Digging through newspaper archives with Debi DeSilver, Managing Editor
After interviewing Airport Director Barbara McNally for a profile article in the Aug. 5 issue of the Southwest Ledger, I became interested in the history of the Lawton-Fort Sill Airport.
Digging through newspaper archives online turned up an interesting column named “Lawton Aloft,” which was printed in The Lawton Constitution and Morning Press back in 1954. It was written by Weyman S. Carver and was usually found tucked in the back sections of the newspaper.
Apparently, Mr. Carver was stationed at Fort Sill and was an air industry enthusiast. His columns ran roughly from March through June of 1954 and included about 16 columns before he was transferred to San Marcos, Texas, for helicopter training.
He was enthusiastic about the Lawton Airport and Post Field and tucked little gems and nuggets of information, which we now consider history all through his short-lived column. Carver wrote that the Lawton airport opened on Labor Day of 1950 and is “one of the most modernistic municipal airports of any city its size in the United States.
“The million-dollar airport with its concrete runway, administration building, two large hangers, and 12 individual aircraft hangars is the result of a dream of a group of air-minded Lawton citizens in 1929.” The year 1929 wasn’t too far removed from the historic Dec. 17, 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first powered airplane flight from Kitty Hawk, N.C. The Wright Brothers had invented the first successful airplane.
In one of Carver’s first “Lawton Aloft” columns published in March of 1954, he captured a word portrait of a grass runway on South Sixth Street before the current location of the airport was acquired. “In that year  the city purchased 120 acres of land on S. Sixth and constructed an 80 x 120-foot hangar on it.
There were no paved runways, just grass strips for the planes to take off from and land on. There were less than a half dozen aircraft on it but it was a beginning. The field was first leased by Joe Reid and later by Duane Huscher who operated it through WWII. During W WII, hundreds of students were taught to fly at the airport under the Civil Pilot Training program,” he wrote.
One aspect of Carver’s columns I enjoyed is that he did a lot of name dropping, painting faces in his portrait of early-day aviation in Lawton. He talked about Bobby Johnson of Lawton, who he said was perhaps the most famous student to receive training at the airport. He was taught to fly by Klaas King who came to Oklahoma from Nebraska with his parents in 1901 and they settled a few miles to the west of Lawton.
Carver captured this description of early-day Lawton from King:
“At that time,” King said, “Lawton was a tent city. There were no roads and when you wanted to go someplace, you just took off across the prairie. As far as you could see, the plains were covered with buffalo grass.”
Back to the most famous student Bobby Johnson, Carver wrote that Bobby, trained in Lawton to fly, became the first pilot during WWII to equal the world-famous American fighter ace Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s record.
Actually, one of the most mentioned names in the “Lawton Aloft” column was that of Joe Reid, who was an instructor and took King on his first flight in 1929. Reid did most of his work as an instructor during WWII in the Civil Pilot Training Program in Lawton at the municipal airport and was continuously associated with aviation in Lawton. Another name-dropped in the column was one of the first airport managers, Duane Huscher, who also owned an air charter service.
In 1954, Duane said, “Aviation, in general, has made a lot of progress in the last 25 years. It has emerged from the barnstorming days of the late twenties and early thirties to the stable business of furnishing fast, safe transportation today.”
Duane also received training from Joe Reid and in 1937 became manager of the Lawton Municipal Airport and obtained the dealership for the Taylorcraft airplane of Oklahoma.
A few other names gleaned from Carver’s columns include Clay Johnson and Ralph P. Swaby. In 1944, the City of Lawton voted a $595,000 bond issue for building of a new municipal airport instead to expand from the first grass runway in 1929. The federal government matched the amount.
This made the package “a total of over one million dollars and acquisition of the land for the airport began in 1945. Actual construction of the airport began in 1946 and was completed four years later in 1950.” Carver reported that Continental Airlines made its first flight from the airport on July 16, 1950, although the airport didn’t officially open until September of that year.
By May of 1954, “Lawtonians are only two nights and a day from London, England, according to airline schedules at the Lawton Municipal Airport,” Carver wrote. Two airlines, Continental and Central “have literally brought the world to Lawton’s doorstep.”