Much of the early history of aviation in Louisville and indeed the state is a result of the Aero Club of Louisville. The club's founding fathers included pilots returning from World War I who found that there was no place to continue their passion for flying, and businessmen who saw the potential of aviation beyond military applications. Aviators and observers of the World War formed the Aero Club of Kentucky yesterday to use Bowman Field, recently accepted by the War Department, as a flying field for reserve officers in the Air Services. Louisville Courier-Journal, October 26, 1922. A.H. Bowman, Sidney Park, and Louisville Mayor Huston Quinn were among the 18 men who founded the Aero Club.
Some History on the Aero Club of Louisville
For a historical look at the Aero Club, we have to go back to the end of WWI and look at aviation in the Louisville community. The war had brought military aviation to Camp Henry Knox, however, civil aviation was virtually nonexistent. It was at this point, that Mr. A. H. Bowman led this cause and is known as the "Father of Aviation in Louisville". He soon realized the possibilities of a municipal flying field here and brought together a number of interesting and well known citizens to help him achieve his goals.
It was a long and hard journey, but Mr. Bowman was not to be denied. In the early part of 1922, Mayor Huston Quin, Mr. Frank B. Russell and Mr. Wm. E. Morrow of the Board of Trade, lined up with Mr. Bowman and started work to secure a government station for Louisville. After months of hard work and several trips to Washington, they accomplished their purpose and the government had accepted the property on Taylorsville Road which had been offered to them. They consented to place a flying field there. Under the terms of the agreement between the City of Louisville and the U. S. War Department, Louisville would guarantee the use of Bowman Field at a rental of $1.00 annually and would pay all expenses involved in moving several hangers from Camp Knox to the Taylorsville Road site. The Federal government in return, would designate the site officially as a landing field and establish an Army Air Service Reserve unit there.
Near the end of 1922, Mr. Bowman brought together a group of former servicemen and citizens interested in aviation and set a meeting to form the Aero Club of Kentucky in January, 1923. The club had eighteen charter members. The officers of the Club were elected as follows: Mr. Joseph Peeler, President; Mr. Albert M. Woody, Vice President; Mr. C. Wesley Keisker, Secretary; Mr. Bowman was a member of the Board of Governors. It was the Aero Club that started things moving and, through manual labor and untiring efforts, soon had the field bearing the semblance of an aviation station. The government placed Lt. Raymond Brown in charge of the field and under his guidance, hangers were erected, markers placed, gas pumps put in, roads built and numerous other improvements made. Lt. Brown also became a member of the Aero Club's original Board of Governors.
The Air Service Reserve Corps was organized next and named the 465th Pursuit Squadron stationed at Louisville Airdrome-Bowman Field. The Unit insignia was a flying cardinal upon a white map of the State of Kentucky as a background.
All of the hard efforts of these people was rewarded on Saturday, August 25, 1923 when there was an official field dedication conducted by the Aero Club of Kentucky.
Through the continuous efforts of the Aero Club members and local citizens, a bond issue was passed in 1928 which permitted the city to purchase Bowman Field. Thus Louisville was assured a permanent airport for its use.
Another note of interest is that on October 1, 1929, the Aero Club of Kentucky loaned $2,500 to the newly established Louisville and Jefferson County Air Board to help them get started.
Over the time from its formation to the present day, the Aero Club has made many significant contributions to the development of aviation in Louisville. It is with this spirit that the Aero Club of Louisville continues the fine traditions of its founding fathers.
For our trivia buffs, the Aero Club of Kentucky changed its name to the Aero Club of Louisville on April 16, 1946.
The Aero Club of Louisville has built a fine club facility on Bowman Field, overlooking the approach to runway 32. We have a great group of interesting members with many different backgrounds and interests. However, they all support one common goal - to encourage and foster interest in aviation and to unite all those interested into one organization.
