Stormy skies look to keep aircraft long since missing from this 1940’s hangar along Holt Road grounded. – Photo by Ryan Hamlett
Heading west into stormy skies this past weekend, I set off to discover if the neglected old terminal of the Indianapolis International Airport was accessible to the casual snoopy photographer. It and its corkscrewing parking garage ramps are locked up pretty tight. And rightly so as it is, though unused, still technically a part of a fully functional set of runways. I’m certain that the FAA are just as interested in keeping a well meaning, yet curious lookie-loo from absentmindedly driving his VW onto a busy runway as it is keeping out someone with more nefarious intents.
Still, though my trip down the now less traveled Sam Jones Expressway led me past a different relic of the aviation age, one of Indianapolis’ first airports, Stout Field at Minnesota Street and Holt Road. In 1926, the City of Indianapolis leased 200 acres of land on the southwest side for its first municipal airport and subsequently leased it to the State of Indiana for it to be run by the Indiana National Guard. For a short period of time, the modest airstrip was knows as the Mars Hill Airport, the National Guard Flying Field or the Indianapolis National Guard Airport. However, after the death of Hoosier WWI flying ace Lt. Richard H. Stout, in a plane crash at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indy’s new airport was named Stout Field in honorarium.
The 1920s helped to literally put Indianapolis on the map as the National Road or US 40 passed through the center of town, linking Atlantic City, New Jersey in the east to Park City, Utah in the west. Additionally, with the construction of Stout Field, Indianapolis became a stop in the first transcontinental flight travel system, a 48 hour long voyage that combined train and air travel over 12 stops from New York to California.
The Transcontinental Air Transport or TAT (which was founded by Clement Melville Keys, the “father of commercial aviation in America” and would later become TWA) set off on an overnight train voyage from New York City to Columbus, Ohio where travelers boarded a plane that stopped in Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Wichita, KS and metropolitan Waynoka, Oklahoma. From Waynoka, one would take an over-night trip on the Santa Fe Railroad to Clovis, New Mexico where they would take the final leg of their journey in the form of a flight to either Albuquerque, Winslow, Arizona, Los Angeles or San Francisco.
In 1928, a mere two years after its construction, Stout Field’s Curtiss Flying Service & School’s manager (another WWI ace) one Col. Harvey Weir-Cook, was amongst those that realized the small airfield had extremely limited potential for growth. Three years later the Indianapolis Municipal Airport opened just west of Stout Field, but would be renamed the Weir-Cook Municipal Airport in 1944 after the aforementioned Col. Weir-Cook crashed his P-39 Airacobra on a 1943 training mission in the South Pacific. Both TAT and Curtiss relocated to the new/larger Municipal Airport prior to its dedication in 1931.
Stout Field sat under used until the onset of World War II when it was leased to the U.S. Army AirCorps for $1 a year and became a base of operations for training and troop/supply transportation operations throughout the war, housing the I Troop Carrier Command. It was during this time that the two remaining hangars and air traffic control tower/administration building along Holt Road were constructed and the four runways were paved.
Post WWII, Stout Field sat unused once again until it was transferred back to the control of the Indiana National Guard in 1947. In addition to the ING, the State Police also had aircraft based at Stout, but its short runways that ended near blossoming housing developments made it insufficient for the jet age. Eventually, the City began to sell off portions of the airfield around 1958, with warehouses and commercial buildings popping up on the paved runways. By 1977, all land unused by the National Guard was sold, the western half of Stout now a maze of semi-trailers, shipping department, recycling facilities and stockpiled Humvees.
Though Stout’s runways will never again feel the smokey kiss of aircraft wheels touching down for landing, it continues to serve Indianapolis as construction nears completion at the corner of Minnesota Street and Taft Road of the National Guard Joint Headquarters, a project designed by Indianapolis based CSO Architects. The building, which will house the Indiana Army National Guard, Indiana Air National Guard, Indiana Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion and the 38th Infantry Division Band is scheduled to be completed next year and is set to include a renovation of the 1940s hangar that is the featured photo atop this article. As much of a fan of contemporary architecture as I am, I more excited to see how the hangar, this glimpse into Indianapolis’ aviation history, will be preserved, restored and reused.