McGhee Tyson Airport celebrates 75 years
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
It has been 75 years since the first commercial flight flew out of McGhee Tyson Airport.
Airport officials, along with many elected officials, wanted the public to know how much the airport means to East Tennessee, as the airport celebrated the 75th anniversary of that first flight with a special ceremony Sunday in the main terminal.
The ceremony was part of the airport’s Living History Day, which also featured six living wax displays in the airport’s baggage claim area, and a brief dedication ceremony of a time capsule.
The time capsule contained plastic bags filled with regulation 3-ounce plastic bottles, a BlackBerry, luggage tags, sample boarding pass, a “flash mob” DVD, a mini-rocking chair and plaques and other contributions from various departments. The capsule will be opened during the airport’s 100th anniversary in 2037.
Named for pilot
The airport is named for Navy pilot Charles McGhee Tyson, who was killed during World War I. It opened in 1927 as Knoxville Municipal Airport (eventually named in honor of McGhee Tyson) on a 59-acre stretch of land on Sutherland Avenue in West Knoxville.
In the mid-1930s, the city purchased acreage in Blount County for development of the current airport. The land was being purchased for the development of a facility that would be used for air carrier traffic. Its first flight took off on July 29, 1937. The airport now has two parallel 9,000-foot runways and sits on 2,000 acres.
The airport handles an average of 120 departures and arrivals per day, with about 4,000 passenger seats available. It has constantly made improvements over several decades since the first terminal was built, including a new air traffic control tower, two new concourses, 12 new gates and new restaurants and food courts.
“This airport has had a tremendous impact on our community,” said Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. “We have over 2,500 employees here and their families. There are 2 million passengers each year that spend time with us and invest in business in the region. We provide safe, accessible aircraft to millions of people.
“Through the years, we’ve had $600 million in economic impact in the community. But we go further than that,” Marrison continued. “We have people come through here that are coming home with adopted children. We have marriage proposals that occur here. Soldiers have returned from war — we just had a soldier return home, and his entire family and his extended family were here. He must have had 20 people here to greet him. That’s so moving and so important to our community. The airport plays an important role in your life, otherwise you would not have been here today.”
Howard Vogel, chairman of the MKAA’s Board of Commissioners, said the original location in West Knoxville was “not big enough to hold the enterprise of the airport that Knoxville and this area needed. It wasn’t long before they looked elsewhere and wound up here.
“We had to come to Blount County in 1937, and the city of Knoxville, along with Blount County, contributed money to what you see here,” Vogel added.
Eddie Mannis, chief operating officer and deputy to Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, represented her during the ceremony because she was out of town.
“This may be the first 75h anniversary I’ve had the privilege to attend,” Mannis said. “Mayor Rogero, whose photo greets people when they arrive, certainly promotes investment in job creation and job retention. The airport is essential because it recruits business, and this airport also makes the region accessible to tourists who come here and spend their dollars, pumping money into the local economy. Her administration supports a strong and viable airport.”
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett was in attendance and also expressed his congratulations on the airport’s anniversary.
“I hope in the future I will be here for the 100th anniversary,” he said.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. said he has taken flights to and from airports all over the nation, and proclaimed McGhee Tyson as the cleanest airport in the country.
“I am really proud of that,” he said. “You can’t have a progressive community without a good airport. People come here from all over the world. We are blessed beyond all our comprehension. Many members of Congress have come through here and they say how beautiful an airport this is.”
The living wax displays, portrayed by members of the Foothills Community Players and a drama student from the University of Tennessee, were presented to honor those who were instrumental in the development of the airport, including:
• McGhee Tyson, for whom the airport is named;
• Col. Harry S. Berry, Tennessee Commissioner of Highways in 1928 who secured the funding to create the airport;
• Walter Self, one of the earliest pioneers of aviation in Knoxville;
• Ferris and Ruth Thomas — Ferris Thomas worked at Downtown Island Airport and joined the Ferry Command as a civilian pilot, and Ruth Thomas chartered the “99s,” a nationwide organization for female pilots founded by Amelia Earhart. She also became the first female traffic controller in America;
• Tom Kesterson, one of the founding members of the Knoxville Aero Corp.;
• Evelyn “Mama Bird” Johnson, who holds the Guinness World Record for logging more flight hours than any other female pilot.