Woonsocket Airport – R.I.

Woonsocket Airport – Rhode Island

     1920s-plane-in-cloudsThere doesn’t seem to be a lot of documentation about the former Woonsocket Airport that was once located on the north side of Diamond Hill Road in the northern part of the City of Woonsocket.   Today a large shopping plaza occupies the land where the airport once stood.

     Based on a sole article found in the Woonsocket Call, it is surmised that construction of the airport was begun in 1929, or early 1930. 

     The airport was reportedly sponsored by the Woonsocket Chamber of Commerce, and was still under ongoing development as of April of 1930.  The airport was operated by the newly formed Woonsocket Airways, the city’s first aviation company, which owned at least one airplane.  As of the end of April plans were underway to build a hangar large enough to house two or three airplanes.

     The Superintendent of Operations for Woonsocket Airways was George H. Mitchell, who was supervising the ongoing improvements at the airfield.

     The land occupied by the airport was owned by William L. Whipple, 77, a farmer who owned several hundred acres of land in north-eastern Woonsocket.  Mr. Whipple had been an aviation enthusiast for many years, and on April 27, 1930, went to the airport and took his first airplane ride.  When it was over he remarked, “That’s something to talk about when I get old.”

     Source:

     Woonsocket Call, “77-Year-Old Man Enjoys Plane Ride”, April 28, 1930

Rhode Island Airport Locations – 1932

Rhode Island Airport Locations – 1932

     Below is a list of active airports in the state of Rhode Island in 1932, according to a state highway map issued by the state.   All but two of them are now defunct.  Those still in use are #5, Rhode Island State Airport, (Today known as T. F. Green Airport), and #9, Newport Airport, in Middletown, R.I.  

     #4 was called the Providence Airport, but it was actually located in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

     Absent from this list is the Smithfield Airport, which was located on property now occupied by Bryant University, and RICON Airport, located in Coventry, Rhode Island, near the Connecticut boarder.  (RICON Airport is still in use.)      

Click on images to enlarge.   

Once the image is brought up, click on it again to supersize it.    

 

ri-hwy-map-1932

The original hangar at the Smithfield R.I. Airport which opened in 1932.  Bryant University now occupies this land.

The original hangar at the Smithfield R.I. Airport which opened in 1932. Bryant University now occupies this land.

RICON Airport original Hangar, Coventry, Rhode Island

RICON Airport original Hangar, Coventry, Rhode Island

1930 Map Of The Providence Airport in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

1930 Map Of The Providence Airport in Seekonk, Massachusetts.

Vintage Hillsgrove Airport Postcard. Today known as T.F. Green State Airport - Warwick, R.I.

Vintage Hillsgrove Airport Postcard.
Today known as T.F. Green State Airport – Warwick, R.I.

 

 

What Cheer Airport – Pawtucket, R.I.

What Cheer Airport – Pawtucket, Rhode Island

 

airplane     What Cheer Airport was one of Rhode Island’s early airfields that was in operation from the mid 1920s to 1934.  It began as a small grass airfield located on a few acres of land between Manton Street, Newport Avenue, and Beverage Hill Avenue in Pawtucket, close to the East Providence city line, but it eventually grew to encompass over 300 acres and extended into East Providence as far south as Ferris Avenue.  

     The name “What Cheer” comes from the legendary greeting of “What Cheer, netop?” which the Narragansett Indians are said to have given Roger Williams, (Rhode Island’s founder), upon his arrival in 1636 at what would become Providence.  (“Netop” is the Narragansett word for friend.) The words “What Cheer” are also found on the Providence city seal.

   The land on which the airfield sat was owned by Nicholas Bertozzi, and was initially used by the Curtis Flying Service. On May 21, 1928, Bertozzi, along with Leo J. Leeburn, and Attorney Raymond J. McMahon, were granted a charter by Secretary of State Ernest L. Sprague to incorporate What Cheer Airways. The corporation began with $10,000 in preferred stock, and 500 shares of common stock. The Charter enabled What Cheer Airways expand the airfield and establish passenger flights, as well as institute a flight school and airplane dealership. The planned expansion would grow to encompass 85 acres, and would include the erection of six airplane hangers, and the construction of two runways, one about 2,150 feet long, and the other about 2,500 feet long.

     On September 15, 1928, veteran pilot and instructor Douglas Harris took over as chief pilot and instructor for the company. Interestingly, Harris bore a remarkable resemblance to national hero Charles Lindbergh. In fact, Harris and Lindbergh were born on the same day, and Harris owned a Curtis Jenny that had once belonged to Lindbergh.  

     By the late 1920s the state legislature had decided that there should be a state owned airport for Rhode Island. If it came to pass, it would be the first state owned airport in the United States. This airport, wherever it might be located, would become the state’s primary airport regarding passenger service and commerce.      

     At the time there were about ten or so airports in Rhode Island, some more established than others, and each vied for consideration. In today’s world, with modern (and noisy) jet traffic, proposing to put a major airport in any community would likely meet with resistance, but this was an era before jets, when the occasional drone of an aircraft propeller was cause for one to look skyward and think of Charles Lindbergh. As such, the City of Pawtucket was anxious to have the state decide in its favor for What Cheer Airport, and formed an aviation committee within the Pawtucket Chamber of Commerce.

     To help gain attention, in October of 1938, What Cheer Airport hosted what was advertised as Rhode Island’s “first military air meet”, and “the most spectacular military air meet in New England’s history”. Pilots of the Rhode Island National Guard, as well as military flyers from New York, Boston, Hartford, and Virginia, arrived in various types of aircraft. One plane of particular interest was a Fairchild Monoplane which had wings that could fold “like a bird” to make it easier to store in a hangar. A total of 40 military planes were in attendance.

     However, many civilian aircraft were also in attendance, one being a large, 14 passenger all-metal, Ford tri-motor, with a wing span of 78 feet, valued at $65,000.    

     One civilian of note was famous pioneer aviator Harry M. Jones, who arrived from Mane in his Stinson-Detroiter.      

     Special features of the air meet included air races and stunt flying, parachute jumps, and a mock air battles.

     It was during this air meet that What Cheer Airport was officially dedicated by Governor Chase on Oct. 14, 1928. As part of the ceremony, the Governor released a number of “Good Luck” balloons, one of which had a small horseshoe attached. The finder would be entitled to a free plane ride.  

   The event was highly successful, attracting 50,000 people and 15,000 automobiles to the area, which reportedly created the worst traffic jams in the city’s history.

     By the spring of 1929, the state was getting close to making a decision as to where the state’s airport should be located, and in May the Pawtucket Chamber of Commerce released a report extolling the virtues for choosing What Cheer. Among the positives stated were:  

     1) What Cheer’s convenient location to the Providence metropolitan area and the “bulk of the population of Rhode Island”.

     2) The great number of people who already frequent the airport.

     3) The field now consisted of 292 acres, most of which was level and needed little or no grading.

     4) The area had a great deal of skilled labor, including tradesmen capable of working in construction as well as the growing aircraft industry.

     5) The airport already had nearby rail facilities for handling freight and passengers.

     6) The soil had excellent drainage. (Something other potential sites did not.)

     7) There were no wire hazards – meaning that there were no telephone poles to obstruct takeoffs and landings.

     8) The airport was in proximity to golf courses, farm land, and Slater Memorial Park, any of which could serve as emergency landing fields.

     9) The airport was only 5.2 miles from the Providence Post Office in downtown Providence, about 13 minutes away.

     10) The airport would be easily accessible for those living in the Blackstone Valley region.

     11) The field already possessed a six-plane hangar and administration building.

     12) The airport was serviced by nearby trolley lines.

     13) There was still open land around the airport which would allow for future expansion.

     Unfortunately for Pawtucket, the state chose Hillsgrove Airfield in Warwick, which is today the state’s primary airport known as T. F. Green. Hillsgrove Airport was dedicated on July 2, 1929, and a $300,000 bond issue was passed for construction to begin.

     Despite not being selected by the state, there were those who held out hope that What Cheer might at least compete with Hillsgrove for on August 9 it was announced in that What Cheer Airport had gained another 27 acres, bringing the total land area to 319 acres. The acquisition, it was reported, would now allow for “landings and take-offs from any part of the field and in any kind of flying weather.”    

     Advocates for What Cheer Airport then proposed a plan where the airport would be municipally owned by the cities of Pawtucket and East Providence, since the airport was now located in both jurisdictions.    

     In April of 1930 another air meet was held at What Cheer featuring stunt flyers and parachute jumpers. The program also promised a first for Rhode Island – an aerial wedding between Miss Mabel P. Denver of Seekonk, Massachusetts, and Charles E. Cherry, of Pawtucket. The nuptials were to be performed aboard a Ford tri-motor aircraft by the town clerk of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, H. E. Hill. Theirs was the first wedding in Rhode Island to take place in an airplane while in flight.    

     On May 4, 1930, it was suddenly announced by the Curtis-Wright Flying Service, the lessee of the field, that they were suspending their operations at What Cheer Airport for an “indefinite” period of time. The specific reasons were not stated.

     Meanwhile, the Pawtucket Chamber of Commerce pursued plans for the field to become municipally owned. Nicholas Bertozzi, the owner of the airport, and President of What Cheer Airways, said he would hold the property open for at least two years to allow the city(s) time to make a purchase. Shortly afterward the airport came under the new management of the Rhode Island Flying Service, the vice president of which was well known New England aviator Joshua Crane, Jr.

   On June 28, 1930, Rhode Island aviation history moved forward when the first glider flight ever made in the state was accomplished at What Cheer Airport. The pilot was Joshua Crane, Jr., and the glider was made by Waco aircraft. It was launched into the air via a 500 foot rope towed by an automobile. Mr. Crane circled the field once at an altitude of 250 feet before landing where he started, and made a second flight a short time later.    

     The following month the Goodyear blimp “Mayflower” visited What Cheer Airport from its regular station at Colonel Edward H. R. Green’s Airport at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The blimp had a seating capacity of four passengers and a pilot, and made numerous trips about the area giving flights to 115 people.   On one flight, airport manager Arthur T. Ormaby was allowed to pilot the ship and commented that it handled smoother than an airplane.  

     It was also in July of 1930 that members of the Providence Glider Club met at the airport to watch Thorsby P. Slack demonstrate a Waco glider. After being towed into a 10 mph breeze Slack rose to an altitude of 600 feet and made a complete circuit of the field lasting two minutes and ten seconds thereby setting what was thought to be a new glider record for Rhode Island.       

     On October 4, 1931, it was announced that Joshua Crane, Jr., now President of Dennison Airport Incorporated, of Quincy, Massachusetts, and some unnamed associates, had taken over operations at What Cheer Airport after acquiring the lease formerly held by the Curtis-Wright Flying Service. The chief pilot for the new enterprise was to be Kurt Langborg, who had also worked as chief pilot for the now defunct Rhode Island Flying Service.  

     In the summer of 1932, the New York Times reported that a farmer living near the airport wanted to take flying lessons, and in lieu of cash offered a milk cow as payment. Airport manager Joshua Crane Jr. accepted the offer, and agreed that that the farmer could have daily flight lessons for six weeks.

     The plan for What Cheer to become a municipally owned airport never came to fruition. However, in August of 1933, the possibility arose that What Cheer Airport might yet be the state’s primary airport. On August 7, Governor Theodore F. Green announced that he was willing to consider a plan submitted by the Pawtucket Businessmen’s Association to make their city the hub of Rhode Island air commerce. Governor Green had just returned from a 6,000 mile trip where he’d visited other airports and determined that all of them were in better condition than Hillsgrove Airport. Furthermore, the projected costs of new runways at Hillsgrove were estimated to be $350,000; an astronomical sum for 1933, especially during the Great Depression. It was reported that half a million dollars had already been spent on Hillsgrove, and the Governor didn’t want to “continue to throw good money after bad.” Yet this proposal put forth by the businessmen failed.        

     History has shown that Hillsgrove remained the state’s primary airport, and as stated earlier in this article, is today known as T.F. Green Airport. The property occupied by What Cheer Airport was sold August 1, 1934, to the Narragansett Racing Association which converted it for horse racing.  

Sources:      

The Pawtucket Times, “Flying School Planned Here; Airways Company Chartered, May 21, 1928

The Providence Journal, “What Cheer Airways Gets State Charter”, May 22, 1928

The Pawtucket Times, “Board Of Review Grants Permanent Permit For Airport, June 4, 1928

The Providence Sunday Journal, “Lindbergh’s Double Pilot In Pawtucket”, September 16, 1928

The Providence Journal, “Hawks Are Coming To National Guard Meet To Be Held At What Cheer Airport In Pawtucket The Coming Week”, October 7, 1928

The Providence Journal, “Air Meet At What Cheer Airport, Pawtucket, Proves A Mecca For Big Saturday Crowd Despite The Rain”, October 14, 1928

The Providence Journal, “Stunting Aircraft Thrill 50,000 At Pawtucket Meet”, October 15, 1928

New York Times, “Pawtucket Dedicates Airport”, October 15, 1928

The Providence Journal, “Pawtucket Urges What Cheer Site”, May 14, 1929

The Providence Journal, “Pawtucket Chamber Presents Arguments For selection Of What Cheer Field As Site For State Airport”, May 16, 1929

The Providence Journal, “Pawtucket Airport Will Be Enlarged”, August 9, 1929

The Providence Journal, “Airport Purchase To Be Considered”, April 6, 1930

The Providence Journal, “Wedding Feature Of Air Meet Today”, April 20, 1930

The Providence Journal, “What Cheer Airport At Pawtucket Is Closed”, May 4, 1930

The Providence Journal, “First R. I. Glider Flight Is Success”, June 29, 1930

The Providence Journal, “Rhode Islanders Investigate Blimp”, July 27, 1930

The Providence Journal, “R.I. Glider Record Set By T. P. Slack”, July 30, 1930

The Providence Journal, “Bay Staters Take Over What Cheer Airport”, October 4, 1931

New York Times, “Rhode Island Farmer Trades Cow For Flying Instruction”, July 26, 1932

The Providence Journal, “Green Ready To Consider What Cheer Airport Plan”, August 8, 1933.  

The Pawtucket Times, “Politics Grounded What Cheer,” August 13, 1991

East Boston Airport – 1922

East Boston Airport – 1922

Boston, Massachusetts

Vintage Post Card View Of East Boston Airport

Vintage Post Card View Of East Boston Airport

     The East Boston Airport later grew to become Logan International Airport.

     The following newspaper article appeared in The New York Herald on May 16, 1922, Page 8.  

     Airport For Massachusetts

     Through the action of Governor Cox of Massachusetts in signing the bill providing for an airport in East Boston that Commonwealth becomes the first state in the Union to join with the Federal Government in establishing an airplane landing in conformity with the recommendations of the President.  Once again Massachusetts shows the way to other states in creating an institution which must eventually be imitated all over the country.

     Last March Mayor Curley of Boston wrote Governor Cox asking his help in obtaining the enactment of the bill, adding that of the $35,000 needed for the purpose Boston would have to pay about 40 percent, and that the city was prepared to assume that obligation.  Then he made two statements which showed that he was thoroughly aware of the future importance of aircraft.  One was that if the Federal Government adopted the ship subsidy it would inevitably tend to the development of a great merchant marine, which merchant marine, in the event of war, can best be protected through the service of aircraft.  He also pointed out that one inevitable result of the signing of the Four Power Treaty would be an “intense activity of the leading Powers of the world in aircraft development.”

     These are shrewd and far seeing observations, for a result of the failure of the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments to restrict aircraft building is the likelihood of just such activity as the Mayor of Boston pointed out.  In many parts of the country this possibility either has been overlooked or has not been considered worthy of much attention.  It is to the credit of Massachusetts and the city officials of Boston that they not only have foreseen this possibility, but had had the wisdom to act on the need created by the situation regarding aircraft. (End of article)    

East Boston Airport Accidents

                                      

      The following is a list of some early accidents/crashes which occurred at East Boston Airport.  For further information about any of them, refer to the “Aviation Accidents” – “Massachusetts” section of this website.  This is by no means a complete list of every accident that occurred at the airport, and others will be added as they become known.

     July 24, 1923: An army plane crashed on takeoff. 

