Early Pilots in Aviation
When you think back to the earliest pilots in aviation, your mind quickly goes to two names. Orville and Wilbur Wright. And rightfully (no pun intended) so. 117 years ago, the two brothers piloted the first airplane near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. And thus, North Carolina got the title of “First in Flight.”
West Virginia also has a seat at the table when it comes to the early pilots in aviation. The mountain state is home to a pioneer in aviation. Paul Peck was a world record holder, the first pilot to transport U.S. Mail, and one of the first U.S. Military aviation instructors. And he was also from West Virginia.
Who was Paul Peck?
Born in 1889 in Ansted, West Virginia, Peck grew up in Hinton. As a kid, Peck took an interest in cars and liked to work on their motors. His love of machinery, specifically engines, led him to the skies.
In 1911, just seven years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Peck took his first flight lesson at 22-years-old. He would go on to learn how to fly in just seven days and became the 57th pilot to be licensed by the International Aeronautics Federation. Peck is often thought of as the first pilot in West Virginia.
Two weeks after earning his pilot’s license, Peck set a world speed record in Washington, DC covering 24 miles in 25 minutes. Peck would go on to do many other firsts as a pilot.
- The first pilot to carry U.S. Mail via airplane
- The first pilot to fly over the U.S. Capitol (set the speed record)
- Set an endurance record in Boston, flying for four hours, 23 minutes, and 15 seconds
- One of three officers chosen by the War Department to learn to fly under Glenn H. Curtiss
- An instructor at the nation’s first military aviation school
Peck was well known in his day for being able to fly extremely well in stormy weather, once setting a world record during a hailstorm. However, a storm ultimately led to his death.
Peck’s Final Flight
Peck’s final flight was in 1912, just one year after becoming a pilot. Peck was representing the United States in the International Gordon Bennett Trophy Race in Chicago. On a windy and stormy evening before the race, Peck took off on what would be his final flight. During his ascent, the motor on Peck’s plane came loose. His plane went into a steep and rapid descent and Peck was unable to pull up before the plane hit the ground. He was 23 years old when he died.
Why then, with all of these accomplishments, is Peck’s name not up there with the Wright Brothers, Lindbergh, and other early pilots in aviation? Good question. Peck died only one year after he started flying. You could argue that he did not fly long enough to achieve name recognition. However, you could also argue that given all of the accomplishments listed above were all done in less than a year, Peck’s name should be much more widely known. Especially in his home state of West Virginia.
And for what it is worth. In 1923, 12 years after Paul Peck passed away, a man by the name of Charles Yeager was born in Myra, West Virginia. So, I would say the mountain state definitely has a seat at the table when it comes to pioneering modern aviation.
We often tell kids to dream big, they can do anything they set their mind to. The truth is, no matter how old we are, we should always dream big. And that is what we do at Yeager Airport.
Having the military use CRW as a hub, while they train at old coal mine sites in West Virginia, was once a pipe dream. The same for the Marshall University Flight School and the United States Customs Building. At one point, all of these things were just an idea, a dream, but are a reality now at Yeager Airport.
All of these projects at CRW are being done with one goal in mind, make Yeager Airport the most important economic engine for West Virginia. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the construction projects going on around CRW.
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School Construction at Yeager Airport
The groundbreaking for the Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School was on August 13th, 2020. Since then, construction has been fast and furious. Work on the classroom building and hangar have stayed ahead of schedule for most of the project.
Classroom Building- The entire frame of the school is up, the roof is on, and the siding for the building is starting to go on. Work on the inside of the building is making great progress too. Framing is done, and sheetrock is going up.
The Hangar- The hangar is also up, and siding is up, and the roof is on. Work is being done on the inside of the building now. The hangar is just to the left of the classroom building.
The first group of students is set to start in August this year. Both the classroom and hangar will be ready to go by then. These future pilots are going to have a state-of-the-art building for their education and training.
United States Customs and Border Patrol Building Project
Yeager Airport is home to the only Unite States Port of Entry in West Virginia. We have had a CBP agent for several years but never a dedicated building for him. He did his work either on the plane or at Capital Jet Center.
Getting a designated space for CBP has been on the radar at CRW for a few years. Construction started earlier this year and should be finished by the end of 2021. Footers have already been poured, and walls are already starting to go up. The building has to be built United States CBP specifications. When the building is finished, CRW will be on the map for international travelers looking to clear customs before heading to their final destination.
