Aviation really got off the ground in the Fox River Valley in the late 1920’s. Prior to that time, there were barnstorming pilots using farm fields, and some local flights from similar fields. Wittman Field then came into being. It was used mostly by airmail pilots for a mail drop for the Fox Valley area. The field later became known as George A. Whiting Airport, named after a Neenah paper industrialist who gave $5,000 for the building of the facility.
The field was built on 100 acres of land leased from the Michael Wittman family, for a five year period, by a company formed by Eric Lindberg, Karl Hagen, H.a. DeBaufer, George Schmidt, and Fred Schlintz. The farm was an ideal site, located on Appleton Rd and HWY 41. The airmail service, rides, inflight instruction, and plane storage provided the revenue needed for operation. Charter service was available to Milwaukee, Chicago and the Dakotas. In the 30’s it was known as Wisconsin’s finest and busiest airport. From the beginning, W.S. Airmail Route 9, running from Green Bay to Milwaukee and Chicago, had this location as one of its charter stops.
North American Airways flew this route until 1930, when a government decision that no two ports could be in the same county (the other one was Oshkosh), eliminated Whiting field as a mail stop. Later that same year, the company that operated the airport was forced into bankruptcy by a civil suit for damages that were incurred to a plane stored at the field. The field ceased to operate, and the Fox Valley found itself without airport facilities for over 20 years.
Whiting Airport is shown below with its fleet of WACO biplanes assembled in front of the hanger. Shown left is the Tri-Motor Ford airplane, one of a very small number produced by the Ford Motor Company in the 1930 era called “The Pride of Appleton”. The Ford Tri-Motor in all it’s glory – too large in wing span for the hangar, the barn on Wittman farm was converted to house this plane.
View of George A. Whiting Airport taken from the air. This was at the height of the airport’s usage by private and commercial aviation. Whiting Airport shown with its fleet of WACO biplanes assembled in front of the hanger. Shown left is the Tri-Motor Ford airplane, one of a very small number produced by the Ford Motor Company in the 1930 era called “The Pride of Appleton”.
Airways Inc. aircraft built by Boeing carried passengers (4) and airmail from Appleton.
An early version of an airline guide was produced as an advertising piece by International Harvester. The schedule shows one flight daily each way to Chicago from Appleton/Neenah with stops at various cities en route. Note that the fare to Chicago was $19 one way, but you could go from Appleton to Green Bay or Oshkosh for $5.
With the closing of Whiting Field, pilots moved their planes to the new Outagamie County Airport on Ballard Road in Appleton. As early as 1940, a firm known as North Central Airlines had made overtures to start service to Appleton, but it was not until 1959 that service started with two DC-3 flights a day from the field.
In 1955, the county recognized that Ballard Road location was not practical, and the first stirrings of what was to become a bitter fight with Winnebago County began. The results of the survey requested by the Outagamie County Board, suggested a joint port with Winnebago County be built on a site about five miles west of Neenah. Politics intervened, and Winnebago County refused to go along. Instead they developed their own port, and North Central later moved their flights to Wittman Field in Oshkosh. As a result, the north end of the Valley was once again without air service.
In 1963, preliminary ground work was started for a new airport on a site west of the City of Appleton, in the Town of Greenville. At the same time a group of local investors started what was to become the firm known today as Air Wisconsin. By 1965, both the airport and Air Wisconsin were ready for service. The new airport was dedicated on August 22, 1965. New crosswind landing strips were built, and the first section of the terminal building were completed. Facilities for clients such as Kimberly-Clark Aviation, Maxair and Federal Express also came into being… complementing the other operations. Fire and rescue operations, and T-hangers for general aviation were also installed.
Maxair was a full service FBO (Fixed Base Operator) which began operations at the old Ballard Road location in 1950. When Outagamie County Airport was constructed in 1965, Maxair moved its facilities there. Maxair had provided a full range of services to private and corporate aviation customers. It was a authorized Cessna dealer, with flight training, ground school, charter service and maintenance service.
1970s and 80s
Air Wisconsin and Outagamie County Airport have grown up with the Fox River Valley. In the early 1960’s, the Fox Valley had a dream: a new airport to serve the business and social needs of the community. To Air Wisconsin the dream was providing that service. With local revenues and the support of the chamber of commerce, the Outagamie Board o supervisors developed the Outagamie County airport in the summer of 1965. August 24 of that year, a newly-incorporated Air Wisconsin began service from the Valley to Chicago. With a group of supportive community leaders, mechanics, pilots, station personnel and a small fleet of de Havilland Doves, Air Wisconsin took to the air.
Air Wisconsin had transported 3,535 passengers. Slowly, carefully, the network grew: Minneapolis, Fort Wayne, Detroit, Pittsburgh. Aircraft to serve these routes were purchased. In its first 18 year history, Air Wisconsin transported 724,000 passengers and 9764 tons of freight.
In the summer of 1983, the revolutionary 100-passenger British Aerospace 146 Jet joined the 50-passenger de Havilland Dash 7 and Air Wisconsin took its place as one of the most advanced regional airlines on the North american continent.