     May 2, 1925: An army plane spun into the mud flats off runway.

     Dec. 19, 1925: A U.S. Army Curtis JN-4 crashed on landing.

     Dec. 19, 1928: A U.S. Army O2C biplane crashed in Boston Harbor.

     July 3, 1929: An army observation aircraft flipped on takeoff by gust of cross wind.

     July 8, 1929: Civilian airliner crashed making emergency landing.

     Aug. 27, 1929: Cessna aircraft crashed on approach.

     March 17, 1930: Army plane crashed in Boston Harbor.

     May 18, 1930: A Curtis monoplane crashed in water.   

     June 5, 1930: Fort Tri-motor passenger plane crashed on takeoff.  

     Sept. 27, 1930: Landing gear collapsed on army plane while landing.

     Feb. 26, & 27, 1934: Two U.S. Mail planes crashed into snow banks on landing.

     May 30, 1936: Army plane crashed into harbor.

     Dec. 22, 1937: “Santa Clause” parachuted over airport, landed in water, drowned.

     August 18, 1941: Army plane crashed into harbor.

    Sept. 15, 1941: Army P-40 aircraft collided with another aircraft.

    June 22, 1942: Army P-40 aircraft went into harbor at end of runway.

      

      

      

 

 

Forgotten Tales of North Central Airport

FORGOTTEN TALES OF NORTH CENTRAL AIRPORT

By Jim Ignasher

               Originally published in Your Smithfield Magazine – March, 2012                 

Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, North Central State Airport, Smithfield, R.I. (Photo taken 2007)

Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, North Central State Airport, Smithfield, R.I. (Photo taken 2007)

     North Central Airport opened in 1951, but how many know it was actually re-named Peters-Fournier Airport in 1953?  And who, by the way, were Peters and Fournier?  Theirs is but one of the forgotten tales connected to Smithfield’s state-owned airport which lies tucked away in the northeast corner of town.   

    Just as the invention of the automobile led to the necessity of the parking lot, the airplane created the need for airports.  The earliest “airports” were nothing more than grass fields, but the first airplanes didn’t require much space for take-offs and landings. 

     The advent of World War II led to the rapid advancement of aviation technology, for in just five short years the United States went from propeller driven planes to high-powered jets.  By wars end it was clear that small grassy airfields would no longer be adequate to handle modern post-war aircraft.   This led to the genesis of what later became Smithfield’s North Central Airport.

     Even before the end of the war, there were those in northern Rhode Island who were preparing for peacetime commerce, and those plans included the construction of a modern state-owned airport that could service the Blackstone Valley region.  In March of 1945, members of the Woonsocket and Pawtucket Chambers of Commerce met to discuss the feasibility of such an undertaking.  At that time, northern Rhode Island already had four airports. There was Smithfield Airport, located where Bryant University stands today; Montgomery Field in North Smithfield; What Cheer Airport in Pawtucket; and Woonsocket Airport.  All were considered for possible expansion, and each was rejected for different reasons.

     The proposed airport had to be located within easy access to Providence, Woonsocket, and Pawtucket, with room for future expansion.  A large area of mostly undeveloped land on the Smithfield-Lincoln town line seemed to fit the requirements, and by the summer of 1945 it was officially announced that the site for the present-day airport had been selected.  Understandably, not everyone supported the decision; especially those who stood to have their land taken under eminent domain by the state.  Despite any protests, within a year, 862 acres had been condemned, and the project was set to move forward.  However, due to political infighting, rising cost estimates, and problems with funding, actual clearing of the land didn’t begin until February of 1950.  Construction took another twenty-two months as costs ran higher than original estimates.  An interesting bit of trivia relates to the fact that twelve miles of electrical wire was installed during construction.     

     Dedication ceremonies took place on December 15, 1951.  Part of the celebration included a helicopter owned by New England Helicopter Service that carried 1,700 pieces of mail out of the airport to the Saylesville post office in Lincoln.  The mail contained souvenir cachets that received a special cancellation stamp before being mailed out.  Today, due to their rarity, these cachets are sought after by collectors.

