Sunday, January 29, 2012

Aviation first introduced in Cleveland in 1911. Hardwick Field Airport (KHDI), Cleveland, Tennessee.

Although Cleveland’s Hardwick Field was constructed in the late 1940s and used as a training site through the early 1950s, aviation was first introduced to the community more than 30 years earlier.

A Curtiss biplane, a Wright Brothers-like aircraft, was the first airplane to ever visit in Cleveland and Bradley County.

Aviator Charles K. Hamilton, and a team of mechanics, brought the flying machine to Cleveland on Thursday, Oct. 5, 1911.

The historic visit was realized through the efforts of the Cleveland Commercial Club, an early organization like today’s Chamber of Commerce. It was said the cost of the appearance was “hundreds of dollars.”

Cleveland’s Journal and Banner newspaper had exclusive coverage of the aerial celebration.

Hamilton became well known at an early age as an aerial daredevil. The son of a Connecticut merchant, he became interested in hot-air ballooning as a teenager. He then did parachute jumping with a circus and at fairs and then piloted dirigibles.

With the success of Wilbur and Orville Wright in Dayton, Ohio, powered flight became a reality in 1908 and it was a natural step for Hamilton to jump into airplanes.

Hamilton learned to fly biplanes under Glenn H. Curtiss and within six months was performing in daring exhibitions across the United States.

Perhaps the best known American pilot in those early years, Hamilton’s 1911 exhibition in Cleveland came within the first two years of his flying career.

Hamilton displayed the dangers of flying in those early years, crashing his “Hamiltonian” biplane numerous times. His team of mechanics not only got the biplane ready to fly, they also had to put it back together several times.

The plane was powered by an eight-cylinder, 110-hp motorcar (Christie) engine that Hamilton said was “too hot to handle.”

Although Hamilton had three successful flights in Cleveland, his career came to an abrupt end three years later, but not from a crash.

His life was cut short at the age of 28 when his lung hemorrhaged after a battle with tuberculosis. It is reported that a group of his aviator friends flew over his grave site and dropped flowers in tribute, just three years after he introduced the citizens of Cleveland to powered flight.

The Journal and Banner reported more than 6,000 residents from the area turned out for Hamilton’s 1911 demonstration here.

Each of Hamilton’s three flights around the area lasted about 12 minutes.

The infatuation with powered flight continued in Cleveland after Hamilton’s visit.

After the appearance of the biplane, it is reported t hat several U.S. government mail planes made stops in subsequent years.

In 1920, 40 acres of the Frank Johnston farm served as a local flying field for the community. The facility was described as was one of the largest and best-suited flying fields in the South.

In recognition that the air age had arrived in Cleveland, the name of the town was painted in 6-foot letters on the roof of the G.T. Hall Building at the corner of Inman and Church streets.

City officials said the sign was “so aerial flyers would know what burg they were approaching.”

It was noted Cleveland was one of the first communities in the South on air maps for a new era.

Then, in 1945, the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce Airport Committee cleared the way for construction of “The Cleveland Memorial Airport.”

Committee members included Claude de Barios, W.W. Jacobs, S.B. Rymer Jr. and Harry L. Dethero. The site for the proposed airport was three miles east of Cleveland on land formerly owned by John Kirkpatrick.

The Tennessee Bureau of Aeronautics then approved the specifics for the Castings Airport (now Hardwick Field), which was constructed by World War II veteran George Castings Jr. Castings flew P-47s in the war.

The city committee had agreed to the construction process with the proviso state aid would be available. Tennessee Gov. Gordon Browning came to Cleveland and met with the committee on the proposed airport.

During this meeting, it was proposed Tennessee Air National Guard planes would be stationed here.

Following Castings’ construction of the airfield for training purposes and utilization through the early years of the 1950s, the city of Cleveland purchased the facility and its 2,000-foot runway in the late 1950s. The runway was later paved and extended to 3,300 feet.

This was the birth of Hardwick Field, an era which will end with the opening of the new Cleveland Regional Jetport.

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