Airports of Winston-Salem
A passion for flight fueled creation of first one, then a second airport in Winston-Salem. Avid aviators Blevin Maynard, Charles Lindbergh, Z. Smith Reynolds and Thomas Davis are among the pioneers who inspired the airfields’ construction and sustained airport development through the twentieth century.
Winston-Salem’s first airfield was named for Blevin W. Maynard (1892-1922), a pilot who discovered his passion for flying while a divinity student at Wake Forest College. As a test pilot in France during WWI, Maynard set a world record for flying loop-the-loops, performing three hundred eighteen loops without losing altitude.
After the War, Maynard won a transcontinental race, crossing the North American continent in the record time of 83 hours and 20 minutes. His skill and daring made him a national celebrity. Known as “The Flying Parson,” Maynard flew into Winston-Salem on December 6, 1919, and gave the dedication speech for a freshly prepared airfield east of town that bore his name. Maynard Field, with two intersecting runways, hangar space and an operations building, was one of the first commercial airports in the South.
It was Charles Lindbergh’s impending visit to Winston-Salem eight years later, in 1927, that motivated construction of the second airport. City leaders decided that Maynard Field was far too modest to receive the world’s greatest aviator and his “Spirit of St. Louis”. Aiming to establish a completely new, more suitable airport, they identified a site off Walkertown Road, now North Liberty Street, for the new airfield. Mr. Clint Miller donated $17,000.00 to develop facilities there, and in honor of this gift, the Airport Corporation named the airfield Miller Municipal Airport. Richard “Dick” Reynolds, one of the sons in the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company family, had established Reynolds Aviation, both an aircraft maintenance service and commuter airline, in Rochester, New York. Prior to the opening of Miller Municipal, he expanded his New York operation to include Winston-Salem. He built steel hangars and installed electricity at the new airport.
For the next five years, Reynolds Aviation provided commercial flights from Miller Airport to New York, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Baltimore as well as taxi service to Wrightsville and Myrtle Beaches. In 1932, after Dick Reynolds dissolved Reynolds Aviation, a group of local businessmen formed Camel City Flying Service.
Under the direction of Lewis “Mac” McGinnis, the new aviation company focused on maintenance services, and Miller Airport became the largest repair facility between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta. Camel City Flying Service also distributed Piper and Stinson aircraft. In addition to renovating the existing airport structures and improving the field lights, the Flying Service installed a grandstand for aerial shows. Thrilled by the romance of flight, area residents flocked by the thousands to watch “barnstormers” and flying circuses perform daring stunts in the air.
A great boost to Winston-Salem’s airport occurred in 1940, when Mr. Charles Norfleet, president of the Airport Commission, negotiated with Eastern Airlines to add Miller to its North-South route. With the agreement in place, trustees of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation donated funds to modernize and expand the airport so that it could accommodate the requirements of a major commercial airline.
Also in 1940, under the direction of Thomas Henry Davis (1918-1999), Camel City Flying Services became Piedmont Aviation. Captivated by airplanes as a child, Thomas Davis had hoarded his allowance for flying lessons and made his first solo flight when he was just 16.
December 14, 1942 was a grand day for Winston-Salem: the new Z. Smith Reynolds terminal was dedicated and the airport was renamed in memory of Dick Reynolds’ younger brother, Zachary Smith Reynolds (1911-1932), a daring young aviator whose life had ended suddenly ten years before. The new passenger terminal boasted huge picture windows, marble walls, and a unique chandelier in the lobby. It had a baggage area, a lunch counter, and an upscale lounge. According to Richard Murdoch, archivist at Reynolda House, “Some called it the finest facility in the country.”
Piedmont Aviation spent the 1940s building a base in flight training and aviation support services. In addition to supporting commercial and private airlines, between 1942 and 1945, Smith Reynolds Airport served as a training base for US pilots headed overseas. In all, the facility trained over 1,000 aviators.
When WWII ended, Thomas Davis decided to use the facilities he had developed and employ the personnel he had organized to found a local airline that would service small airports skipped over by larger airlines. So, in 1947, Piedmont Airlines was born as a division of Piedmont Aviation. Initially, the new airline served twenty-two airports with three DC-3 aircraft, known as “Pacemakers”.
By 1953, Piedmont Airlines employed over 680 people and covered almost 3,000 miles on its route system. The Airline’s gross revenue was $5.3 million, and the General Aviation division averaged $30,000.00 in monthly revenue.
As Piedmont Airlines grew, business blossomed at Smith Reynolds Airport. Smith Reynolds was the state’s busiest airport, in 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1969. Also during the 1960’s, however, the Civil Aeronautics Board decided that only one airport in the Triad, the Greensboro Regional Airport, would receive service from national carriers.
During the 1970’s, Piedmont made Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport its passenger airline hub. Although Piedmont corporate headquarters remained at Smith Reynolds, the airport’s passenger numbers dwindled. Soon after Piedmont merged with USAir in 1989, the airline closed its base at Smith Reynolds. Over the next decade, commercial service to Winston-Salem declined. January 2000 saw the last scheduled airline flight leave from the airport.
Despite the absence of commercial airline service, Smith Reynolds Airport still plays an important role in Forsyth County. The airport continues to house a jet maintenance service, charter flight services, and corporate jets for many local businesses. Perhaps most important, Smith Reynolds Airport continues to house a prestigious flight school, Piedmont Flight Training and Aviation Services, where aspiring pilots can cultivate their passion for aviation.
Breedlove, Michael. “Connecting Flights”, Winston-Salem Monthly, September 2008. Accessed at www.winstonsalemmonthly.com/index.php/previous-issues/features/connecting-flights/ on April 6, 2009.
Young, Wesley.”Sound and Fury”, Winston-Salem Journal, Saturday, April 11, 2009, A1.
www.jetpedmont.com/thd/ Accessed April 8, 2009.
www.jetpiedmont.com/thd/?do=obituary Accessed April 8, 2009.
www.smithreynolds.org/about/index.html Accessed April 7, 2009.
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