Editor's Note: This column is the first in a three-part series about the history of the Jefferson City airport. This column covers the airport's history from 1927-48.
The first known airport in Jefferson City was from 1927-29 and was located 2 1/2 miles west of the city on Ten Mile Drive, near where the Conservation Department and Unilever are today. A chamber of commerce committee, led by D.O. Snyder, selected this site. The land was referred as the Gibler property, and the airport sometimes was called Gibler airport.
On Aug. 18, 1927, Col. Charles Lindbergh gave the city a thrill by circling the Capitol and courthouse several times. Lindbergh dropped a message urging support of mail service and adequate airport facilities. Lindbergh was on his way to help dedicate the Richards flying field in Kansas City. Many civic leaders understood aviation was very important to the economic development of Jefferson City. Two editorials in April 1934 encouraged support of the airport.
Shortly after the Gibler property was selected, it was determined to be unsatisfactory, so another chamber committee, led by Col. Albert Linxweiler, sought a better location. They decided on 80 acres of the Paul Koch farm on the north side of the river, now the Turkey Creek Golf Course.
Chamber leaders William Gundlefinger, Richard Schell and Ted Oberman convinced a group of St. Louis investors to form Jefferson Airways and operate the airport. Jefferson Airways started operations in 1929 with a hangar, restaurant, dormitory, administration building and training room. They had the latest equipment including black boards and tablet tables. The clubhouse had electric lights, phone service, hot and cold water, desks, a radio and accommodations for 48 students. The restaurant, run by Mrs. Cecil Bowman, served breakfast for 30 cents, lunch for 40 cents and dinner for 50 cents. Jefferson Airways flew Cubs, Taylorcraft, Rearwin, Stinson and Swallow aircraft.
In 1938, Robertson Aviation of St. Louis took over operation of the airport. Robertson taught several Civilian Pilot Training courses in preparation for WWII, in cooperation with Lincoln University and Jefferson City Junior College
With Robertson came instructors John Randolph, Swede Oschner and Dave Horn. Oschner was a WWII pilot and later ran Schneider's Men's Wear, and Horn flew B-25's, B-26's and B-17's in the war and was airport manager in 1949. Randolph served two stints as airport manager — 1937-41 and 1971-77. Randolph also was airport manager at Kansas City, St. Louis Lambert and Cape Girardeau and was director of aviation for Puerto Rico.
Thelbert Newton took flying lessons in 1941, as well as Jim Schaeffer. Both worked at Central Bank. Newton was a well-known Central Missouri football and basketball referee. The video "Tommy learns to fly" featured Tom Graham learning to fly at the second airport site at Turkey Creek. Graham later was a state representative and speaker of the House in the Missouri Legislature.
Randolph was quoted as saying the airport was plowed up for parts of 1942-43.
In 1943, other Missouri cities had obtained war plants causing the chamber to smart it had not. R.R. Nacy and Richard Schell traveled to Washington, D.C., after learning it was necessary to contact a manufacturer's representative and a public relations expert. They met with John Monroe, aka Monroe Kaplan, at Monroe's R Street house. They were told for $30,000 they could get a rubber plant, for $15,000 a radio manufacturing plant, and $12,000 for an airport. A suspicious Nacy refused and turned it over to the Sens. Truman and Bennett "Champ"Clark, who reported it to the FBI.
In 1943, there was a lot of interest in a new airport. Three sites were considered — New Bloomfield/Holts Summit, the intersection of U.S. 54 and Missouri 17, and the present site. The 54/17 site could have served Jefferson City and the Lake of the Ozarks. If the Holts Summit site in the Cedar Creek bridge area had been chosen, then there might have not been a need for the regional airport.
During this time, Ray Brummit became the airport operator in 1943 and manager in 1945.
A bond issue was passed in July 1944 for $185,000 for the current airport. The city was criticized for the delay, waiting for federal money to build the new airport. When Winston Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech in 1946 in Fulton, he could not land in Jefferson City, Fulton or Columbia. The city was vindicated in 1947, when the Civil Aeronautics Administration awarded a grant for $125,000.
Construction on the current airport began in October 1947 and was completed in 1948, consisting of one paved runway (2,500 feet by 75 feet) and two grass runways (3,200 feet and 2,600 feet long).
Four years after the 1944 bond issue, Jefferson City had an airport with a hard surface runway.
Terry Rackers worked at the Jefferson City airport from 1960-2000. He was co-owner and president of Jefferson City Flying Service from 1974-2000. From 1977-2017, he was co-owner and president of Central Missouri Aviation in Columbia Missouri. He flew all over the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe.