A postcard advertising Weir Cook Airport. Notice the conveniently place ash trays at the ticketing counter (courtesy eBay)

A postcard advertising Weir Cook Airport. Notice the conveniently-placed ash trays at the ticketing counter. (Image: eBay)

On these colder-than-cold winter days, one’s mind tends to wander to locales with a more temperate climate. Hawaii, the Caribbean, or… Utah. Anywhere the sun is shining and the weather is above 70.  Although Indianapolis is definitely a wonderful place to live, even the most ardent of city boosters begin to question their sanity as the cold weather stretches into February. Luckily, points further south are readily accessible, thanks to our modern airport located on the southwest side of town. The gleaming terminal that opened in 2008 provides a relatively hassle-free environment for travelers. Significantly, those who refer to this as “the new airport” would be incorrect, since the site has served the traveling public since 1931.

This ad shows the cross-country "air service" that began stopping in Indianapolis in 1929 (Courtesy eBay)

This ad shows the cross-country “air service” that began stopping in Indianapolis in 1929. (Image: eBay)

The dawn of passenger aviation in Indianapolis actually occurred a couple of miles northeast of the current airport, at Stout Field. Trans Continental Air Transport, the precursor to what many will remember as TWA, began serving the city in 1929. Indianapolis was a stop on a cross-country route.  However, it would hardly be considered a direct flight.  Passengers from the east coast rode trains to Columbus, Ohio, boarded a plane to Waynoka, Oklahoma, rode on another train to Clovis, New Mexico, and finally flew the remaining distance to Los Angeles, California. This took two days to complete.  A two-hour layover in Atlanta doesn’t sound so bad now after all.

Since Stout Field is property of the State of Indiana, city leaders began development of its own airport shortly after passenger service began. The new site, situated south of West Washington Street and west of High School Road, was favored due to the lack of residential and industrial development. This allowed for unimpeded growth. A small passenger terminal opened serving American Airlines and Eastern Air Lines in 1931.

This postcard gives a good idea of the scale of Weir Cook Airport in the 40s and 50s (Courtesy eBay)

This postcard gives a good idea of the scale of Weir Cook Airport in the ’40s and ’50s. (Image: eBay)

The airport grew throughout the years of World War II, serving as the home for a Civil Pilot Training Program (CPTP).  The war also brought about a new name, Weir Cook Airport. Cook, a native Hoosier from the town of Wilkinson in Hancock County, was a fighter pilot in the first World War. Cook once again answered the call to service as a commander in New Caledonia during World War II.  Sadly Cook was killed in a plane crash while training new pilots.

What many remember of the airport took shape following the war. A new two-level terminal opened in 1956. Shortly thereafter, the jet age became reality with TWA’s Convair 880s.  Over the next three decades, the passenger terminal and runways expanded to handle the ever-increasing volume of passenger and freight traffic. Indianapolis grew a bit in stature in 1976, when the name became Indianapolis International Airport.

The terminal that greeted travelers until 2008 took shape in 1956 although it's hard to recognize without the distinctive spiral parking garages (courtesy eBay)

The terminal that greeted travelers until 2008 took shape in 1956, although it’s hard to recognize without the distinctive spiral parking garages. (Image: eBay)

Today’s passengers are greeted by a sparkling new terminal. Development began in the 1990s. In 2008, the facility became the first to open with the new security measures put in place after the September 11th terrorist attacks. In celebration of the facility’s history, the new terminal was named for Colonel Weir Cook, a name that had been somewhat forgotten over time. New artwork installed in August traces the history of Weir Cook.

What are some of your earliest memories of taking flight to somewhere far away?

Printed Sources

Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1994 Indiana University Press

Indianapolis Star, August 6, 2014

4 responses to “At Your Leisure: We Gotta Get Out of This Place”

  1. Maurice E. Kessler says:

    Back in the 1960s, I worked for an all-cargo airline, originally named Riddle Airlines, later changed to Airlift International. I remember, during slow periods, sitting in a chair in front of the old Roscoe Turner Terminal area, watching people board the old “Voyager Flying group’ ” for a trip to some far away locations.
    I thought to myself: “Someday, I hope to be able to do that also.” In much later years, I was able to join the original “Ambassadair organization” and visit some of those sites the old “Voyager group” visited.
    I could recount many funny stories from the time I spent in the air freight business.
    There was no place colder in the winter than the airport when you had to greet a propeller airplane in the middle of the night.

  2. David Brewer says:

    The plane shown in the third postcard is a Lockheed Constellation. My mom and sister flew out here in one in the Spring of 1955 when my folks moved to Indianapolis from Kansas City.

  3. Jerry D. Jackson says:

    I am an old time Hoosier having been raised in the Wilkinson – Shirley area East of Indianapolis. My first airplane ride was at Weir Cook with Roscoe Turner at the controls. In 1955 I learned to fly at Pope Field at Greenfield. and have been flying ever since. Weir Cook Airport, as I still call, it today and always will, has a warm place in my heart because on many Sundays my Dad would drive to Indianapolis to watch the big planes take off and land, what a thrill for a kid. In September 2008 I flew back to Indiana for my 50th anniversary class reunion, landing and departing from the old terminal and the next day the new terminal was put into service. I plan to again fly home in September 2018 for our 60th class alumni anniversary. Of course I will land again at Indianapolis Weir Cook International Airport and see the new terminal, Several years ago the cold weather got to hard to take so we pulled up stakes and moved down to Clearwater, Fla. Wonderful retirement,

  4. Phil BROOKS says:

    Thanks for this great write up, which I somehow missed when it was published. I especially like the “new airport” reference! A terminal is not an airport.

    I have been hanging out at IND since I was a few years old (mid 1960s), and now volunteer there as an Airport Ambassador on my days off. We are so lucky to have this well-run airport! Would like to talk to your commenter Mr. Kessler about his time with Riddle/Airlift.

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