The Wright Brothers may have built the first successful airplane but it was Charles Lindbergh that showed the United States the need to build airports. Through the early years of aviation, most airplanes took off and landed in fields or small improvised airports carved from farm land. In the late 1920s, directly after Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight, Lindbergh traveled throughout the United States promoting aviation and in particular promoting the idea of a system of airports throughout the US. Lindbergh saw how aircraft were becoming more reliable but realized the
need for good airports for these new airplanes to use. Hundreds of cities and towns, all across the country started to look at the possibility of building airports in their communities.
In 1931 the Town of Plymouth, as part of an overall Master Plan, initiated a study which looked at the addition of an airport along South Meadow road in West Plymouth. The study envisioned an airport which might be considered an unusual design by today’s standards. Like most airports of the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the proposed airport was in essences a large circular grass field; no specific runways like the airports of today just a big “round” grass field. In truth this was the most common design for airports from the early days of the Wright Brothers right up to the late 1930s. At this time, very few airports were paved. The older style biplanes with their “tail skids” and narrow landing gear took off and landed more predictably from a grass strip. Further the aircraft were even better behaved if
the pilot could point the aircraft “straight” into the wind and not have to fight “cross winds” on takeoff and landing.
In early 1934, Mr. Edward Griffith constructed the airport by clearing a section of an old apple orchard on the Craig Farm on South Meadow Road in Plymouth. On May 17, 1934, shortly after noon, Alton Sherman was the first person to land at the new Plymouth Airport. Mr. Sherman landed his Fleet Biplane on the dirt and sand runway and reported the airport to be a fine facility. In January 1936 Mayflower Airlines started airline service to Boston. This service lasted for only a few months as the depression was still in full force. It appears that the airline business was as tough to survive then as it is today. During the 1930’s there were a number of aircraft based at the Plymouth Airport, most typical of the 1930’s; Waco and Travel Air biplanes. In 1938 Air Mail service was initiated with daily flights to Boston. As the 1930s wore
on, the Plymouth Airport became a part of the local fabric. With the 1940’s approaching, war in Europe seemed inevitable and the Town of Plymouth was doing it part to prepare. Plymouth Town reports noted the efforts of the town’s people, the School department and the Selectmen’s office in preparing our local community to help in a war effort if needed. Shortly after the US entering World War II, the Federal government went into high gear to create a system of coastal airports for both training and coastal defence. The US government built or purchased hundreds of airports across the country. In early 1942 the Department of the Navy purchased the Plymouth Airport from the private owner of the land. The Navy constructed a hangar and barracks building on the east end of the airport. The current Alpha One flight school building is a section of the only original building which dates back to the Navy days. The Plymouth Airport was an axillary training airfield for Navy
pilots training at the Squatum Navy base in Quincy. Plymouth was one of several satellite fields including Norwood and Mansfield. Throughout the war there were a number of Navy personnel stations at the Plymouth Airport and during the day Navy training biplanes would train at the airport. It appears that most of the training aircraft were the yellow Navy N3N biplanes, a primary trainer, known as the “yellow peril” because it was tough to land. There are some photos of other Navy aircraft on the Plymouth airport including Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and Grumman F6F Hellcats fighters but these were not the typical aircraft at Plymouth. The Airport was still just a grass field, not quite round, more of a square field with three general runways laid out in the grass and sand in a loose triangle layout. The US Navy trained thousands of pilots at Squantum and Plymouth airport. The training was mostly US Navy pilots but pilots from other countries including Australia
and New Zealand were trained here also. There are stories that the Town folks would often invite the Plymouth based Navy personnel to their homes for Sunday dinner to lessen the loneliness of these young men so far from home.
When World War II ended the Federal government surplused most of the training field around the country. Around 1952, the Town of Plymouth purchased the Plymouth Airport for the princely sum of one dollar from the Federal government. The Board of Selectmen along with a local business man, John Petrell were instrumental in the early development of the Airport. John championed the use of the Airport for business and recreation. Under Massachusetts law, the Town appointed an Airport Commission and over the past 54 years the Commission has worked very hard to make the airport a facility that the Town can be proud of. The round grass field has made way for two paved runways and a series of taxiways accessing the aircraft hangar and parking areas.
Today the Airport Commission’s primary goal is to operate the airport in the safest, most efficient and compatible manner possible. The Plymouth Airport continues to be a General Aviation Airport providing the local residents and businesses access to the National Air Transportation system. As a gateway to the community, the airport offers an entrance point for business, recreation and tourism. Many of the major businesses in the area and their customers utilize the airport for their transportation needs. Most of the aircraft using the facility are 4-12 seat single and twin engine aircraft types. The activity is estimated to be approximately 75,000 aircraft movements per year and has been steady for several years.
The Plymouth Airport is home to some 175 aircraft, used for business, recreation and public safety. Boston Medflight Helicopters is a very active tenant on the airport, providing emergency medical helicopter service to area residents in times of medical emergencies. Medflight operates an average of 4-6 flights per day responding to the emergency medical needs of the residents of the Plymouth and the Southeastern Massachusetts area. The Plymouth Airport is also the headquarters for the Massachusetts State Police, Air Wing. With three based helicopters and one airplane, the Air Wing is active in air search, air rescue, anti-terrorism and interfaces with various Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies. Medflight and the State Police Air Wing are valued tenants on the Plymouth Airport, both contribute greatly to the health and safety
to our community. The Plymouth County Fire plane is also based and operated from the Plymouth Airport, providing critical assistance to the local fire departments during periods of high fire danger to locate forest fires within the county. This service has proved most valuable, as Plymouth county has become more built up in recent years by reducing the response time for fire personnel to forest fires and greatly reduces the danger to life and property. This past year the fire plane was very active due to the extremely low rain fall amounts during the Spring and Summer months. The airport is home to 29 private businesses, employing more than 225 persons. These businesses offer services ranging from flight schools, aircraft maintenance, aircraft sales, corporate flight departments etc...