While an estimated 35,000 people created an immense traffic jam in the vicinity of Salt Lake's Woodward Field, several times that many strained their eyes from the city in hopes of catching a glimpse. The "Lone Eagle" circled Salt Lake Valley twice, "drove his stout monoplane upward at almost a vertical angle while he circled the field twice in three minutes and came to a landing so gentle that the dust was hardly stirred."
Looking like a "tall, youthful athlete," America's aviation hero strode to a reception line that included dozens of dignitaries, then was whisked off to a parade that culminated at Liberty Park.America's romance with space was in the puppy-love stages, and a visit by the man who was first to cross the Atlantic solo was an occasion for celebrating. For two days, the city paid homage to Lucky Lindy, who predicted a rosy future in aviation for Utah's capital.
Lindbergh's visit eclipsed what was probably a more historically important event that occurred two days earlier. On Sept. 1, 1927, the first transcontinental air mail and air freight delivery arrived in Salt Lake City from New Brunswick, N.J., en route to the West Coast. Included was a radio for LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, a gift from the president of Atwater-Kent Co. The freight charge: $65.
At Salt Lake City, the cargo was divided onto three planes, headed for Los Angeles, San Francisco and Pasco, Wash.
Salt Lake City's geographic location made it a natural midway point for air travel across the continent. The city adapted the well-known Utah slogan "This is the Place" to promote aviation, and it boasted several air-travel firsts. Highlights of the history of Salt Lake International Airport include:
1911: Just eight years after Orville and Wilbur Wright took their historic first flight, Utah has its first landing strip, cinder-covered and located on a marshy area of Basque Flats west of the city. The same year, the "Great International Aviation Carnival" brought flying daredevils to Salt Lake City for midair competition.
1920: Salt Lake City purchased 100 additional acres and dedicated Woodward Field, named for John P. Woodward, local pilot who died in a crash during a snowstorm on a Wyoming-Salt Lake City mail flight. Boxer Jack Dempsey participated in the ceremony.
1926: First commercial passenger flight. Ben F. Redman and J.A. Tomlinson sat on U.S. Mail sacks for a flight to Los Angeles. The pilot was Charles N. "Jimmie" James. The company, Western Air Express, evolved into Western Airlines.
1930: Woodward Field became Salt Lake Municipal Airport, expanding to 400 acres with 11 hangars, two gravel runways.
1933: Administration building constructed on east side of field.
1943: Airport became a training base and replacement depot for Air Force. Salt Lake Municipal Airport 2 built in southwest Salt Lake Valley to handle trainees.
1960: First jet landed as air travel becomes more popular than land transportation.
1968: Facility renamed Salt Lake International Airport, initiating near-continuous expansion program still under way.
Salt Lake City figured in the first regional delivery of airmail in 1926. The initial attempt ended in disaster. A small Swallow biplane left Pasco, Wash., headed for Elko, Nev. The pilot, Leon Cuddeback, flying for Varney Airlines, crash-landed in the Nevada desert. Eleven days later, a competing Western Air Express pilot flying an open-cockpit plane flew mail from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City, with a fueling stop in Las Vegas.
Pre-Aviation Administration flying was more relaxed. One story recounts that Fred W. Kelly had actress Bebe Daniels aboard his plane on one flight. As he passed a fellow pilot, the above-mentioned James, who was headed the other way, he signaled for James to land so he could meet the actress. After a half hour "somewhere on the desert," they took off, both using "headwinds" to explain their tardy arrival at their respective destinations.
Without today's electronic guidance systems to keep them on course, pioneer pilots had less-scientific ways to get where they wanted to be. For instance, the instructions for pilots headed for Woodward Field were to locate the state Capitol Building, then head due west for "about four miles" to land. Fliers followed railroad lines, roads and other obvious landmarks to stay on course.
The early aviators were a breed apart, adventurers who refused to be earthbound, despite the initial hazards of flying.
Among those who put Utah on aviation maps were Ken Unger, who began Unger Aviation in 1922, and "Tommie Tailspin" (A.R.) Thompson, who bought the company Unger had established.
Thompson became a local hero for the daring air shows he staged, with hardy adventurers who looped-the-loop, performed thrilling rolls or walked the wings of their craft to keep the crowd on edge. For Thompson himself, the end came when the DC-3 he was piloting fell into San Francisco Bay.
Utah contributed to the country's military preparedness as early as 1927 when Woodward Field became the home of the 10th Army Air Force Reserve unit. During World War II, the Salt Lake Air Force Base was centered at the airport, where crews trained for the B-17 Flying Fortress. The Utah National Guard began using the field in 1947.
Utah's worst air disaster occurred in 1947 when a United Airlines DC-6 attempting an emergency landing on the Bryce Canyon airstrip crashed, killing 53.
With the proliferation of terminals, parking terraces and ancillary buildings at Salt Lake International, the Basque herders who ran their sheep across the flats in the early part of this century would have a hard time recognizing the area. It has become a major link in an international system that has shrunk the world to a single community strung from airport to airport.