DTW Airport Helped Shape Michigan’s Aeronautic  History


Left: Daniel Mason, Volunteer Historian for the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, has written a book about the history of the airport while maintaining collections.
He also has discharge papers from the National Guard Observation Squadron in 1937, is one of many collections from Mason’s efforts. 
Photos by Rick Garcia


By Rick Garcia

Almost any Michigan resident has or will have boarded an airplane at The Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW) for expanded travel.  It is no surprise that in 2013 over 32 million passengers have checked-in this world airport, with service from 13 scheduled passenger  airlines, Michigan’s largest airport offers more than 1,100 flights per day to and from nearly 150 non-stop destinations on four continents and has received and shipped over 475 million pounds of cargo each year. 
This 87-year old airport also has a fascinating history.
Daniel Mason, Historian Volunteer for the Detroit Metro-Willow Run Airport, has been the acolyte and keeper of many historical photos, documents and collections surrounding the airport’s history and movement.  Mason is also an author with his book “Detroit Metro Airport,” giving a rich early history of the airports movement.
According to Mason’s book, Detroit Metro Airport, the airport has grown and changed with the times.  During the golden age of flight, the airport served the local community by providing transportation and employment.  In World War II, Romulus Army Air Field served the military by transporting B-24 Liberator bombers to the East Coast.  It wsa also a transfer base for P-39 Aircobras and P-63 Kingcobras to be flown to the Soviet Union via Great Falls, Montana and Alaska.  The war ended, and the airport became a civilian operation again, with the Air National Guard maintaining a presence. 
On April 12, 1927, the plan to build a major commercial airport was conceived, where a $2 million bond was issued to finance the acquisition of one square mile of land at the corner of Middlebelt Road and Wick Road, (at the northeast corner of today’s airport). Called Wayne County Airport, it served as a general aviation facility. In 1929                  A landing strip was installed along with several maintenance buildings and the Wayne County Airport was dedicated and opened to the public in September. The first “official” landing was February 22, 1930. Thompson Aeronautical Corporation, a predecessor company of American Airlines, inaugurated service from Wayne County Airport.
In the 1930’s and 40’s The Wayne County Airport became the base for the Michigan Air National Guard. Control of the Airport was assumed by the U.S. Army for use as a staging base for transport of heavy bombers to Europe. The Army constructed new hangars, runways, and other facilities.
The U.S. Army announced its intentions of releasing Wayne County Airport, thus paving the way for its use as either a primary or secondary airport to serve Detroit and Wayne County.  The Airport was renamed Detroit-Wayne Major Airport in 1947 with the runway expansion and new air traffic control tower and administration building. 
In the late 1950’s The airport was renamed Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and began construction  a $10.4 million expansion program including a new terminal building (L.C. Smith Terminal), a 10,500 foot runway, a hotel and restaurant. The airport was certified as an international jet craft airport by the Civil Aeronautics Administration which qualified the Airport for 50 percent Federal funds for construction of the long runways needed for jet airliners.
The Airport was renamed Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.  Detroit and Wayne County officially joined the jet age with the dedication of the$8.3 million terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The dedication gave Detroit the first inland commercial jet airport in the nation. 
Established in 2002 by Michigan Public Act 90 (2002), the Airport Authority is an independent agency responsible for the operation of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Willow Run Airport and Crosswinds Marsh.  The Airport Authority directly employs more than 500 individuals across a number of disciplines, while the airports themselves are home to more than 18,000 jobs. A report produced by University of Michigan-Dearborn in January 2014 estimated the economic impact of DTW at $10.2 billion across the State of Michigan. Activity at the airport stimulates more than 86,000 jobs. A similar study conducted for YIP in 2007 estimated a $200 million economic impact with 2,000 jobs generated.
DTW’s History will continue to grow and shape our great state.