History lesson: flight lessons

If it had been up to Madison residents in 1927, the Dane County Regional Airport might have been named “Bob La Follette Landing Field” instead.
person walking toward an airplane at an airport
Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, Image ID: 19501

If it had been up to Madison residents in 1927, the Dane County Regional Airport might have been named “Bob La Follette Landing Field” instead. When The Capital Times held a contest in 1927 to christen the first city-owned airport, the contenders came flying in: among them, “Progress Port,” “Port Madison,” “Capital City Airport” and “Four Lakes Field.”

The paper also received dozens of variations on Charles Lindbergh’s name, which was understandable given the pilot’s pioneering transatlantic flight earlier that year and his historic visit to Madison soon after, which undoubtedly fueled the momentum toward Madison investing in commercial aviation. (But given all we know about Lindbergh now, today’s residents would have likely voted to rename the airport eventually.)

In the end, after the city of Madison forked over $35,380 for a 290-acre cabbage field to invest in what would eventually become the Dane County Regional Airport, the city opted for “Madison Municipal Airport.”

RELATED: Ordinary everyday pilots taking flight in Madison

It wasn’t the city’s first airport, however. Howard Morey — the stunt-flying barnstormer who founded Middleton’s Morey Airport Co. — started Madison Airways Corp. on the south side of Lake Monona with two other aviation enthusiasts, Edgar Quinn and J.J. McMannamy. They were bought out in 1927 by the Royal Rapid Transit Co., so Madison’s first airport was then called Royal Field.

Morey went on to manage Madison Municipal Airport when Northwest Airlines (now Delta) began flying passengers in 1939. Then came the war, and the U.S. Army Air Corps took over the airport. In the days just before Pearl Harbor, a young lieutenant from Madison named Thomas “Bud” Truax was killed in a training flight. From then on, the airport became known as Truax Field.

The story continued, both for the Morey family over in Middleton and the Madison Municipal Airport (now the Dane County Regional Airport). But this striking John Newhouse image of an unnamed pilot walking toward a twin-engine Lockheed 10A on the Truax Field runway sometime after 1948 feels like it speaks a thousand words about humanity’s pursuit of flight, then and now.

Read more about local pilots here.

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