Yeager Airport Taxiway B Project
Two different projects happening on taxiway B. The first is a drainage project. This project is going to divert water away from taxiway B. This is a smaller but important project. Keeping the taxiways and runway as clear and dry as possible is important.
The next project on taxiway B is to give airplanes easier access to Capital Jet Center. As our general aviation customer base continues to grow and will get even bigger when the customs building opens, we thought this project necessary.
Planes leaving Capital Jet Center now taxi on Bravo before jumping over to Charlie. After this construction is finished, planes will be able to have access to taxiway C, which is the old Runway 15/33, directly from Capital Jet Center. This will make for an easier route to and from Runway 5/23.
Exciting Projects at Yeager Airport
More construction is coming. Some plans were paused because of COVID-19, but the projects have not gone away. As passenger numbers start to return to normal, more projects are going to be placed back online. This new construction is going to give CRW a fresh look and feel. It will give passengers an exciting travel experience. It will make some once far-fetched dreams become reality.
2019 was a year for the ages at Yeager Airport. We had almost 500,000 passengers come through CRW. That was a five percent increase from 2018 and an 11 percent increase from 2017. We went into 2020 with a full head of steam, ready to tackle some major projects around the airport. Then everything changed in March of 2020.
Businesses shut down, finding a can of Lysol wipes meant you won the lottery, and the traveling came to a halt. What started as a two-week quarantine went on for months. The airport felt like a ghost town, and it seemed like there was no end in sight.
On The Road To Recovery
Fast forward to today, and we are on the road to recovery. Masks are commonplace, social distancing is the new norm, and the vaccines are continuing to roll out across the country. The travel industry is making a comeback.
West Virginians do not give up, and neither does Yeager Airport. Even with passenger numbers down near single digits in 2020, we moved forward with many different construction and improvement projects. Working with our forward thinking board of members, we decided the airport would not need to play catch-up when passengers came back.
Yeager Airport Projects
Marshall University Bill Noe Flight School. If you have been to the airport viewing area recently, you can see just how fast this building is going up. Both the school building and hangar are on schedule to be ready for students in August 2021. Before the pandemic, there was already a pilot shortage, and with travel ramping back up over the next several years, the demand for pilots is only going to grow. I am excited that Yeager Airport, partnering with Marshall University, will be putting pilots into the air travel continue to rise.
Post-Security Restaurant. Our post-security gift shop and restaurant, The Junction, got a much-needed facelift in 2020. It now looks like something you would see in a hub airport. We are extremely proud of the experience we can now offer passengers while waiting for their flights.
Planning for the future. With the addition of the flight school, an increase in military presence at CRW, and traveling numbers bouncing back, we are designing future projects. In the next couple of years, we plan on remodeling the restrooms in the main terminal, replacing the public address system and signage, and replace a passenger boarding bridge. We are also planning more aircraft parking aprons and hangars.
Customs Building. The ground has been broken, and footers have been poured for the United States Customs and Border Protection Facility. Once this facility is built, it will allow international general aviation passengers to stop at Yeager Airport to clear customs before proceeding to their final destination. This will be another great way to diversify revenue streams at CRW.
There are several projects in the pipeline at CRW, including bathroom renovations and upgrading the pre-security restaurant and checkpoint area.
Changing The Way We Clean
The pandemic also provided us an opportunity to look at how we clean the airport. Our goal was always to provide the cleanest facilities possible for our passengers, and I believe we did that pre-pandemic. However, we have now gone a step further. All of the air ducts at the airport have been professionally cleaned, all of the air conditioning vents have been replaced, and UV-C lights were placed in vents to help clean and filter the air.
Our cleaning staff, who have been tremendous during COVID-19, put together a schedule to ensure high touch point areas were being cleaned at least four times a day. In some cases, like the TSA Checkpoint, we had cleaning personnel dedicated to only cleaning that area.
2020 was a rough year for everyone. April 15th, 2020, 15 people flew out of Yeager Airport. 15 passengers was a tough pill to swallow. But our confidence and dedicated team of employees never wavered. We weathered the storm, and now I believe we have come through the other side. We are not back to pre-pandemic numbers. That will take some time, but we are on the right track. West Virginians don’t quit, and neither does Yeager Airport.