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Smyrna Airport: Building On The Past




Smyrna Airport has been an important part of Rutherford County’s economic and community growth since it was built in 1941 as a bomber training school after the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. Today it continues to attract jobs, business development, events, national dignitaries, and celebrities.

BEGINNING WITH “THE DAY THAT LIVED IN INFAMY”

During the war, pilots from all over the country, and even allied countries like Australia, came to Smyrna because of the great weather for training on B-17 and B-24 airplanes. It was the first of fourteen such bases activated to aid the war effort.

After the war, Smyrna Army Airfield, as it was called, was deactivated, only to be reactivated two years later, in 1949. In 1950, it was renamed Sewart Air Base. It was named after Major Allen J. Sewart, a war hero from Nashville who was shot down during a mission.

Both the Korean and Vietnam Wars were supported by the base, which was deactivated once again in 1970. During the fifties and sixties, the entrance to the airport was located where the Smyrna Event Center now stands. It had two runways that were 5,500 feet long and 300 feet wide, and, as today, it was close to rail lines.

THE AIRPORT GOES PUBLIC

After the airport was decommissioned and operations were transferred to Little Rock, Arkansas, ownership of the land was split between the Metro Nashville Airport, Rutherford County, the Town of Smyrna and the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Tennessee Air National Guard took over some of the barracks, and the Catholic Chapel was moved to Division Street, near First Baptist Church.

The first airport manager in the 1970s was Steve Fitzhugh, namesake of Fitzhugh Boulevard, location of the current airport terminal facility.

SMYRNA AIRPORT TODAY

Smyrna Airport is the third largest in Tennessee, behind Nashville and Memphis. It is also the busiest general aviation airport in the state.

The airport sits on 1,700 acres of land that originally belonged to the Goochland estate. The airport runways have been expanded, as have the facilities. While the building of the original base turned Smyrna into an industrial center overnight, current management has made a point of building on the past by continuing to spur business and industrial growth.

“Some of the most significant projects have been adding infrastructure in the 1990’s that improved the airfield and laid the groundwork for development of the west side of the airport into what is called the Airport Business Park,” said John Black, Executive Director of the Smyrna Airport.

One of the first air-related manufacturing facilities in Smyrna was Air Utilities, Incorporated, which took over Sky Harbor Airport. Air Utilities built test bombs during World War II and parts for Boeing, Douglas, and Lockheed. It was located five miles southeast of the city limits.

During the war, many of the workers were women, known nationally by the nickname “Rosie the Riveter.” Now the airport is home to over fifty businesses and growing, with many others in the area that enjoy their facilities, such as Nissan and Bridgestone.

“It has taken a team of dedicated people to accomplish the growth we have experienced over the last 27 years,” said Black.

Metro Nashville controlled the airport until 1991, when it was taken over by the Town of Smyrna and Rutherford County. It is run by a Board of Commissioners.

“Since 1991, we have invested over $125 million dollars in the airport, and it has been a progression of progress of one project building on the next,” added Black. “This has allowed us to reach the point we are at now.”

CONTINUED GROWTH
Development of the corporate aviation area, which is their target market, with the Airport Terminal and Business Center, along with new Fixed Base Operators -- Contour Aviation and Hollingshead Aviation -- has been a catalyst for their growth. They are also continuing their aviation development north of the terminal with the addition of a hangar and office facility.

Most recently they have partnered with Hillwood Development Company to build the industrial portion of the business park, adding over one million square feet of warehouse and light manufacturing space.

On the east side of the airport, they installed a one megawatt solar farm as part of their sustainability program. It supplies power to the TVA grid.

“We operate as a business and partner with private industry to move the needle forward, and it is very gratifying to look back and reflect on where we were in 1991 and where we are in 2018,” said Black.

LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE

Black and the Commission are far from sitting on their laurels. They are in the initial stages of creating a new Airport Master Plan. In the process, they will be examining the best and highest use of the airport and associated development for the next fifteen to twenty years.

Major elements of the plan include a new airport terminal with passenger service, additional hangar and aircraft maintenance facilities, hotel facilities, and further development of the Airport Business Park.

“The combination of our strategic location, airfield capacity and vibrant growth in the middle Tennessee region sets the stage for great things to come to Smyrna Airport” added Black.

DIGNITARIES AND BLUE ANGELS

Over time the airport has seen esteemed visitors, such as Bing Crosby, Byron Nelson, and General Douglas MacArthur. Now many business leaders and entertainers fly into the airport. Bonnaroo performers often use it to avoid Nashville traffic.

With the strong ties to the military still in place, they share the space with the Tennessee Army National Guard, Smyrna Airport is able to produce the Great Tennessee Air Show. They will be hosting the US Navy Blue Angels on June 8 and 9 of next year.

“We are thrilled to have the [Blue Angels] back to Smyrna,” said Black. “The airshow is a staple of our community dating back to 1970. We are honored to keep that tradition going, and encourage everyone to make plans to attend! Tickets will be going on sale soon at www.greattennesseeairshow.com

A NEW YEAR ON THE HORIZON

Like the Town of Smyrna, the Smyrna Airport’s commissioners and management have their eyes looking toward the horizon as the new year dawns and are seeing clear skies ahead.

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