For those of us who have grown up in a world dominated by air travel, it’s almost impossible to imagine not being able to get from Point A to Point B in a reasonable amount of time.
We decide to go visit Grandma in Chicago or Mickey in Orlando, Fla., we buy tickets and then we pack enough luggage to jam a wood chipper. A few hours later, we are in the Windy City.
Like all of the transportation options we have discussed here in Histories & Mysteries, aviation also came from very humble beginnings. In December 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their famous first flight in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. In 1919, John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown made the first nonstop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland. By the time Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight in 1927, the commercial aviation field already was being kicked into high gear.
It was around that time that Beaver County started to catch the aviation bug. Several small regional airports sprouted in various locations around the county. These airports started out as grass landing strips with crudely built buildings in the days before there was much regulation involved with aviation. In time, some of the grass strips were replaced by modern, paved ones. Several local airports found themselves the homes of aircraft manufacturers, employing local residents.
Our local airports became a vital part of Beaver County and produced some of the pioneer aviators of our area. While these airports no longer exist, traces of them can still be found — if you know where to look.
The first regional airport founded in Beaver County was the Patterson Heights Airport, which sat on Fallston hill in the general vicinity of the current Beaver Valley Golf Club Course. One building from the old airport still sits along Darlington Road as you approach the course. It is the original concrete block hangar, still in use as a maintenance building for the golf course.
The airport was owned by Sam B. Markely. The many pilots who flew in and out of it over the years compared landing at the field to landing on an aircraft carrier. This was because of a lack of space, as well as the location of the landing strip on the edge of the hill, which required a very careful touch for pilots. Despite being threatened by plans for a highway in 1930, the Patterson Heights Airport remained open until 1957. The Beaver Valley Country Club desired to expand its then 9-hole golf course, and the airport provided the property they needed.
The Blackhawk Airport was a small field along Blackhawk Road that served as an airmail stop in the early years. During the 1930s, famed local aviator Merle Moltrup was one of the early flyers who utilized the small grass field. This was another airport that fell victim to the golf game, as it became part of the current Blackhawk Golf Course.
The Conway (Heights) Airport was located along Dewey Street in Conway, high up on the hill behind the new Baden Walmart complex. This was the premier early airport in our area that operated from 1920 until 1961 and served as one of the local flight schools under local aviation pioneer Aloysius Moore. The Conway Airport was the scene of many airshows in its formative years prior to World War II, drawing thousands of spectators to the surrounding fields in what is now a densely populated residential neighborhood.
This was the site of the very first airmail flight out of Beaver County. On May 18, 1938, pilot Tom Glassburner (a fantastic name for a pilot) carried 44 pounds of mail from the Conway Airport to the Butler County Airport. The flight took 12 minutes and ushered in a new era of communication for the citizens of the Beaver Valley.
In 1948, the Taylorcraft Co. moved its aircraft manufacturing business from Alliance, Ohio, to the Conway Airport. Throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s, Taylorcraft built planes made out of fiberglass — an innovative method for the time — in hangars located along Conway-Wallrose Road until 1958. The Conway Airport remained open for a few more years before being sold and closing in 1961.
If you drive along Kane Road in Hopewell Township, just past the former Kane Road Drive-In Theater, you will see a roadway called Airport Road. Many folks wonder how it got that name, as the nearest airport is miles away. Would you believe there was actually an airport there?
The Aliquippa Airport was opened in the years after World War II, a product of the still-growing industrial areas promise for the future. The airport was operated by Jack Gilberti, who used the site for the designing and manufacturing of Vollairecraft airplanes. These planes were built at the Aliquippa Airport until 1965, when the company was purchased by the Rockwell Standard Corp.
Aliquippa Airport remained open as a small general aviation airfield. The runway was even paved at some point in the 1960s, as available aerial photos show a grass field in 1958 and a paved strip in 1967. Today, the old landing strip still remains visible, as does one of the large hangar buildings. The airport is now part of a burgeoning industrial complex, housing several companies.
The Beaver County Airport in Chippewa Township was planned out by the county and opened in 1953. Many young pilots have utilized the flight schools of the airport to achieve careers in commercial aviation. The Air Heritage Museum is located on site, providing a glimpse into the history of aviation in Beaver County and beyond.