helped bring us to where we are today.
Thomas McGoey “The Birdman”, flying a Curtiss Pusher, makes the first flight in Duluth at Athletic Park on October 15, with 15,000 in observance. A week prior to the Duluth flight, McGoey makes two successful flights across the bay in Superior Wisconsin.
Norwegian Oliver A. Rosto, working as a chauffeur in Duluth, makes a flight with his home-made Rosto mono-plane, from the ice in the harbor in January. The plane is powered with a 30 h.p. 3 cyclinder V shape cross channel type Anzoni motor. The plane is designed with a warping wing – no ailerons. The plane takes off from the ice with the aid of skis and stays aloft for 20 minutes reaching a speed of 40mph.
A Benoist type XIV flying boat named “The Lark of Duluth” is flown from the Duluth-Superior harbor through the summer of 1913, carrying sightseers. The owner, Duluth banker Julius Barnes, has little success enticing paying passengers. Tony Jannus, the Duluth Pilot, transports “The Lark of Duluth” to St Petersburg Florida, where it was used as the world’s first commercial airline.
On March 22 Robert W. “Bill” Watt and Leonard J. Bemke fly a home-built Curtiss pusher type biplane off the ice to an altitude they claim was nearly 50 feet in the air. Papers later reported it to be 15 to 20 feet.
With 19 year old Lt Walter Bullock as pilot, the first air mail was sent between Duluth and the Twin Cities on February 21. The actual time of flight for the Curtiss JN4 Jenny, was 1 hour and 50 minutes. Duluth Mayor C.R. Magney sent the following message to Mayor J.E. Meyers of Minneapolis: “Greetings from the great port of the Northwest. As modern inventions annihilate distance, continents, countries and cities are brought closer to one another and their common interest increase. The machine which carries this message is merely blazing the trail which will in the future be the most traveled highway between Duluth and the Twin Cities.”
The first airline between Duluth and the Twin Cities was owned by Fred and William Trump using a Buhl Air Sedan and flown by them and F. Sinclair.
Seventeen-year old Margaret DuPrey becomes the first Duluth girl to complete a solo flight. With her instructor A.J. Pfaender of the Great Northern Airways, she circled the Pike Lake (Anderson) Field several times, then took the plane up alone, circling the field for about fifteen minutes.
A $100,000 bond issue was passed on June 4th and an airport committee including Julius M. Nolte, F.G. Germaine, A.B. Horowitz, John A . Wilson, and J.A. Scott was appointed.
Several areas were suggested for the airport: Near 63rd ave. west, Wheeler Field, Maple Grove and Haines, Vercellini, Proctor and the present site, then known as the Work Farm site. 640 acres of land were purchased for $70,000 and Mayor S. F. Snively broke ground on August 2nd.
On October 2nd, Miss Anne C. Macdonald became the first aviation student to solo from the municipal airport after only eight and a half hours of preliminary instruction.
Contracts were let for drainage, grading and the construction of 2 turf runways 2,650 feet long and 500 feet wide.
On September 13 and 14 the field was officially dedicated and named the Williamson-Johnson Municipal Airport. Harvey Francis Williamson, Jr. was a pioneer of commercial aviation in the area, and Lt Conrad Gilbert Johnson was Duluth’s first aviator to be killed in WWI.
Carl. A. Lindberg makes the first glider flight in Duluth on May 10th, from Hartley Field to Northland Country Club. The glider was made by members of the pioneer Glider Club: Lindberg, Guilford Hartley, Dr A.J. Huderle, John Prinz and Cass Avery.
Maj Ralph Royce leading the first “Arctic Patrol Flight” stops in Duluth enroute from Selfridge Field to Spokane, in January. (shown in the picture in 1933 in a P-26A “Peashooter”) His flight of 18 P-1C open-cockpit planes, 2 Ford transports and 1 single motored Douglas transport land on the ice in the harbor. Along with a crew of 22 officer pilots and 17 enlisted men, is the Assistant Secretary of War for Aviation.
The U.S. Post Office gives Duluth a regular airmail route from St Paul. On May 30th Northwest Airways begins using the seaplane base at the Duluth Boat Club to provide airmail and passenger service. A Sikorsky S-38 amphibian, named “The Duck” , operates out of the Boat Club until 1935. The passengers had to be rowed out to the aircraft for boarding.
The Duluth Aviation Club was organized with Howard D. Bush as president. Its objectives were to stimulate local airmail and passenger service; to instigate airport improvements; and to sponsor airmeets and tours.
Records show there were 309 plane arrivals and 318 departures.
July 30 – 31. 1st Airshow held at the new Airport, with such famous aerobatic flyers as Johnny “Upside Down” Miller, Florence Klingensmith, Arthur Davis, Clyde Ice, Art Killips and Betty Lund. Admission was $.25.
In November, a municipal airport board is selected. The five members are John J. Woodfill, Halvar Haugen, Howard D. Bush, George Wells Jr., and Harold Lindberg. Also in this year, Earl “Ole” Olson becomes the first airport manager.
