11/14/2017

Time Machine Tuesday: Colorado Aviation

A jet crosses the runway over I-70 at Stapleton International Airport in 1969.  Photo courtesy History Colorado.
In honor of National Aviation History Month, this week's post takes a look at the state of aviation in Colorado fifty years ago.  In 1968, the Colorado House of Representatives appointed a committee to look at the growth, challenges, and future of air travel in Colorado.  You can read the committee's report online from our library.

The report discusses the planning and legislation needed to address the growing industry.  At the time of this report, aviation technology was rapidly expanding.  Many airports, including Denver's Stapleton, were constructed in the early days of flight.  But after WWII, air travel "took off" as technologies were expanded.  For the first time in 1959, a jumbo jet flew out of Stapleton Airport, a facility that had been designed for much smaller aircraft.  Smaller airports around the state were also being pushed to capacity as air travel in all forms became more widespread.  Safety had also become more of a concern, as the Denver metro area had experienced two major crashes in the 1950s.  In 1951, a B-29 bomber taking off from Lowry Air Force Base crashed into Denver's Hilltop Neighborhood; and in 1955, Mainliner flight 629 exploded over Longmont, the result of a bomb planted in a passenger's suitcase, killing 44.  It was the United States' first incidence of air sabotage and still ranks as the state's largest mass-murder.

So the need for space, safety, and adaptation to new technology led to the House committee's formation in 1968.  The committee suggested that the overcrowding at Stapleton be addressed by the construction of "new reliever (secondary) airports in Colorado Springs, Pueblo, and Denver." Stapleton would push on for another twenty-five years, but finally the expansion of air travel - including the addition of more international flights - as well as increased noise over Denver residential areas led to the construction of Denver International Airport. 

Other ideas put forth in the 1968 report included state aid for community airports; development of air commuter services; an expanded safety program, including "the widespread use of navigational aids throughout the State;" and using air travel improvements to attract tourists to Colorado, especially skiers.  The committee recommended "exploiting all of Colorado's natural resources through the media of air transport. Such potentials as the skiing industry should be fully supported by both communities and the State."  Was this initiative successful?  Ten years after the report, the University of Colorado published The Airline Skier, 1977-78 Season: A Comparison of the Skiers Traveling by Commercial Air in Five Skier Studies Conducted at Aspen, Vail, Steamboat, Winter Park, and Copper Mountain.  This report is also available digitally from our library.  For other resources on the history of aviation in Colorado, search our library's online catalog.   


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