Copy and photos provided with permission by the City of San Antonio.
Stinson Airport (KSSF), the nation’s second oldest general aviation airport in continuous operation, celebrates 100 years of service this year. The TxDOT Aviation Division honors this historic milestone with a look back at Stinson’s colorful history and modern-day role as the reliever for San Antonio International Airport.
A Passion for Flying
In 1915, three siblings and two passions came together to create the Stinson School of Flying. Marjorie, Katherine and Eddie Stinson all had a passion for flying, but Katherine had a passion for music as well. The siblings read a newspaper article about how barnstormers made $1,000 a show, and Katherine had an idea. “She wanted to take that money and go to Europe and eventually study piano, and that was her entry into aviation,” according to City of San Antonio Aviation Assistant Director Tim O’Krongley. O’Krongley also served as previous manager of Stinson Airport.
So with a plan in place, Katherine got to work starting the school. Eddie Stinson, her brother, selected a plot of land south of town just west of the San Antonio River. Her sister, Marjorie, went to City Council to petition them to open up the school. City Council rented 500 acres to her for $5 per year. It was a good deal, O’Krongley says. In the years that followed, Katherine made the trip to Europe, but it was her love of flying — not music — that took her there. She flew to England, Japan and China, becoming the first woman to perform the loop-the-loop maneuver. She set successive endurance and distance records and raised $2 million for the American Red Cross.
Meanwhile, Marjorie and Eddie continued to expand operations at the Stinson School of Flying, teaching civilian students such as Jack Frost (a B-17 pilot in World War II who was shot down and killed in 1942) and pilots from the Canadian Air Force. World War I eventually brought a ban on civilian flying, marking the end of the Stinson School of Flying.
The Boom Years
During World War I and afterward, the airfield was run by the City of San Antonio. According to O’Krongley, the airport was used primarily by barnstormers and experimental pilots until the late 1920s or early 1930s. For a few years, Stinson served as a commercial airport with airline service from American, Braniff and Eastern Airlines. In 1935/1936, a new terminal building was built as a Works Progress Administration project.
During World War II, the Air Force took control of the airport and used it as a training base. The military constructed more than 100 buildings, some of which are still standing. After World War II, commercial airline service moved from Stinson to San Antonio International Airport.
Still Growing Strong
Stinson continues to grow. In 2008, a major capital project to expand the terminal was completed. The expansion added two wings and more than 24,000 square feet of additional space for administrative, concession, corporate Fixed-Based Operators, education and commercial uses. Importantly, the expansion left the original terminal virtually untouched. In 2010, Runway 9-27 was resurfaced and extended to 5,002 feet, allowing the airfield to serve more private and business jet traffic. Stinson serves as the general aviation reliever airport for San Antonio International and is also home to the Texas Air Museum. Behind all the growth and change at the airport is the spirit of the Stinson family, three people whose love of flying continues to tower over San Antonio even today.
Pointing to the next century for Stinson Municipal Airport, a new air traffic control tower is slated for construction beginning in 2015. The airport has 81 aircraft based on the field and averages approximately 250 operations a day. According to a 2011 economic impact report, the airport contributed nearly $24 million to the local economy and employed 240 people at on-site businesses.
For more information about the Stinson Airport, please visit http://www.sanantonio.gov/SSF.aspx.