WDBJ7 Archive: The Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport history

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 9:56 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - As the holiday season approaches, many residents of our hometowns will be travelling out of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

While many people are frequent flyers, many aren’t aware of the airport’s history. WDBJ7 dug through the archives to find footage from the early days of our region’s largest airport.

Roanoke has always been a major hub for railways, but in the 1920s Roanoke Mayor Charles D. Fox was in search of expanding the city’s transportation to include air travel. Fox recruited experts to scout an aviation field for the city, and in 1929 they found the perfect place.

136-acres of farmland owned by the Clayton family was leased to the City of Roanoke and developers Lemon and Frank Reynolds obtained a permit to build the Roanoke Municipal Airport.

Dirt runways were laid for the 11 pilots that frequented the landing space, which was considered one of the three airfields in the area at the time. After the area was deemed successful, an air control tower was constructed a few years later. The airport soon had it’s own manager and a hangar to house and repair the planes.

Major expansions would undergo when Congressman Clifton Woodrum declared the airport as a National Defense Project to train pilots for World War II. The government spent nearly $800,000 to pave and extend the runways.

The airport owed the congressman for their recent renovations and so the terminal was renamed as the Roanoke Municipal Airport/ Woodrum Field.

Passenger services began after the war in 1945, hosting Eastern, American, and Piedmont Airlines. Notably, Piedmont flew their iconic DC-3 silver planes as Roanoke became a transfer hub for connecting flights on the east coast.

In 1953, the city built a terminal to meet the strict airline requirements and to cater to the influx of guests travelling to and from the Star City. While the airport underwent many renovations including one in 1963 and another in 1974, the largest upgrade wouldn’t come until 1989.

The current terminal debuted September 1989, with a budget of $25 million to add concealed jetways, restaurants, parking lots, and more. Residents of our hometowns were ecstatic to see the new airport, which hosted many opening events including a gala, ribbon cutting ceremony, and an open house.

While opening day was highly anticipated, it wasn’t without it’s flaws. The computer system encountered glitches, the escalators stopped working, the phones were not in operation, and the baggage check had to be moved.

Residents, however, navigated the new terminal with ease, and despite the hiccups, the new airport was well received.

During the next fifteen years, the airfield went through $56.7 million in improvements. There haven’t been major renovations to the terminal since 1989, with the most notable change occurring in 2014 when the airport debuted it’s new name, the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.

As of 2023, 40 scheduled airline flights depart and arrive daily to eight major cities out of the Star City, serving 55,000-61,000 passengers a month.

To learn more about the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport click here.

Watch the full archive video below: