When corrugated sheets of galvanized steel were bolted to their structural steel skeleton in 1946, the 10 contiguous T-hangars on the east side of its 300 acres was Wittman Regional Airport’s answer to the boom in light airplanes that would surely follow the end of World War II the previous year. The demolition and recycling of the 68-year-old hangars makes way for redevelopment that will pragmatically meet the airport’s future aviation needs.
In their passing allow us to eulogize what they represented to a short-lived era in aviation. Focused on victory and the best use of limited resources, the design and manufacture of light airplanes during World War II was limited to the liaison “grasshoppers” such as Piper’s Cub, which became the L-4 upon getting its draft notice. With the end of the war, during which the United States trained pilots whose numbers counted well into six figures, everyone predicted an explosion of pent up demand for everything they had long been denied.
In preparation, Winnebago County built T-rooms for the expected newcomers. As the circa-1972 aerial photo above shows, the T-hangars were built square to the Kimberly Clark hangar, which has lived only in memory for several decades. Wittman Flying Service trained those pilots in the Civilian Pilot Training Program before the war and for the Army during it. Surely many of them would keep flying once they returned home to Winnebago County. And many of them did.
The airport must have been full of exciting activity. Steve Wittman placed eighth in the 1946 Thompson Trophy race in a modified Bell P-63 Kingcobra, and the following year Bill Brennand won the inaugural Goodyear race in Wittman’s Buster. Even with its clipped wings, the P-63 was too big for the new T-hangars, but Buster would surely fit.
As the operator of the one-armed crawler peeled the corrugated skin off the skeleton, one wonders what other aviation memories were lived in those long-serving hangars. Were the residents a like-minded community who cooked out on warm summer weekends after taking family and friends for sight-seeing rides? Were they willing hands ready to help a neighbor with some preventative maintenance or to be a holding hand for others who were building their airborne dreams?
Were you, at one time over the past decades, a member of the east t-hangar community at Wittman Regional Airport? If so, and you have stories you’d like to share, make a comment or drop us a line, and we’ll share them on the airport’s Facebook page, so this part of the airport’s history does not perish with progress.