90 years and counting
It was the biggest traffic jam surrounding the Medford airport ever seen. Crater Lake Highway, Table Rock Road and all the nearby streets were lined with acres of cars.
With 15,000 visitors, it might well have been the biggest air show put up in Southern Oregon.
The Medford Aviation Fair of Sept. 18, 1949, would commemorate the 20th anniversary of not only the initial construction of the airport, but, in addition, the nearly unanimous vote of Medford residents to approve a $120,000 bond for its construction. Out of 2,426 votes, only 182 had voted no.
Beginning at 7:00 that Sunday morning, until dust that evening, the sky above roared with some of the country’s most modern aircraft. With so many military planes arriving from up and down the coast, some called it a virtual air attack.
This was not going to be some small-town event. Oregon Governor Douglas McKay said he was amazed at the variety of aircraft and the amazing size of the show.
Medford’s own Seely Hall, now a general manager with United Airlines and known as the “Father of Jackson County Aviation,” compared the new airport to Barber Field, Medford’s old airport, where he had previously been airline station manager.
A morning breakfast welcomed the early arrival of 300 invited private pilots, as well as military pilots and officers who would be part of the show.
It was difficult to choose which one of the many aircraft was most popular with the crowd.
The four F-80 fighter jets from Southern California brought loud gasps and cheers as they buzzed over the field, nearly touching the ground, zooming up in a near-vertical climb at 500 mph, only to loop over into a screeching and twisting dive toward the ground.
Just before noon, four huge B-29 bombers, made famous by dropping atomic bombs on Japan, rumbled above and across the sky. After landing, one of the bombers was put on display and opened to a rare public inspection.
Minutes after the B-29 was on the ground, six C-46 military transports from the Oregon Air Force Reserve approached the field. A fleet of 13 P-51 Mustang fighters, one of the most effective U.S. fighters during WWII, gave the transports “cover” as if they were on a military mission. The transports peeled off and landed one by one, closely followed by the fighters.
Sixty soldiers from the Oregon National Guard, on their first airborne operation since the war, arrived in three C-47 troop carriers. They all rushed out of the plane in a mock ground battle, firing blank cartridges that simulated an invasion and capture of the airport.
United, Southwest and Western airlines each had their civilian DC-4 airliners displayed on the ground, while at least 10 different airline representatives from as far away as the Philippines and Great Britain, watched the show and took part in business discussions with the Medford Commercial Club and airport officials.
During the afternoon speeches, William Warner, 20 years earlier the former Medford postmaster, interrupted proceedings with a stunt, intended as a joke.
He produced a letter that, because a Studebaker automobile had broken down in 1929 and never made it to the airport, had been awaiting delivery for over 20 years. Our Mail Tribune reporter didn’t tell us whether Warner’s stunt received a laugh or, more likely, a groan.
Hard to believe that the festival was 70 years ago this week. So, that means, right now, we’re celebrating a total of 90 years of flight at the same location.
You look pretty good for your age — Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com.