An Airport at Bridgeton, Missouri

By Wilbur Tackaberry

 

On June 18, 1920 the St. Louis Post Dispatch headlined a story "New Landing Field to be Built in the County" Nearly 50 years later, similar headlines direct the readers’ attention to controversy over location of a new facility to accommodate the giants of the "Jet Age."

At that time the Missouri Aeronautical Society had leased 160 acres of land near Natural Bridge Road. This was an area adjacent to the small community of Anglum, Missouri which was to be renamed Robertson, Missouri. This was an area of land that also bordered Bridgeton, Missouri.

This acreage would provide a landing field for airplanes and would also provide facilities for passenger airplane service between St. Louis and other cities.

The plan for the lease was worked out by William B. Robertson of St. Louis and his brother Frank in cooperation with other pioneered aviation promoters in the St. Louis area.

The selection of a new landing field was determined after it was decided that the Forest Park landing place was not adequate for passenger planes. The Forest Park site had originally been selected by the Government for aerial mail. It was determined that the site in that area was too small and too closely hemmed in by buildings and wires as well as other problems reported by early aviators. At that time it was anticipated that the postal authorities would decide that a new field was needed for use by air mail planes. The Aeronautical Society offered the use of the new field to the Post Office Department.

The newly acquired land at Bridgeton would adequately serve the air mail flights. There would be a delay,

However, in the use of this new tract of land due to present crops on the field. These crops would have to be harvested causing some delay in preparing the field for flights. The lease was for six years at $2,000 per year. Plans were being made to build hangars and other facilities to service aircraft on this site. At this time the newspapers were reporting that the field would be open to aircraft of all kinds, and for whatever purpose needed. Information was being sent out to manufacturers and air transportation companies.

Important selling points for advertising the facilities on the field were that the area was near the main line of the Wabash to Kansas City and the St. Charles Electric Lines. It was also advertised that it was only 25 minutes by automobile from Wellston and Bridgeton. It was also near Florissant Road, St. Charles Rock Road, and Natural Bridge Road.

The first regular air mail flight was made from Chicago to St. Louis on August 16, 1920. It was the second in the country established by the Post Office Department. (The first was from New York to Washington, which was a shorter route.) The planes used were the Curtiss JN-4H Biplanes, powered by 150 horsepower Hisso Engines. Air mail routes were operated by the Post Office Department until May 31, 1921, when they were discontinued due to lack of funds. Later on, in 1926, the St. Louis to Chicago air mail route was awarded to the Robertson Aviation Corporation. This was the second air mail contract awarded in the United States. Charles Lindbergh was the chief pilot on this route.

The story about early aviation in the St. Louis area would never be complete without mention of "The Robertson Brothers," William, Frank and Dan. All three were military flyers during World War I, and although they never saw combat, served very well as trainers of aviation in Texas. These men were so enthusiastic about flying and its future potential that this was to become their livelihood.

Mrs. Edwin Uhl, a sister of the Robertson brothers, lives in Florissant. She was very active in her brother’s flying ventures. She not only flew some of the aircraft of that time, but she worked on them also. She has a tremendous collection of aviation momentos, scrapbooks and information on early aviation. She has helped the schools and youth groups in her lecturing on early aviation. Betty is presently writing a book on this subject and I’m quite sure that it will find many an avid reader when published.

Now back at the airport…It was on April 17, 1923 that three (mile-long) runways were being planned for the big National Air races. The St. Louis Air Board was then appointing aeronautic directors. They would eventually be issuing 20,000 shares of stock of no par value at $10 per share to finance the meet,. It had already been decided that this airport would be the site for the National Air Meet.

Extensive grading and leveling was required so as to provide maximum safety factors for pilots who must land at a minimum speed of 75 miles an hour. It would be necessary to erect pylons around the course and also fabricate permanent hangars, machine shops and a clubhouse for the event. After the races this was to be the site for a permanent aviation field for St. Louis.

One June 3, 1923 a contract by which the St. Louis Aeronautic Corporation would acquire a tract one mile square was signed by Mr. B. Bush, president of the corporation. In addition to the 183 acres forming the original field, the corporation at that time would have under lease until 1 Nov, some 316 acres with the privilege of removing anything that interferes with flying. The original 183 acres would form a permanent flying field.

On July 8, 1923 brochures giving complete information about the air races and emphasizing the future of St. Louis as an air terminal, were issued from the Air Board Headquarters in the Chamber of Commerce building. The purpose of the air races was to use this event as an instrument from which to force its way into aeronautic prominence and obtain an air terminal for St. Louis. The earning power form the purchase of this field would bring revenue from the purchase of this field would bring revenue from the use of grounds by commercial airlines, aviation corporations, renting of space for exhibition grounds, the renting of hangar space, and renting of the field for flying exhibitions.

It was also noted at the time that an established permanent field would make it possible to attract aeronautical manufacturers to St. Louis. In every sense of the word, St. Louis was an ideal position, both geographically and commercially to encourage such enterprises.

 


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