Local Aviation History
In 1921, a small flying field opened on Sixth Street at the edge of town, beginning nearly 100 years of service to Monmouth and the surrounding communities. It now has the distinction of being the oldest continually operated airport in Illinois.
The airport was founded by an adventurous group of aviators known as the Aero Club, most of whose officers were not pilots. Their financial support came from the Curtiss-Iowa Aircraft Corp. of Fort Dodge, Iowa. The airport started with a small fleet of aircraft: A Curtiss jenny, two Curtiss Orioles and a Brequet.
To raise money, the airport held an air meet from June 15 to 17, 1922. More than ten thousand people attended, including the mayor, who was an avid aviation enthusiast. One of the famous types of planes there was the Fokker, made infamous by the Red Baron in World War 1.
In October 1922, the Curtiss-Iowa company disbanded. Shortly afterward, on November 1, the Aero Club reformed as the Mid-West Airways Corp. It was headed by I.F. Dains, the president of the Western Stoneware company. To help fund the new company, Mid-West started offering airplane rides at the price of one dollar per person.
When the new company took over, several people left the airport to travel abroad, including Harry G. Stine, who later became chief aviation advisor for Chiang Kai Shek.
In 1931, the Goodyear Blimp made a stop at the airport. It was the largest flying vehicle to ever land at the airport. Later that year, Mid-West Airways was disbanded. On August 11, 1932, I.F. Dains, who was considered the father of aviation in Monmouth, died of a heart attack in Dallas at age 56.
Women also played a part in the history of the airport. In 1930, Esther Ray was the first female pilot to earn her license in Monmouth. Esther Edwards was involved in an amazing accident. While on final approach, the plane's engine stopped. Keeping a cool head, she set the plane down on a narrow road in the cemetery. The landing gear struck the former police chief's headstone, tearing the left wheel from the plane. She climbed out, shaken but unhurt.
In 1967, the mayor and city council authorized the lengthening of the runway to its modern dimensions, which are now 2,900 feet long and 60 feet wide. Ten years later, on January 26, a fire broke out in the office. The fire was quickly extinguished, but the office, hangar, two aircraft, student logs and veterans records were destroyed. The origin of the fire was never determined.
Nine years later, airport manager Cleo Sahl died in St. Francis hospital; he had taken off too steeply, and his plane stalled. It crashed into the ground at the end of the runway.