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Louisville Aviation

Bowman Field historical photo

November marks the anniversary of man’s first flight, and to commemorate the occasion we look at some of Louisville’s aviation highlights.

The first flight of an “aeroplane” in Kentucky was sponsored by The Louisville Times. The flight was held at the Churchill Downs infield, June 18-19, 1910.

Bowman Field, the city’s first airfield, opened in 1920. It was dedicated three years later, and commercial service began in 1928.

Bowman Field historical photo Bowman is the longest continuously operating general aviation airport in the United States and was the busiest airport in the country during World War II.

Following his historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, famous flyer Charles Lindbergh landed in Louisville during a U.S. tour. On August 8th, 1927, Bowman Field welcomed the pilot with much fanfare. His visit included riding in a parade from the airport to downtown, and some locals still have fond memories of the event.

The Louisville Historical League has recorded that Amelia Earhart, regarded as the greatest American woman pilot of the 1930s, spoke at Memorial Auditorium on Valentine’s Day 1935. This was only one month after she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean … and just two short years before she disappeared in an attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world.

In the 40s, passenger service moved from Bowman to the city’s new airfield - Standiford Field, which is now Louisville International Airport.

Bowman Field Administration Building in 2008 Today Bowman serves as the city’s primary general-aviation airfield and reliever airport for Louisville International. It is operated by the Louisville Regional Airport Authority.

More quick facts:

  • In November 1782, the invention of the hot air balloon launched the history of aviation. The invention resulted from the experiments of Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier.
  • According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, the first actual flight in Louisville took place on July 31, 1837 … in a gas balloon named Star of the West.
  • The founders of Bowman Field were businessman Abram H. Bowman (1875-1943) and pilot Robert H. Gast (1896-1934). Gast, the aviator credited as being the first to pilot a plane from the site, left Louisville early in their partnership. He was killed when his airplane went down in the South China Sea on a routine mission.
  • Bowman’s second partner was Louisvillian W. Sidney Park. The Bowman-Park Aero Company was one of the first firms to specialize in aerial photography.
  • The National Park Service states that Abram H. Bowman never learned to fly.
  • The Aero Club of Kentucky (now the Aero Club of Louisville), formed in 1923, helped manage Bowman Field in its early days. The club was formed to serve non-military aviation in Louisville. The club is still in existence and is nonprofit.
  • Louisville Mayor Huston Quinn was a founding member of the Aero Club. There were 18 charter members.
  • The Aero Club of Louisville aviation club was honored with a historical marker in July 2008. The marker is located at Gast Boulevard and Dutchman’s Lane.
  • The Louisville and Jefferson County Air Board was established in 1928. According to Bowman Field, Kentucky was the first state to enact legislation for the creation of airport authorities.
  • Much of the Bowman Field’s Art Deco Administration Building (1929) was done as a WPA project. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, along with the Curtiss Flying Service Hangar and the Army Air Corps Hangar. These buildings make up the Bowman Field Historic District. According to The Encyclopedia of Louisville, they were the first group of airport buildings to be thus recognized.
  • Lindbergh’s three month Guggenheim Tour (July 20 – October 23, 1927) which brought him to Louisville, included 48 states and 92 cities. It consumed over 260 hours of flight time and covered 22,000 miles. During this time Lindbergh gave 147 speeches and rode 1,290 miles in parades.
  • According to the National Park Service, 10,000 spectators turned out for Lindbergh’s Louisville landing.
  • Airplane watching at Bowman Field was a popular and inexpensive recreation duing the Great Depression.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Bowman Field U.S. Army Air Force’s School of Air Evaluation in 1943.
  • Standiford Field opened for passenger service in Louisville on November 15, 1947. The site was found during an aerial survey in the wake of the Great 1937 flood. Because the land had been unaffected it was consideration for a future airport.
  • United Parcel Service (UPS) began overnight-delivery service from Standiford Field in 1981.
  • Another aviation highlight was achieved in 2002, with the opening of the $1.1 billion dollar UPS ‘Worldport” sorting center.

Click here for more fast facts about Bowman Field.

Program 307
Louisville native William Mapother, star of screen and stage; behind-the-scenes at Actors Theatre of Louisville's props department; details on a whole new ball game for the UofL Lady Cards; Louisville aviation highlights. (#307)