MACKAY'S FLYING HISTORY
It took less than 10 years after the Wright brother's first powered air flight thousands of miles away, for a flying machine to find its way to the skies over the Lost River valley. Mackay's Lost River Fair program of 1914 included three days with a spectacular acrobatic show by a daredevil pilot in his "aeroplane", as it was called. The aircraft was brought on a railcar, assembled, and used a sandy pasture outside Mackay for takeoffs and landings.
Though this may have been the first aircraft seen by many in the valley, morse would follow. Nearly every 4th of July celebration or fair program from then on included some sort of air show. According to the Mackay Miner, the Lost River Fair of 1920 featured a barnstorming stunt flyer, from Idaho, in a military plane from W.W.I. Hugh Barker thrilled the crowds of valley spectators, many of whom had never seen a plane, on the ground or in the air, and even gave rides to a lot of lucky fair gores. By 1928 Charles Lindbergh had made his historic flight across the Atlantic, and air travel was invading the entire country. The same year, Lindbergh drew attention to this part of the country with a flight over the Central Idaho mountains, Butte to Boise, and every town in the area of any consequence was becoming air minded.
Progressives Mackay was no different and an airport was suggested and promoted by influential resident lawyer and landholder, Chase Clark, to be located near the old four mill site. (the site near the present Chevron bulk plant) By 1929 the airstrip was a reality and immediately utilized by a small number of plane owners with business pursuits and other who just enjoyed flying as a pastime. Though field improvements were few and maintenance spotty, the early 1930's saw the landing field fairly well used. A number of Mackay's major visitors now came by plane and many an enterprising aviator sowed up at Mackay's major social events offerings rides over the valley priced at a penny a pound. They generally had all the passengers the could handle.
In 1934 and in 1936 a number of improvements were made at Mackay's airfield, using some federal funds and state labor resources, which included upgrading and lengthening the runway. State officials touted it as one of the finest fields in the state, emphasized by the visit in August of 1936, of one of the U.S. Army's then largest planes, the B-10-B Martin bomber. In 1938 the first airmail plane would touch down picking up Mackay's first airmail letters. (airmail postage was 20 cents vs. 6 cents for for regular mail) The airstrip would be used by fish and game officials for dropping salt to game herds, by crop dusters for aerial spraying of valley crops, as well as for sightseeing flights.
1941 would usher in a new wave of flying interest with the country involved in World War II. The war effort called many a young man to learn the skills of flying in defense of his country and stories of their success romanticized the planes as well as their skill. By 1945 many of these young men were home from the war, buying domestic aircraft, and taking to the skies for pleasure. In 1946 Mackay's airport would be officially recognized by the FAA and officially designated by state officials as Mackay Municipal Airport. Local air enthusiasts included a number of the town's influential business leaders who raised money for airport improvements, including a hangar. The field was leased to flying instructor, Marvin Winn, who set up a flying service and supervised the airport. Winn's Air Service offered flying instruction, charter flights for travel, sight - seeing, or back country hunting or fishing trips. One young flyer returning to this area from the war in 1946 was Robert Diers, son of Fred Diers, prominent Mackay business man. Robert, a much decorated Army Air Corp. Squadron commander who flew the famous P- 38 fighter planes, decided to mix business and pleasure and also opened a flying service at the Mackay airfield.
In the years that would follow, the Mackay airport would se the busiest years of its existence. Ex- military airmen and others with the passion for flying from around the state, formed a flying group under the auspices of the state Board of Aeronautics. They found great pleasure in touring the state and these delegates to the Board would fly in for meetings to many of the state's more interesting places that sported adequate airstrips. Mackay was a stop often included in their flight plans and folks here really put out the welcome mat. Now Mackay's idea of hospitality was to treat the airmen and their passengers to big trout breakfast with all the trimmings at the tourist park. According to accounts in the Mackay Miner, the first such affair was held in June of 1947. It is hard to imagine today, the sight of 108 planes, of all sizes, moored at our local airport that morning and a breakfast for over 250 flyers and passengers. The scene would be repeated for a number years. one year with as many as 168 planes and 600 plus visitors, as Mackay became a regular stop for the visiting air group. One year, another group calling themselves the Flying Farmers of America also paid the airstrip and the town a visit.
The airport continued to be quite active well into the 1950's. In June of 1955, Mackay residents were treated to the sight and sound of the giant of Air Patrol Cadets, a civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Forces. Late in 1958 a small group of air cadets was formed here in Mackay which included present residents Gary Lambson and Bill Schmidt. They attended an aeronautics class in high school, received indoctrination about flying and related subjects, and some attended summer training camp at Mountain Home Air Base where they wore military style uniforms when on duty. A plane was even located at the airport for use in training flights.
But along with changes in Mackay's population make-up and economy in the years since those very active times, the airport also experienced an up-and -down history of activity. Though use of the airport in recent years has been minimal, newly completed runway improvements have again given the community a first class airfield. Not many towns the size of Mackay can boast of an airport and who knows? Maybe a few years down the road you may again see large numbers of planes utilizing Mackay's Municipal Air Port.
Information contained in the article was gleaned from old issues of the Mackay Miner Newspaper and personal interviews. The South Custer Historical Society put this article into the Arco Advertiser on February 22, 1999.
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