A new 5,500-foot runway has been completed and an instrument landing system is somewhere on the horizon for the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport.
But the next addition to the airport will look back into aviation history, not forward into the technological future.
Tom Robertson, airport manager, said plans are being made for the top section of the old tower at Hamilton Field, the county’s first airport, to be brought to the present airport and displayed as a relic from the county’s formative years of flight.
Hamilton Field operated from 1929 to about 1950 along East Pike, three miles east of Indiana and about one mile south of today’s Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport. It’s not certain how tall the tower to be dismantled was, but it likely held a beacon light and windsock near its top to aid pilots approaching the landing strip.
Hamilton Field was on about 60 acres of land, approximately square, without runways.
“You took off and landed where you wanted to, depending on which way the wind was blowing," said Ross Shaffer, formerly of Indiana, who in the 1930s worked at Hamilton Field as a "line boy" cutting grass and fueling planes without pay in exchange for flying lessons.
Charles Lindbergh and Admiral Richard Byrd were among the well-known aviation pioneers who made stops at Hamilton Field, according to Clarence Stephenson’s “Indiana County 175th Anniversary History.”
In March 1930, representatives from the Aeronautics Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce considered making Hamilton Field an intermediate stop on a new transcontinental air route, but the grass field lacked night lighting equipment.
Years later, under the Civilian Pilot Training Program, students at Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana University of Pennsylvania) received their first flight training at Hamilton Field before they became World War II military pilots.
Clinton Smith, co-owner of the property now, said the old tower for years was visible from East Pike, but it was so covered with wisteria vines that many people didn’t realize what they were looking at.
The tower, made of tubular steel, collapsed last winter and is tangled in surrounding trees.
Smith offered to donate the tower to the current airport where it can be erected again in some way as a historical display from the early days of aviation in the county.
Ron Marsh, owner of Marsh Contracting, of Dixonville, said he plans to untangle the collapsed tower from the trees and vines and haul the top section on a trailer to the airport within the next few weeks.
PHOTOS: Hamilton Field, east of Indiana, operated as Indiana County’s first airport from 1929 to about 1950. The tower that will be moved to the Indiana County/Jimmy Stewart Airport is about 100 yards from this hangar, the shell of which still stands. This old photo is from the collection of Indiana County historian John Busovicki.
A light and wind sock at the top of the tower guided pilots to Hamilton Field’s grass landing strip.