North Central Airport (R.I.) Dedication  postal cover - December 15, 1951

North Central Airport (R.I.) Dedication postal cover – December 15, 1951

    North Central Airport gets its name for being in the northern-central portion of the state.  It couldn’t be called Smithfield Airport because that name was already in use.  Many are probably unaware that the airport actually has another name, although it is seldom if ever used.  In 1953, the airport was re-dedicated as the Peters-Fournier Airport in honor of Cranston native Private First Class George J. Peters, U.S. Army, and Connecticut native, Sergeant William G. Fournier, United States Marine Corps, both World War II Medal of Honor recipients.  (Sergeant Fournier was born in Connecticut, but lived a good portion of his life in Rhode Island.)

     Pfc. Peters was part of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment that landed in an open field near Fluren, Germany, on March 25, 1945.  Almost immediately an enemy machine gun opened fire on them killing several men.  The rest found themselves pinned down in the open with no place to hide as the gunner methodically swept the field with bullets.  With disregard for his own safety, Peters single-handedly attacked and silenced the machine gun, but was mortally wounded in the process.  His actions undoubtedly saved the lives of others in his unit.  Besides the airport, a school in Cranston is also named for him.  

     On June 28, 1943, during heavy fighting on Guadalcanal, Sergeant Fournier’s unit was attacked by overwhelming enemy forces and ordered to withdraw.  Fournier and another Marine, Lewis Hall, sacrificed their lives when they ignored the orders and stuck to their machine gun position to cover the retreat of their comrades.  Their gallantry saved the lives of many Marines who later re-grouped and counter attacked, eventually winning the battle. 

     On October 19, 1963, an air show sponsored by the Pawtucket Rotary Club was held at North Central which began with a skywriting greeting to the crowd of approximately 15,000 attendees.  Among the attractions were aerial stuntmen who performed wing-walks, precision flying, and daring transfers from moving vehicles to low flying airplanes.  One daredevil jumped from an altitude of two miles wearing a special suit that allowed him to perform a series of loops and whirls while trailing smoke before opening his parachute at a mere 1,500 feet.       

A view of North Central Airport in Smithfield, R.I. - 2007

A view of North Central Airport in Smithfield, R.I. – 2007

The airport has an administration building that hasn’t changed much since it was built.  In 1977 it was dedicated as the Chester M. Spooner Memorial Building, the name of which can be seen over the main entrance from the parking lot.  Mr. Spooner was a native of Pawtucket, and former publisher of the (Pawtucket) Evening Times who was very influential in helping to make North Central Airport a reality. 

     As with any airport, North Central has seen its share of accidents; the total number of which may never be known for accurate record keeping did not exist before the 1960s.

     The first known accident occurred several months after the airport opened, on July 19, 1952, when a 29-year-old man was fatally injured when his plane crashed just after take-off in a cow pasture one-hundred feet beyond the runway.      

     Some accidents were the result of pilot error, such as the one which occurred in November of 1966, when the pilot forgot to lower his aircraft’s wheels before landing; or the piggy-back landing – midair collision that occurred in September of 1968 when two planes tried to land on the same runway at the same time.

     Other less notable accidents involved collapsed landing gear, aircraft overshooting the runway and crashing into trees, ground collisions, and the occasional “nose-over”.      

     On September 8, 1997, North Central Airport was the scene of one of Rhode Island’s most horrific civil aviation accidents in terms of loss of life, and the worst to ever occur at the airport, or in the town of Smithfield.   On that day, a Cessna 182E carrying a group of skydivers crashed on take-off killing five of the six people aboard.  One of those aboard was a twenty-one year-old Massachusetts woman who was making her first parachute jump.  Her parents and boyfriend had come to support her, one of whom carried a video camera that captured the crash on film.    

      For some unknown reason there seems to be a bit of confusion, at least for some, as to the exact location of the airport.   It’s hard to believe, but some sources have it listed as being in Pawtucket, while others think it’s in Lincoln, probably due to the Lincoln mailing address of 380 Jenckes Hill Road.  Posters advertising events at the airport in recent years have cited both locations.  To be fair, some of the undeveloped acreage is located in Lincoln, but just to set the record straight, the airport proper is definitely in Smithfield.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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