Boulder, Colorado Airport History

The Airport has been an important part of Boulder’s history since its origin as “Hayden Field” in the 1920s.  In its early years, a small group of aviation pioneers started up the “Silver Wing Aircraft Company”, one of the first aircraft manufacturers in the nation.  Their premier aircraft, a two-seat plane with silver wings, was test flown on April 14, 1928 in front of a crowd of 1,000 spectators.  Although the factory was located near 28th St and Pine St, the company built the airfield’s first hangar and secured the title to the Hayden Lake tract to officially designate the strip as an airport.  In addition to constructing the Silver Wing aircraft, they also ran Boulder’s first flight school.

On May 19, 1938, Boulder citizens gathered to witness the first Air Mail flight, ushering in the era of trans-continental mail flights.

On June 1, 1943, the City of Boulder purchased 36 acres of the Hayden Field property and re-named it Boulder Municipal Airport.  Shortly after its purchase, the city graded the primary runway, installed runway markers, and built the first city-owned hangar (Hangar F) on the north side of the runway.

During World War II, the airport was home to the Army Air Corps’ Civilian Pilot Training Program, training U.S. Navy aircrew how to fly the J-3 “Cub” trainer and surveillance plane.   At that time, the airport had three runways.  The primary runway was in the same location as the current Runway 8/26, but the field also had two diagonal runways composed of grass.

Between 1953 and 1969, numerous improvements were made at the Airport.  In 1953, the Airport installed runway lights and a flashing beacon.  In 1958, the Civil Aeronautical Administration (now known as the Federal Aviation Administration) gave the Airport its first grant of $50,000 which helped the City fund a $100,000 project to pave the primary runway.  In 1958 and 1959, the City of Boulder purchased an additional 37 acres of land that now consists of the main hangar area and eastern end of the runway.  Between 1964 and 1969, the airport saw the construction of two t-hangars and two service hangars.

In the 1977, Boulder once again became home to a ground-breaking airplane manufacturer known as Pete Bartoe Jr..  Graduate of the University of Colorado School of Engineering and former President of Ball Brothers Research Corporation (now known as Ball Aerospace), Bartoe shook up the aviation industry by designing and building the “Jet Wing” at Boulder Municipal Airport.  The jet was the first to incorporate a unique wing design that allowed it to travel as slow as 45 mph, which was significantly slower than any jet had flown before.  Bartoe’s design opened up jet use for smaller airports and contributed to future designs of Navy aircraft carrier based aircraft.

Bartoe followed up his Jet Wing creation with an equally impressive bi-plane called the “Skyote”.  Its small size, impressive power, and gravity-defying acrobatic capabilities quickly made it a sought-after asset.  Though neither plane were built for mass production, Bartoe and his ingenious design group put Boulder on the aviation map.

As early as 1975, gliding became a popular aspect of aviation at the airport.  In fact, Boulder has established itself as one of the prominent gliding locations in the United States due to its short distance from the mountains and its “mountain wave” weather pattern.  During its rich history, Boulder has been the starting place of several record breaking glider flights.  On Dec 29, 1976, a Schweitzer 1-34 sailplane set a new altitude record by reaching a height of 44,100 feet above sea level.  On Jun 7, 2004, a Ventus 2b sailplane conducted the first 1000 km glider flight out of Boulder, and was only the second time 1000 km had been surpassed by anyone in the State. Once released from it’s Boulder-based tow plane, the 8 hour and 38 minute flight to New Mexico and back was conducted entirely without a motor.

Aviation awards of all types have been awarded to pilots and aircraft based at Boulder Municipal Airport.  In 1976, a female pilot from the Boulder Aerobatic Club won numerous awards and was named one of the nation’s top 5 pilots, allowing her to represent the U.S. at the World Aerobatic Championships in Kiev, U.S.S.R.  Other members of her aerobatic team also won awards at regional and national contests, quickly making a name for themselves and Boulder Municipal Airport.

The Airport has also served an important role to the community over the years by providing a home for critical service and research-oriented groups.  The Boulder chapter of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) not only owns a glider that is used to train cadets on the fundamentals of flight, but they launch critical search and rescue missions from the Airport using their single-engine surveillance airplane.

The summer of 1994 was one of the driest on record, causing the wildfire threat to be high. Boulder County's fires were contained before they got too large partly because of a single engine air tanker stationed at the Airport.

Government agencies in the area, such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), have also called the Airport home.  Its location allows them to easily launch research aircraft into the skies and gather critical data on the Earth’s atmosphere and weather patterns.