History of the airport
The original Charleston Airport was located on a former phosphate mine leased from South Carolina Mining and Manufacturing Company. In 1928, the Charleston Airport Corporation was formed to lease approximately 700 acres which was cleared and graded to provide landing strips for aircraft. The privately owned airport officially opened on Aug. 10, 1929 (The Cooper River Bridge was dedicated during the same week).
In 1931, the city of Charleston floated a $60,000 bond issue to obtain a portion of this property and commence further development of the airfield. A. M. Luke established Hawthorne Flying Service at the airfield soon thereafter, and Hawthorne facilities remained in continuous service until the 1990s.
Throughout the 1930s, facility development continued with significant assistance from the Works Projects Administration (WPA). Runway 3/21 was paved to a distance of 3,500’; Runway 15/33 was paved to a distance of 3,000’; Runway 10/28 (now Taxiway 5) was paved to a distance of 4,000’. All runways were lighted with floodlights for night operations.
The city of Charleston levied a ½ mill tax on its citizens to support the operation of the airport and continued to operate the field until World War II.
WORLD WAR II
In 1942, Charleston Municipal Airport was given to the U.S. Army as part of the eastern defense program. Full control of the field was vested in the Army Air Corps; however, commercial flying was permitted to continue. During the war, the Army purchased more land and drained and reclaimed other portions of the real estate. Charleston Army Base was closed in 1946 as part of the peacetime transition and released its 2,050 acres and $12 million in improvements to the city.
During the late 1940s, the city of Charleston commenced planning for a new passenger terminal building partially funded with a $240,000 grant from the Civil Aeronautics Administration. The new airport terminal opened in 1949, the first post-war airport modernization in the southeast.
The Korean War led to the reactivation of a military air base at Charleston. In 1952, the city of Charleston and the U.S. Air Force reached an agreement on control of the base and joint use of the runways. The City deeded 1,605 acres to the U. S. government for 25 years and executed a joint use agreement, which contained a provision for the city to develop an adequate replacement airport for civil aviation prior to 1958. Upon occupying this new airport site, the city would deed its existing 42 acres (including the terminal building) to the U. S. government, which would then assume exclusive use of the entire airfield.
The U.S. Air Force later released the alternate site requirement and over the next two decades several different joint use arrangements were alternately proposed by both the city and the Air Force. In December, 1973, a new joint-use agreement was signed with the city of Charleston that finally replaced the 1956 Agreement. One of its provisions included the ownership transfer of Charleston Municipal airport to a newly formed Airport Authority.
CHARLESTON COUNTY AVIATION AUTHORITY
On Jan. 1, 1979, the Charleston County Aviation Authority assumed control of Charleston 1,300-acre site adjoining the southern portion of the airfield was purchased from Georgia-Pacific Company and the new terminal complex opened there in April 1985.
The new terminal includes an international concourse to accommodate the operations of the Military Airlift Command’s Southeastern Gateway. Adjoining property not necessary for aviation use is under development as an office/industrial park. The Authority retains ownership of the original civil airport property and will develop and upgrade general aviation and air cargo facilities on this acreage.
CHARLESTON EXECUTIVE AIRPORT
PREVIOUS AIRPORTS IN WEST ASHLEY AREA
Prior to the public opening of John’s Island Airport, local aviators were served by several different public use fields.
From 1927 to 1936, the city of Charleston was served by an airfield adjacent to the Stono River at the site of today’s Charleston Municipal Golf Course.
From 1940 to 1946, Jensen Field was operated on James Island (alternately known as Clark Field). Martin Jensen was an aviator of some renown and was one of only two pilots to successfully complete the infamous Dole Race to Hawaii in the late 1920’s. He is reputed to have served as a navigator with Amelia Earhart.
From 1945 to 1950, Milton Truluck operated a field south of Highway 17 in an area now known as the Air Harbor residential subdivision. Many of the street names in this neighborhood still bear witness to its early history (Boeing Avenue, Swift Avenue, Curtis Avenue, Piper Drive, etc.).
William Scott operated Carolina Sky Ways on a field located off of Folly Road on James Island. This location is across the Stono River and directly east of the existing John’s Island Airport.
During World War II, the Civil Air Patrol operated submarine patrols out of this base. Located on land leased from the Dill sisters, this airport operated from the early 1940s until 1967.
An airport named Clement Field was operated on James Island.
All of the above airfields provided turf landing strips; non provided paved runways and taxiways.
WORLD WAR II
In August 1943, the U.S. government leased approximately 900 acres of land from Charleston County and purchased almost 400 more acres from three adjacent property owners to complete the land acquisition for the proposed John’s Island Airfield.
During 1944 and 1945, the John’s Island Airfield Military Reservation was constructed. The total construction time was only 95 days. The field served as an auxiliary training base (no permanent structures were constructed); however, it was also used as a launching point for transatlantic flights.
In January 1948, the Charleston County obtained the transfer of the airport and continued to operate and maintain it until the early 1970s.
CHARLESTON COUNTY AVIATION AUTHORITY
In 1972, the newly formed Aviation Authority leased the John’s Island Airport from Charelston County and began several rehabilitation and improvement projects, including the complete relocation of the fixed-based operation located at the airport.
In 1975, the John’s Island Airport was granted in fee simple to the Aviation Authority. The Authority continues to operate the airport as an officially designated reliever to Charleston International Airport.
MOUNT PLEASANT REGIONAL AIRPORT (formerly called East Cooper Airport)
PREVIOUS AIRPORTS IN THE EAST COOPER AREA
Prior to the opening of the East Cooper Airport, local aviators were served by these public use fields.
Major William North operated the Remley’s Point Airport from about 1950 to 1973. This airport was located near Charleston harbor, roughly adjacent to the site of today’s Mount Pleasant Holiday Inn. Major North’s first wife is credited with being the first licensed female pilot in South Carolina.
The Isle of Palms Airport
The Isle of Palms Airport was built in the early 1950’s to provide a recreational airport adjacent to the island’s beaches. It provided a 2,900’ turf airstrip situated along the Intracoastal Waterway.
Originally constructed and operated by the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission, ownership was later transferred to the Charleston County Aviation Authority; however, the airport was located on privately owned leased land that was recovered in 1983 by the owners for development of the Wild Dunes complex.
EARLY PLANNING FOR NEW AIRPORT
In 1974, residents of the Mount Pleasant area strongly expressed the desire for a modern general aviation airport to serve their community – as a result, the Charleston County Aviation Authority authorized the development of a master plan for this airport.
In 1976, the Authority selected a site for development and purchased a 300 acre parcel from Georgia-Pacific approximately 10 miles northeast of central Mount Pleasant.
By the summer of 1986, all airport paving was complete, including a 3,700’ runway, aircraft parking apron, and automobile parking lot. Thereafter, the above ground structures, including a maintenance hangar, offices, T-Hangar, and fuel farm were constructed and the airport officially opened for public use in August 1985.
CHARLESTON SEAPLANE FACILITIES
There are currently no seaplane facilities in the Charleston area; however, the following areas were active in previous years.
Located near the Wappoo Cut, this facility provided water landings in the Wappoo River. It was also possible to use the Ashley River.
U.S. Navy Base
During the World War II years, the U.S. Navy operated military seaplanes in the Cooper River. The operation of PBM Mariners was a common occurrence. It is believed Squadron VPB 18, 21, and 25 were based here at various times.
Although no official seaplane facilities are known to have been published for Charleston Harbor, it has been used by various aircraft from time to time. In 1931, the German Dornier DOX used Charleston Harbor during an international visit.