Northwest Airlines begins the first regularly scheduled air service to Duluth using Lockheed twin engined Ultras.
The City purchased a D4 Caterpillar tractor and snow rollers and drag. This was used to compact the snow so aircraft could land using wheels in the winter. The gentleman sitting on the snow roller is shooting wolves on the runway.
A weather bureau was established at the municipal airport.
The Duluth Airport spends $691,000 on blacktopping two 3,900 ft runways, each 100 feet wide.
As the war progresses, Northwest Airlines discontinues carrying passengers on January 20th, but continues carrying the mail using Stinson SR5 planes.
August - The body of Maj Richard I Bong, Americas “Ace of Aces”, arrives at Duluth to full military honors.
Jack C. Brockway and William Neukom begin a privately owned seaplane base on Park Point known as Sky Harbor Airport. On August 21st the first flight was made by a Nordyn Norseman UC-64 bought from the War Assets Administration and modified to carry passengers. With a 6’ X 8’ shack as a office and pilot’s lounge, the men obtained their formal Seaplane base license on August 24.
January 9th was the day that a Northwest Airlines DC-3 becomes the first scheduled airliner to land in Duluth after dark with the aid of a new lighting system at the airport. Also the State of Minnesota grants a license to Sky Harbor, paving the way for land plane operations.
On September 17th, the Duluth Air Guard’s 179th Fighter Squadron gets governmental recognition.
On October 4th the unit receives its first airplane, a T-6 “Texan”.
December 12th the unit was taking delivery on its first fighter aircraft, a F-51D “Mustang”.
The headquarters of the 179th are moved from the Duluth Armory to the current location on the northeast corner of the Airport.
Duluth gets a $210,000 control tower along with $30,000 worth of equipment. It is considered one of the most modern in the country. In the same year, the U.S. Air Force opens an interceptor base at the Williamson-Johnson Municipal Airport.
The 179th gets it’s first jet fighter, an F-94B “Starfire”.
The 179th is the first to be nuclear qualified in the Air National Guard with the arrival of the F-89J “Scorpion” which carries the Genie missile.
The 179th Fighter Squadron is renamed the 148th Fighter Group.
Hoping for a more cosmopolitan look, the Duluth Airport Authority Board moves to rename the Williamson-Johnson Municipal Airport, the Duluth International Airport.
A KLM Royal Dutch Jetliner (the largest plane prior to this to be in Duluth) becomes the first direct overseas flight, leaving Duluth and landing Finland.
The ten millionth passenger leaves Duluth on December 11th.
Manager “Ole” Olson retires. Robert Ion becomes the new manager.
The 148th takes delivery of its first 102 “Deuce” fighter plane.
The Duluth Airport Authority bill is signed into law, allowing for a board of seven directors.
John Grinden assumes the position of Executive Director of the Duluth Airport Authority. Sky Harbor Airport gets lights.
The F-101 “Voodoo” becomes the 148th’s primary aircraft.
About 6,300 people turn out to see the dedication of the current airport terminal building.
148th receives the RF-4C “Phantom II”, a reconnaissance aircraft.
An air defense version of the RF-4C known as the F-4D takes the place of the reconnaissance aircraft’s place. The Duluth unit once again becomes one of the top defenders in the nation.
The 148th begins a conversion from the F-4D to the F-16 “Fighting Falcon”.
This the year of the Halloween “megastorm”. Duluth received 37 inches of snow but the airport was the only one in the state to stay open thanks to its maintenance force.
On June 30, after a toxic benzene spill south of Superior Wisconsin, the Duluth Hillside community had to be evacuated to the 148th base for safety.
Cirrus Design Corporation locates their world headquarters at the Duluth International Airport and begins the design, manufacture and sales of their light aircraft.
The 148th Fighter Group is renamed the 148th Fighter Wing.
Northwest Airlines opens a $50 million 189,000 sq foot facility on the north side of the airfield.
Ray Klosowski, formerly the Wing Commander of the 148th, becomes the new Executive Director of the Duluth Airport Authority. It is also estimated in this year that the airport and it’s tenants contributed over $101 million dollars to the regional economy.
October 1st the 148th begins renovation of the base, to go from air-to-air missions to air-to-ground missions.
One of the world’s largest aircraft, the Russian Antonov-124 lands at the Duluth International Airport. Also, runway centerline lighting is installed on Runway 09/27 at a cost of $2.4 million.
New instrument landing system and ALSF-II approach lighting system is installed at a cost of $3.9 million. Duluth International Airport is commisioned a Category II Instrument Approach. The Cat II system lowers Duluth International Airport weather minimums which become equivalent to MSP Airport.
Brian D. Ryks becomes the new Executive Director of the Duluth Airport Authority.
Cirrus Design Corporation opens their new Customer Service and Paint Facility at the Duluth International Airport.
The new Duluth Airport Authority “Hank W. Storms” Snow Removal and Equipment Maintenance Facility is opened named after the long-time Operations Director.