People today take for granted airports like ours that serve public transportation. But back in the 1930’s, there were far fewer airports, serving just the largest cities. Commercial aviation was in its infancy. There were almost no airplanes that we would recognize today as true “airliners”. Then along came the Douglas DC-3. It could carry 21 passengers at speeds over 200 mph. A revolution had begun. It triggered a boom in airport construction. And soon thereafter came World War II, which itself required the creation of hundreds of new airports for military and training use, including our neighbor Bradley International Airport.
In those early days of aviation, many private airplanes flew from undeveloped open spaces or farm pastures. Few airfields had even the most rudimentary services. Many didn’t even sell fuel: pilots had to walk to a nearby town hoping to find a station selling car gas they could bring back to the airport in a 5-gallon can. That was the case here in the late 1930’s. This property was just an open field, occasionally used by locals as a place to land airplanes.
In late 1940, the town of Simsbury was petitioned by an Aaron W. Hall to establish zoning for an airport here. The Hartford Courant reported that day-today operations were to be managed by Donald W. Crossman, a former State policeman, who had experience as a flight instructor for the government. The purpose, said the Courant, was to provide a space for airplanes to be kept, to offer flying lessons, and to serve as an emergency landing field. The zoning application was approved, and operations here officially began in February, 1941. Just ten months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the US entered World War II. Simsbury Airport quickly became a base for training military pilots through the Civilian Pilots Training Program. We were home for a Civil Air Patrol squadron. This was a test site for the Pioneer Parachute Company, which was developing parachutes for the war effort. Several large War Bond drives were held here, built around “aerial demonstrations” that were meant to boost civilian morale and military recruiting. Immediately after the war ended, we were one of many airports around the country where surplus aircraft were brought for auction to the public.
In spite of these important activities, Simsbury Airport remained quite rustic. There were two intersecting runways, both just sod. No lighting was available for night operations. The only building, still in operation today, provided space for repairs and airport management. In the decades after the war, Simsbury Airport was home to aircraft dealerships selling Seabee amphibians and the Luscombe airplane. Neither aircraft sold very well. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, successful Cessna and Beechcraft dealerships were established here. In those years, professional management companies operated the airport and expanded its facilities. We were busy with flight training, especially for veterans entitled to educational benefits under the GI Bill. The runway was paved. Other improvements were made. The modern era began in 1993 with the formation of the Simsbury Flying Club, which is still the airport operator.
We are an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that receives no financial support from local, state, or federal government. Simsbury is one of the few airports in the USA that is operated by an organization like ours. It takes lots of effort, but it works.