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A brief history of the Quad City Airport

By Sarah Hayes, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer
Click for larger image
Quad City Airport as it looked from the air in December 1967.

Henrietta Roberts, wife of pioneer aviator Vern Roberts, accepts a present from the pilot of the first Braniff Airways flight into Moline in March 1944. Braniff carried passengers between Chicago and the Southwest.
Click for larger image
The Moline airport, shot from a blimp in August 1946. One of the first post-war improvements to the airport was the installation of an instrument landing system that same year.

It was a matter of simple geography, and complicated hard work.

Franing Field, the site of the present Quad City International Airport, was ideal for a flying field, designed by nature herself. The 120 acres of level, grassy land was free of natural obstacles, and perfect for taking off and landing of airplanes. For these reasons, it was chosen as a control point for the first coast-to-coast flight in the fall of 1919.

In 1925 Franing Field was established as a control point on the National Air Transport (N.A.T.) airmail system from Chicago to Dallas.

C.D. Wiman, Rev. J.B. Culemans and Dr. C.C. Sloan were the forces behind an airport committee established by the local chamber of commerce to secure service.

A third hangar was completed in 1925, and then came the Ford races. Ford's ``Glidden Tour of the Sky'' was designed to cover 1,900 miles in the Midwest and demonstrate the speed and safety of air transportation. A ``throng'' of people arrived to watch local man Rusty Campbell win in the Moline-to-Chicago leg of the tour.

The first regular airmail service began May 12, 1926. Although it made no money in its first six months, it did settle the bet as to whether or not it could be done.

The N.A.T. contracted with the American Express Co. in November of 1926, delivering packages. It also commenced carrying passengers in a specially made Ford Stout all-metal monoplane. The plane's maiden voyage was from Chicago to Moline November 10, 1926, with a full complement of passengers including the builder, W.B. Stout.

The field was lighted for safety in 1926, but nothing lit up the town quite like the arrival of Charles A. Lindbergh. An estimated 25,000 people came to welcome him and his famous plane ``The Spirit of St. Louis'' on a cross country aviation promotion tour.

In 1929 Phoebe Omlie set an altitude record above the airport in a Velie Monocoupe, the only plane ever manufactured in Moline.

After the stock market crash in '29, things were tough at Franing Field, a privately owned airport. City bureaucracy was of no help, making it difficult for the city council to secure a vote on the airport.

Finally, though, in 1935, the city secured a loan, passed a new tax and took over the 205-acre airport.

The city of Moline got much of its financial assistance from the Works Progress Administration, and when the United States entered World War II in 1941, the airport became preliminary flight training field for some 1,000 men.

One of the first post-war improvements was the installation of an instrument landing system in 1946.

In 1947, seven townships voted to establish the Metropolitan Airport Authority (MAA). Within three years the MAA had made a $200,000 extension on the east-west runway. The board commissioners built a new terminal in 1954, at a cost of $510,000.

In 1957, the first count of enplaning and deplaning passengers was made with a total of 59,701 recorded. The airport underwent major remodeling in 1961 and '68, adding everything from baggage claim to a restaurant and passenger boarding areas.

The current airport terminal was completed in 1985, after studies showed that an addition to the 1954 structure would prove more costly than building an entirely new terminal. The shift to the new $11 million terminal created many new opportunities for expansion of airline facilities.

Between 1979 and 1986, the number of airlines increased from two to seven. Ozark and United, the two original airlines, were joined by Britt, Air Wisconsin, Air Midwest, Trans World Express, and American Eagle. Competition among these airlines made for lower prices over all.

These days things are still changing at what is now Quad City International Airport.

Just this month Access Air began running flights directly between the Quad-Cities and New York's LaGuardia Airport, and plans continue to begin flights to Los Angeles LAX. Other newer carriers include Northwest and AirTran, while United, TWA and American airlines have been serving the Quad-Cities area for 10 or more years.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.