Bader Field: Past, Present and Future
By Barbara Harris-Para
Did you know that every U.S. President from Theodore Roosevelt through Gerald Ford flew into Atlantic City’s Bader Field at some point in their administration? That’s right, and Bader Field also was the location for many other events in history. For example, the Spirit of St. Louis landed at Bader Field, and at least three decades of Powder Puff Derbies and Black Pilot Association races were held at Bader Field.
Bader Field was the first municipal airport in the U.S. for both land and seaplanes, and became the world’s first “air-port” in 1919. A local newsman, Robert Woodhouse, coined the term, which referred to the aero marine “Flying Limousines,” a passenger service between New York and Atlantic City that was inaugurated under the auspices of the Hotel Traymore. Admiral Robert E. Perry, the discoverer of the North Pole, was a member of the committee that sponsored the airport.
Atlantic City had an interesting aviation history even before Bader Field was created. The first local aircraft license for passengers was given to Glenn H. Curtiss on June 8, 1911. Three years later, the Army established air services on July 18, 1914.
The first attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean was made from Atlantic City in October 1910 by Walter Wellman, a polar explorer. He used not an airplane but a dirigible called “America.” Unfortunately, a heavy storm off the coast led to the demise of the airship. Fortunately a passing steamer going to New York rescued all crewmembers. A second attempt was made in July 1912 by the “Akron” but it only got to a height of 2000’ when it exploded over the inlet, killing its entire crew.
In 1910, an “Air Carnival” was held on the beaches, and the ‘flying boats’ did their stunts in the inlet. The carnival was noteworthy, since this was one of the first of its kind, and it lasted ten full days. Several air records were recorded. One was by Walter Brookins, who set an altitude record of 6175’ and another was by Glenn H. Curtiss, who flew over 50 miles and returned within one hour and 14 minutes. The Aero Club of Atlantic City, headed by Albert T. Bell, a pioneer in aviation, sponsored the event.
The first demonstration of “bombing” from an airplane took place during the carnival by Glenn Curtiss, who dropped oranges close to a yacht, splashing water on everyone onboard. Other types of fruit were dropped onto the beach to show folks the accuracy of the maneuvers.
Crates of eggs were dropped by parachute and none broke, so they were sold as souvenirs. Joseph Shinn, editor of the Atlantic City Press, flying with Earl Ovington, dropped 10,000 cards over the city on September 22, 1919, announcing the arrival of the Naval Plane NC-4, which was on its way back from a transoceanic trip. This was the first news bulletin dropped from the air.
The first fatality during the Air Congress was the crash of a plane carrying pilot Beryl H. Kendrick and passenger James H. Bew, Jr., killing both when the plane overturned in a spin on May 24, 1919. The pilots who flew some of the acts were Robert P. Hewitt, Charles Todd Selms and C. Nicholas Reinhardt, calling themselves the Travelers’ Company.
On July 8, 1922 the city purchased the airport from private owners. Athletic fields were created and named for Edward L. Bader, the mayor of the resort. The size of the airport remained the same for many years due to the inland waterway and the state highway on the southeast side.
The Steel Pier was usually the place for stunt fliers of the day, and William G. Swann, age 29, flew the first rocket glider into aviation history on June 4, 1931. He managed to go 1000’ at a height of 100’, and glided to a perfect landing.
In 1941, one week before Pearl Harbor, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) was founded at Bader Field. Many local residents were members of the CAP, as the locals knew it. Fred Federici was number 80, and he joined during the first few days of their operations. There were no runways like we know them today. Instead, there was a huge circle to land on.
The municipal stadium was opened at Bader Field on October 22, 1949, at a cost of $350,000. Many airport improvements were made that year, which gave it a higher rating than most airports of its day. Field lights, short wave radio, a control tower, runways and taxiways were established, and hangars followed soon thereafter, some of which are still in use more than 55 years later.
During the 1960s and 70s, Allegany Commuter flew out of Bader with scheduled flights to Philadelphia or New York. These were the last of the major commercial carriers to fly in or out of Bader, and the demise of the airport began shortly after their departure. The control tower was removed, fuel trucks no longer were made available, and mechanical problems had to be handled by a mechanic from another airfield.