In the previous installment, we analyzed scheduled airline service, and interest by a myriad of air carriers. Now, we look at various happenings during the year 1948.
First, it should be mentioned that two months before 1947 closed, Springfield’s new Capital Airport was added as a stop on existing American Airlines and Chicago & Southern Air Lines routings via Peoria. The new facility was managed by the Springfield Airport Authority, an independent municipal corporation enabled by a 1945 Illinois law to own and operate airports in a designated area.
A NEW MANAGER
Dwight Rohn desired to devote more time to his Rohn Flying Service, so the Park Board replaced him with DeWitt Collins, who had previously served as manager from 1934 to 1942. Collins was born October 29, 1901 in Winthrop, Iowa. An aviation pioneer, he heard about a plane crash near Cedar Rapids, bought the parts for $100 and had them hauled by truck 40 miles to his home where he re-assembled them into an airworthy plane!
Along with a friend, Collins traveled as a barnstormer and put on air shows, flying passengers and doing parachute jumps. He later moved to Dubuque, Iowa where he ran a flying school, and also sold and serviced aircraft.
Collins ran Peoria Flying Service from 1934 to 1942. During the Second World War, he worked for the Civil Aviation Administration in Chicago and in Rochester, Minnesota. In Minneapolis, he served as the CAA’s senior inspector. He returned to Peoria in January 1948 anticipating a new position as manager of the city’s municipal airport.
AIR SERVICE CHANGES
On March 4, 1948, TWA added Quincy, Illinois as a stop on its Chicago-Peoria-Kansas City route. Service was to have started March 1, but bad weather held it up for three days. Both westbound and both eastbound flights made the stop.
On April 1, American Airlines displayed one of its new, 40-seat Convair 240 propliner. Plans were revealed that these planes would replace DC-3s on Peoria flights on June 1, though this did not happen just yet. The Peoria Star reported on July 31 that this aircraft would again be on public display here August 6.
In the last half of April, TWA initiated night service to Peoria on a flight routed Newark-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Columbus-Chicago-Peoria-Kansas City. Arrival here was scheduled for 9:00pm with departure ten minutes later. This was an additional flight for Peoria. There was no westbound counterpart, however.
On June 30, TWA’s 2:40pm departure to Chicago was moved to three hours later, enabled connections to a New York-bound Constellation. The 5:40pm departure provided same-plane DC-3 service to Columbus, Pittsburgh and New York.
TWA’s night flight increased total flights on all three airlines to 11 arrivals and 11 departures on weekdays. Unfortunately, this expansion proved short-lived. American Airlines dropped half of its Peoria service on November 1. Lost were the 3:28pm flight to Chicago-Midway and the 8:17am flight to St. Louis, and Tulsa, etc. Apparently, American Airlines’ action violated the Public Utilities Act, and the Illinois Commerce Commission required the airline to explain its actions at a Chicago hearing on December 14. That day, American announced the flights would return May 1, 1949 for a six-month trial.
Also in November, Chicago & Southern Air Lines petitioned the Civil Aeronautics Board to abandon all of its Peoria service. I’ve not found the exact dates, but for a brief time in 1948, flights routed via Peoria also stopped at Bloomington to and from Chicago.
TWA began scheduled air cargo service here on July 1, 1948. A C-47 arrived from Kansas City at 9:40pm and departed fifteen minutes later for Chicago-Midway, continuing to Columbus, Pittsburgh and New York.
While this was Peoria’s first scheduled air cargo service, at least one exotic service pre-dates it. On July 2, 1946, a C-47 owned by Sears Air Transportation Co. flew fresh sea food from New Bedford, Massachusetts to Peoria for Ken-Mar Packing Co.
Meanwhile, San Antonio, Texas-based Slick Airways waited for authorization to begin scheduled air cargo service to Peoria.
Peoria Municipal Airport held an air show on June 13, which was attended by 25,000 spectators. Static displays included a B-29. And what may have been the first landing at this airfield by a jet aircraft, a P-80 Shooting Star, took place after a performance that afternoon.
AIR NATIONAL GUARD EXPANSION, TRAGEDY
As early as 1948, it was suggested that the 169th would eventually deploy jet fighters to its Peoria base, but with the stipulation that a longer runway of at least 6,000′ to be provided to accommodate them. Meanwhile, plans were underway to expand both aircraft parking areas and its main hangar.
Unfortunately, the 169th suffered its first fatality in in 1948. On the evening of September 27, two P-51 Mustangs collided in front of the passenger terminal. One aircraft was on its takeoff roll while the other, piloted by 2nd Lt. Edwin O. Tice, was taxiing. Tice was killed and his aircraft badly damaged. The accident revealed a need for onsite fire protection.
The Park Board considered extension of Runway 4-22 to the northeast, but close proximity of Monroe School District No. 70 to airfield’s northeast side became an issue. The school demanded closure of the runway while airport officials wanted the school moved. Things heated up because Monroe desired to construct a new building. DeWitt Collins, however, informed school district president George Yingst that if his school went ahead with such plans, the airport would invoke the aeronautic zoning code to prevent it. The issue would eventually be resolved.
Next, we’ll look at some pivotal issues which affected Peoria Municipal Airport in 1949, including mine subsidence, Chicago & Southern Air Lines’ plans to drop service and more.
– David P. Jordan