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Tullahoma Airport ranked best in state

Posted on Monday, April 10, 2017 at 10:30 am


Erin McCullough and



The Tullahoma Regional Airport recently received statewide recognition for its excellence in aviation by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission (TAC), according to Airport Manager Jon Glass.

The airport was named the 2017 Airport of the Year by TAC, beating out the 78 other airports in the state, including Nashville International Airport (BNA).

This is the first time that the Tullahoma Regional Airport has won this prestigious award.

The Tullahoma Regional Airport has been named 2017 Airport of the Year by the Tennessee Aeronautics Commission. Accepting the award, from left, are Jon Glass, airport manager; Tullahoma Airport Authority treasurer Jason Waller; authority board chairman Don Daniel; Alderman Ray Knowis and Mayor Lane Curlee.
–Staff Photo by Chris Barstad

“The Tullahoma Regional Airport has participated in some very special events in addition to continuing to develop capacities for economic development—all while supporting their standard flying activities,” said TAC Division Director Bill Orellana.

Being selected as the best airport in the state over such a large airport was “a huge honor,” according to Glass.

Some factors that went into determining the recognition, said Glass, included the airport’s partnership with the Beechcraft Heritage Museum, as well as the airport’s becoming “a staging place for Bonnaroo.”

Perhaps the biggest determining factor was Beechcraft’s participation in the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s (AOPA) regional fly-in, which took place in late 2015.

“We were one of four airports selected in the country that year for the fly-in,” said Glass.

Approximately 375 aircraft flew into Tullahoma to take part in various training and safety seminars and social gatherings for pilots, Glass said.

“That was all based over at the Beechcraft Museum,” he said.

Airport history

According to Glass, construction of the Tullahoma Army Air Base was announced on March 6, 1941, for a total of $5 million.

In today’s money, construction of the airport would cost $85.6 million, though Glass said that in order to build the airport to the appropriate standards would cost upwards of $120 million.

Construction of the airport was completed in just 20 months, in November 1942.

Today it would take roughly 10 to 12 years to complete the same facility.

William Northern Field became a part of Camp Forrest and was the training center for B-24s, B-25s and P-39 Air Cobras, as well as spotter aircraft for training the Army’s artillery observers during World War II.

After the war ended in 1945, the field was put up for sale for $125,000.

The City of Tullahoma was given the opportunity to purchase the field, but the board of mayor and aldermen at the time voted not to approve the purchase.

Then-mayor John Harton purchased the land himself for $135,000.

In 1978, the city purchased 775 of the 1,300 acres and most of the runways.

According to Mayor Lane Curlee, the airport has come a long way since the early 1940s. It is now one of the top five general aviation airports in the state.

A 3,200-square-foot modern terminal building was built in 2010.

A business airpark is located on the north side of the airport.

The main runway is 5,500 feet long and is capable of handling all types of corporate jet aircraft. The airport averages 40,000 flight operations a year and is the home base for 150 aircraft.

Since 2002, the airport has received approximately $12 million in state and deferral grants to improve runways, taxiways, airfield lighting and the main terminal building, said Glass.

The airport will celebrate its 75th anniversary later this year.


Site Development Grant award

In addition to being selected Airport of the Year, the business airpark is also on the receiving end of a state grant, according to Glass.

“What we’re doing is clearing about 25 acres and then doing some drainage improvements to the property. It’s a tremendous help in the fact that it’s going to make the property more marketable,” he said.

Clearing the property and improving the drainage systems will hopefully make the airpark a more desirable place for avian businesses to invest.

“We’ve got room for both direct-aviation business and non-aviation,” said Glass.

The grant is part of a Site Development Grant program by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, according to Thom Robinson, executive director of the Tullahoma Area Economic Development Corporation.

The purpose of these grants, he said, is “to provide communities with funding to make improvements to existing publicly owned industrial and business properties (in order to) enhance their marketability.”

While there is currently no long-term plans to improve the airport and airpark, Robinson said the city was pleased to be able to “take advantage of the state grant program to improve the airpark’s attractiveness to potential new business.”

Erin McCullough may be reached via email at tnrept09@lcs.net.