The Liberty Gazette
April 19, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Mike: The engine made a soothing humming sound as we sat seemingly motionless in the still and cool night air. As the glow from the distant city was becoming brighter the calm of our cocoon was rustled when the San Antonio Approach controller asked if we could see the airport yet.
No, still looking.
Then in the middle of some sporadically dispersed lights came a soft white flash. A moment later a muted green flash - the airport beacon. Yes, we have the airport in sight.
The controller terminated his radar watch over us so we could switch to the airport control tower.
Approaching San Antonio’s Stinson Municipal Airport, it is difficult to see the runway lights until you are close in. Then even with lights on their brightest setting, it feels like descending into a black hole. The municipal baseball park near the approach end helps illuminate trees near the runway as we coast in for landing. The gentle bump and the squeak of tires on pavement confirm we have settled onto terra firma. Stinson tower controller clears us to taxi to the terminal where we take a break before continuing our night time sojourn.
We love the old stone-faced art-deco style terminal building. Originally built as a Works Progress Administration project completed in 1936, it got some tender loving care for its 70th birthday when the city completely renovated and expanded it while retaining most of its original integrity. Old terminals, like old airplanes need to be spruced up from time to time but we should never change their timeless soul.
Inside the building the halls are decorated with photographs and memorabilia chronicling Stinson’s 100 year past. Here were a lot of aviation firsts.
Stinson Municipal Airport, which began life in 1915, is the second oldest continuously operated airport in the country, the oldest airport west of the Mississippi. Only College Park Airport in Maryland, build by the Wright Brothers in 1909 is older. Named after the three siblings who leased 500 acres from the city to create an airport, Marjorie, Katherine and Eddie Stinson made significant contributions to aviation.
Katherine, often referred to as the Flying Schoolgirl, had an ulterior motive when she joined her brother and sister in the airport project and flight school: music. She’d seen an article about barnstormers and aerial exhibition performers making $1,000 per show - a way for her to earn money to pay for her piano education in Europe. But in 1912, preparing to build Stinson Airport, she became the fourth woman in the United States to earn her pilot license. She eventually went to Europe, Japan and China, but as a pilot, not a pianist, and is credited as the first woman ever to perform the loop-the-loop maneuver as well as setting endurance and distance records. She also raised two million dollars for the American Red Cross.
Marjorie and Eddie taught at their Stinson School of Flying, teaching civilians and Canadian Air Force pilots until World War I began and the facilities were taken over by the U.S. government. By that time, Marjorie, known as the Flying Schoolmarm, had already trained more than 80 pilots for service.
All was quiet that night as we tore ourselves away from this great part of American history. The Elyminator beckoned and as we climbed aboard our sleek steed and headed skyward into the night, we thought about all those pilots who came before us, right there in that same air space.