The club's founding fathers included pilots returning from World War I who found that there was no place to continue their passion for flying, and businessmen who saw the potential of aviation beyond military applications. Aviators and observers of the World War formed the Aero Club of Kentucky yesterday to use Bowman Field, recently accepted by the War Department, as a flying field for reserve officers in the Air Services. Louisville Courier-Journal, October 26, 1922. A.H. Bowman, Sidney Park, and Louisville Mayor Huston Quinn were among the 18 men who founded the Aero Club.
In 1922 a Louisville delegation including Mayor Huston Quinn, Abram Bowman and others approached the Army about establishing a base at Bowman Field. The Mayor had gone to Washington to ask President Warren Harding to put Louisville on the Army Airways. The Army agreed and formed an Air Corps Reserve until the 465th Pursuit Squadron.
In 1923 the Aero Club was given an allotment of funds by Jefferson County and the city of Louisville to rent and maintain an airport at this site. The number of club members started growing immediately and some of them also joined the Pursuit Squadron. Thirty members of the club spent a weekend at Camp Knox (now better known as Fort Knox) dismantling an old Army hanger, which they brought back to Bowman Field and erected as the quarters of the Reserve Air Corps Squadron.
The Aero Club ran Bowman Field for the first six years of its existence. The members took care of maintenance, building, and anything that arose. In 1923 they put on the first air show in Louisville with an attendance estimated by the Courier-Journal at 12,000. By 1928 it was clear that Bowman field was outgrowing its volunteer status, and that the members of the Aero Club could no longer keep it maintained and manned as it needed to be. The state Legislature created the Louisville and Jefferson County Air Board and the entire Von Zedwitz estate. Part of the estate is now Bowman Field and Seneca Park.
The first chairman of the new Air Board was Aero Club member Addison Lee. He and five others were appointed to the bipartisan board in October, 1928. Bowman Field is touted as the longest continuously operating, general aviation airport in the United States.
The Aero Club of Louisville
Aviation Achievement Award
Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame - 2004
The following article is from their publication:
Established in 1922 to promote general aviation, 18 men – including W. Sid Park and Abe H. Bowman, founded the non-profit organization to promote aviation.
Still in existence today as the Aero Club of Louisville, Inc., the Aero Club’s early history goes hand-in-hand with the development of aviation in Louisville. In 1918, a Canadian Jenny had landed in a pasture located on Taylorsville Pike. About two years later, W. Sidney Park and businessman Abram H. Bowman – considered to be the Father of Louisville Aviation – formed the Bowman-Park Aero Company, operating from this same pasture, which had been leased by Bowman in order to have a secure base of operations.
Aviation continued to grow, and in the next several years the Club sponsored many flying exhibitions with the newly formed 456th Pursuit Squadron, an Air Corps reserve unit. One outstanding performance featured then-lieutenant Jimmy Doolittle and two fellow pilots, who tied their planes together, and then took off and landed without breaking the cord between their planes.
In 1923 the Aero Club was funded by the city and county governments and was officially put in charge of managing the airport. This continued until 1928, when the Louisville and Jefferson County Air Board was created by the Kentucky State Legislature.
The transfer of management and operations of the airport only stimulated increased interest and support of the Aero Club members, who dismantled a surplus Ft. Knox hangar and re-erected it on Bowman Field as the Air Reserve Squadron’s headquarters.
Several members of the Aero Club continued to serve for many years as members of the Louisville and Jefferson County Air Boards. They participated in numerous air tours throughout the Commonwealth to promote interest in aviation. In 1938, four young ladies joined the club and organized early morning “Dawn Patrol” flights to numerous cities. The ideas spread with several similar groups (including Lexington) being formed. As a result of this promotion, the Kentucky Aeronautics Act was passed in January 1940 and the State Air Board was formed.
In more recent years the group has sponsored numerous promotional activities including the annual Louisville Air Fair. It raised over $100,000 to build its current facility, which enables it to host more than 20 aviation organizations that wish to use the Aero Club meeting rooms.
Bowman Field has been recognized and honored in recent years as the oldest continuously operating airport in the United States, and the club has a special sense of pride in that it was there from the beginning and has been located on the Field the entire time. In fact, there are those who say it is the oldest continually operating aviation club in the world!