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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.

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Lt. Richard H. Stout’s marker at Crown Hill Cemetery – Photo from findagrave.com

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.

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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.

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Critics of the complex journey decided that TAT better stood for “take a train”.

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.

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A 1941 aerial view of Stout Field and its four unpaved runways.

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.

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Based at Stout was the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, a troop/cargo transport plane critical to the Guadalcanal and Bastogne campaigns and also to the Berlin Airlift, post-war. – photo from wikipedia

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A matchbook cover depicting a C-47 Skytrain towing a glider – photo from ebay

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.

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The four runways, marked in yellow, now covered in commercial structures and in the northeast corner, the expanded National Guard Joint Force Headquarters – Google Maps

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.

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Artist rendering of the completed Joint Force Headquarters – from the CSO website

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The Joint Force Headquarters under construction – Photo by Ryan Hamlett

15 responses to “Stout Army Air Field”

  1. David Brewer says:

    Richard Stout was related to the Stout Shoe Store family. I haven’t been in there for a while, but Stout’s Shoes used to have old photos of Stout and the airfield hanging on the wall. A lot of pilots died in training on the P-39–it was a tricky plane due to its short wingspan and its tendency to go over on its nose. Wound up being used a lot as a ground attack fighter during WW2. My dad used to work at the Allison Plant over in Maywood and I can remember driving by this airfield a lot taking him to and from work. I especially remember a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter that was on display for years by the street.

  2. Beverly Fauvre says:

    My husband and I so enjoyed reading your research on Stout Field. My husband’s father, Indianapolis attorney Irving M. Fauvre, was a pilot instructor in WW I. During WW II he was assigned to command Stout
    Field which was an Air Force base during the War. There was a large contingent of Air Force fighters
    and bombers there.

    After World War II Irving returned to his law practice, but in the mid fifties served as President of the Aviation Board which oversaw Weir Cook Airport. We remember a plaque in the old Weir Cook which named him and his Board. Always wondered what happened to that plaque when Weir Cook was expanded and remodeled.

    Irving’s son, David V.A. Fauvre, remembers racing his sports cars at Stout Field where the SCCA races
    and time trials were held in the fifties and sixties.

  3. dmikelsshea says:

    RE: Stout Field as remembered from late 40’s-59;s:

    Stout Field Officers Club was mecca for food/drink/gathering place in the WW2 and after era–danced many a dance there –and a near brush with federal prison when my tipsy pilot date got the idea we should slip into one of the many planes to take a “slow boat to China” (it was playing on juke box when we tipsily tip toed out and into tethered plane and he actually started motor. Fortunately the OD (officer of day) who heard and swiftly found us was his/my best friend who shooed us back into club and covered up our ill-advised travel plan.

    But in my reporter days (Indpls.Times) the State Police HQ at Stout Field was my “beat” –especially during the headline Watts murder investigation (Robt.Austin Watts case made new Supreme Court law in 2 trials resulting in his eventual execution.) Late stern and unflinchlingly honest Robt. A. O’Neal was head of State Police (first actual career law enforcement man to hold post, previously a politically appointed civilian “chum.” His top officers were John Barton (later Mayor) Bob Shields, Larry Broderick, both later sheriffs as O’Neal also was. Do not recall year it moved as Stout Field faded into civilian life.

  4. Tom Renick says:

    Stout Field was also home to some of the first NHRA Drag races during the late 1950s. This was before Raceway park was constructed. I raced my old Ford at Stout in 1958 the year I graduated HS.

  5. Phil Brooks says:

    Thanks for documenting this. Where did you get that paperweight- it’s beautiful!

  6. Erwin R. Kuehrmann says:

    My Dad, Wilmar (Bill) O. Kuehrmann started working for the ISP at Stout Field in the late 50’s as an automotive mechanic. He used to take me with him to work occasionally in the summer or on Saturdays I always enjoyed going out to Stout Field with him. Some of the stories I could tell….

  7. Dorothy Springer says:

    M y had husband’s father, Stanley Springer, opened barber shops on Stout Field, during WW Ii. My husband remembers the time a plane landing at Stout Field burned the rubber off the tires before it stopped. Does anyone else remember that event or do you have pictures or an article about this.

  8. Dorothy Springer says:

    It was the first B-29 that landed at Stout Field during WW II. His father had three barber shops on Stout Field.

  9. Anonymous says:

    4

  10. Jerry BOTZUM says:

    I grew up in Tyndall Towne (housing project for returning WWII Vets. – just North of Stout Field. ). Spent years watching those planes, including a fatal accident between a take off and a landing collision. Quite a drama watching as one brave soul times a dangerous leap onto the out of control plane – the pilot was killed in the collision and slumped over controls. Scrapped airplanes in our Army compound. Lots of stories.

  11. Karen says:

    My dad was a state police officer at stout field so there a connection there.

  12. Lyman Clark says:

    My mother’s clothes line was right under the approach-departure lane of one of the runways, this was on Farnsworth St. in Maywood, Planes climbing out with a load would always give her a fright.

  13. John hibner says:

    I’d like to hear the stories about your dad, if you can share.

  14. Randy Zirkle says:

    Hey Erwin,
    How are you doing?
    your old roommate, ydnaR

  15. Doug Hightshue says:

    I have a photograph of my father in his plane the day he soloed. I’m not positive but I would wager it was at Stout Field. He was from Traders Point and the school was in Indianapolis. If I remember correctly he was about 18 which would make it 1928. Do any student records/rosters from the school still exist? Would also love to know type of airplane.

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