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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Photos tell Q-C Airport's story - Quad Cities Online

Photos tell Q-C Airport's story - Quad Cities Online:

"Images of Aviation: Quad City International Airport," by David T. Coopman, published in 2011 by Arcadia Publishing, is a pictorial and historical overview of the local airport at Moline.

A typical page in the 127-page book has two black and white photos with rich text describing their historical implication. A concise introduction to the book describes the high points of the development of the airport to the present day.

The airport started around 1919 in a flat pasture that became known as Franing Field. The operation began with coast-to-coast flights of Army airplanes. But the young airplane enthusiasts known as barnstormers who performed daring aerobatics and gave rides to individuals kept the airport alive.

Many of the wonderful photos were contributed by The Dispatch, the Quad City International Airport and numerous individuals. Photos include people important to airport development, monocoupes, biplanes, tri-motors, passengers planes and military jets, celebrity visitors, construction of the airfield, terminals and other buildings, plus three accidents.

The book divides growth into four sections.

The first, 1922-1934, shows development of Franing Field. Men who developed it learned to fly from J. Wesley Smith, Geneseo. Smith, who flew with the Canadians during WWI, taught Gus DeSchepper, Floyd Ketner and Dr. C.C. Sloan how to fly.

"Rusty" Campbell became manager of the developing airport when Smith left. Many young men and one woman, Phoebe Omlie, became legendary racers. Local barnstormer Vern Roberts became the idol of Charles Lindbergh, who had seen him perform.

The second section, 1935-1952, begins when Moline finally took ownership of the airport. Photos show men working for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Depression. The men are getting the field ready for paving runways. Hangars and other buildings are being added. A few air shows are pictured. Vern Roberts, airport manager, created the Moline Air Service in 1942 to train cadet pilots for WWII. A photo shows 600 radial aircraft engines being rebuilt at the airport to be used to power tanks during WWII.

After the war, a rivalry began between Moline and Davenport, which had developed an airport. Both wanted to become the leading regional airport. Coopman quotes a source who said, "population, politics and practical considerations" led to Moline coming out ahead.

A map shows the center of population for the Quad-Cities was in Rock Island at about 5th Avenue and 38th Street There were more industrial users of aviation on the Illinois side. In 1948 the airport became part of the Metropolitan Airport Authority (MAA) and was renamed the Quad City Airport.

Section three, 1953-1984, may be a trip down memory lane for some readers. A new terminal was completed in 1954. There are nostalgic photos of that wonderful 180-degree observation area in that terminal. Visitors could sit and watch planes take off and land with a view of the ramps, taxiways and runways. There is a photo of Tom Balla's Airport Inn restaurant where an hour wait on Sundays was not uncommon. Many kids ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served with mashed potatoes in that restaurant before heading to that observation deck to dream of flying.

The last section, 1985-present, begins with photos of the building of a new $5.3 million terminal. A photo shows the 1954 terminal still there. In 1986 the Quad-Cities was granted U.S. Custom Port of Entry status. The name wasn't changed to Quad City International Airport to reflect that status until 1997. Photos reflect changes after 9/11. For example, passengers clearing security enter a central atrium area that once was available for the public as an observation opportunity.

Other interesting photos include flight information written on a blackboard in the 1950s; Coal Valley fire department providing services; a 1944 photo-op of Gov. Dwight Green, waiting for a flight, pointing in one direction while airport manager Vern Roberts is pointing in the opposite direction; and aerial photos including one of "Moline" painted on a roof to show pilots what airfield they were flying to or over.

The book is a great overview of the airport but there are some issues. It was disappointing to see Harold Neumann, Geneseo, a prominent racer based in Moline in the late 1920s shown as a 66-year-old in 1972. I discovered his little silver monocoupe at a museum in Oshkosh, Wis., several years ago.

In the Ford Reliability Tour held 1925-1931 to promote flying, Campbell received a perfect score in a Travel Air A in 1925. The book said there was no prize money. Other information indicates he received $350, equivalent to more than $4,500 in 2010 dollars.

The last photo is of Cathie Rochau, marketing representative for the airport, and director of Aviation Bruce Carter, AAE. Carter arrived at the airport to oversee the $18 million terminal improvement in 1999. His celebration over the successful completion was short-lived, according to Coopman. Carter and the rest of the airport had to deal with changes for the airlines and airport brought on by the terrorist attack in September 2001.

(David Coopman will speak about the book on Aug. 8 at the Port Byron Historical meeting at the River Valley library at 7 p.m.)
Marlene Gantt of Port Byron is a former Rock Island school teacher.

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