How often do you employ aviation as a mode of transportation? Thousands do it routinely for a variety of reasons. Commercial interests motivate a large percentage. Private pilots, vacationers, politicians, celebrities, military types, and those who simply wish to get out of town take to the skies in droves every day.
The common denominator which holds true for those groups is the fact they all utilize a starting and ending point. They all had to coalesce at a designated location, board their chosen mode of transportation, enjoy the ride, then take leave of said transportation at their destination.
These arrival and departure locations are generally referred to as terminals, those beehives of activity where anxious ticket-holders scurry to and fro, dragging wheeled luggage toward check-in counters and uniformed airline personnel. But what about the municipal airports where daily traffic is but a drop in the bucket compared to Atlanta, Chicago, New York, or L.A.? Take for example the facility right here in our own back yard at Kokomo Municipal Airport.
Improvements on said facilities are part of keeping up with the times and requirements of aviation. An example of such dates back to the early 1960s when air travel was really coming to the fore in transportation preference, plus the fact that industry in the City of Firsts was shifting into high gear with the number of corporate flights servicing them on the upswing. In 1965, 56,015 flight movements were recorded at KMA.
Lake Central Airlines, which served the majority of Kokomo's passenger and freight requirements, was experiencing a dramatic increase in usage of the local runways. The first half of 1964 saw a 31-percent increase in traffic compared to the same period in 1963. With the proposed merger of Lake Central with Allegheny Airlines, the promise of higher percentages was bright.
The existing two-story cinder block terminal at Municipal was showing its wear. With the jet age becoming a reality and the promise of increased local industrial air traffic, a master plan was written by a study group and endorsed by Mayor John W. Miller and the Kokomo Common Council in 1966 to construct a modern terminal building and make improvements at Kokomo Municipal. The phased plan also included the construction of 24 new hangars for private aircraft enthusiasts. An extension of 1,100 feet to the existing runway would provide the ability of attracting jet traffic to Kokomo.
Phase one of the project called for the construction of a new terminal building. Kleptz Engineering of Kokomo was hired for the architectural design with Soupley Construction of Galveston being awarded the contract for erection the structure. $82,000 was earmarked for its completion.
With the site being 150 feet northwest of the old terminal, ground was broken in the spring of 1967. As concrete was poured and steel erected in place, the structure took on the shape of a truly contemporary facility.
With Mayor Miller in the midst of a campaign for his third term, dedication for the brand-new terminal was scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 22, 1967, just a few days before the polls opened. Dedication day arrived with the public invited, together with mayors from surrounding communities, Bunker Hill A.F.B., Lake Central Airlines, and other VIPs, including the newly-appointed airport manager and former Convair production test pilot Harry McKay.
Mayor Miller gave the keynote address, calling the modern building a “boost in the city's image.” He christened it the John A. Pierce Memorial Terminal in honor of the recently-deceased local attorney and Kokomo Board of Aviation Commissioner. Chamber of Commerce President Dwight Swanson said the building was “a window through which many visitors will form their first impression of our city.”
Speaking of windows, a freak wind storm with gales exceeding 50 miles per hour nearly took out the huge picture windows of the newborn terminal two days after dedication. The aluminum frames required tightening and repair.
The terminal continues to serve the Kokomo air traffic as it has since 1967. The original planners maintained the view of making a good first impression for the City of Firsts. I believe their goal continues to be a realization.