Belknap Mill Aviation Exhibit Traces History of Laconia Airport

LACONIA —  There was a time when the roar of an airplane's engine sent every family member running into the yard to gaze up at the sky and wave wildly at a passing plane. Of course, we knew the plane was probably too high in the air to see us, but it was fun to wave anyway. And it was fun to watch the trail of smoke the departing airplane left in the blue sky.

Airplanes brought the outside world to the Lakes Region. When "Laconia Airport's Rich History and Bright Future" opens at the Belknap Mill at 25 Beacon St. East in downtown Laconia on Thursday, September 5, viewers will get a peek look at the history of aviation in the Lakes Region from its early days to the present.

Coordinated and presented by the Laconia Airport Authority, the exhibit will feature all sorts of aviation memorabilia, from fascinating old photos to flight artifacts. Says Diane Terrill, Laconia Airport Authority Manager, "We will have photos of the airport over the years and some of the aviators that were significant to aviation in the Lakes Region; displays by some of our aviation friends including NH Aviation Historical Society, Civil Air Patrol, Winnipesaukee Radio Controllers (model airplane club), Jane Rice, Emerson Aviation, Sky Bright, WinnAero and the ACE Academy (Aviation Career Exploration); and various personal and airplane artifacts on loan. People were very generous. Aviation enthusiasts are a tight-knit family, always willing to help each other and to share their passion and knowledge to inspire others."

A free public opening reception will be held Friday, September 6 from 5-7 p.m.

Says Terrill, "We're grateful to the Belknap Mill Society for providing us the opportunity to showcase the rich history and bright future of the Laconia Airport to the communities we serve. We look forward to meeting those interested in aviation at the Friday evening opening reception."

Historically, the first "landing airfield" in the Laconia area is believed to have been on the meadow at Sawyer flats during the summer and on Lake Winnipesaukee in the winter. Laconia Municipal Airport was originally located in the vicinity of the current O'Shea Industrial Park in Laconia. It was built in 1934.

The airport was constructed in its present location in Gilford for national defense under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The City of Laconia and Belknap County shared the cost of purchasing the initial 439 acres, at a cost of $7,100 each. Construction began in January of 1941 on two runways: North-South Runway 17-35 & East-West Runway 8-26. Both runways were 150' x 3500'. This also included the relocation and building of the highway from Lake Shore Road to the so-called Weirs Road near Winnipesaukee Farm.

The first landing at the new facility was made by Barton McLellan of Plymouth and the first student to solo from the airport was Alma Gallagher on January 2, 1942. Runway 17-35 was closed in 1976 due to maintenance deterioration of the approach. Runway 8-26 was extended 1000' in 1963 and again extended 1000' in 1965. The current runway is 5890' x 100'.

The Airport is now owned by the City of Laconia. The Laconia Airport Authority (LAA) was established by the state legislature in 1941 to operate and manage the airport. The LAA is comprised of the mayor of Laconia as Chair, the Chair of the County Commissioners, the Chair of the Gilford Board of Selectmen, two appointed residents of Gilford, and four appointed residents of Laconia.

Laconia Municipal Airport's first seasonal scheduled air carrier service certification was acquired on March 24, 1950 as part of Northeast Airlines' Route 27. Application was submitted and approval received July 3, 1953 to upgrade the service to a year round basis. This service was irregular, however, and on August 5, 1963 the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) amended Northeast Airlines' certificate requiring seasonal service only.

In October of 1968, Winnipesaukee Airlines, Inc. offered some off-season air carrier service. In June of 1969, Northeast Airlines was allowed to suspend its summer service to Laconia Municipal Airport with Winnipesaukee Airlines providing replacement service until 1980. At that time, Precision Airlines purchased Winnipesaukee Aviation (WA) taking over WA's functions at Laconia Municipal Airport. Except for a brief interruption of service in 1970, WA and WA/Precision Airlines continued to provide year round commuter service from Laconia Municipal Airport to Boston's Logan International Airport until 1983.

In 1987 Valley Airlines began air carrier service from Laconia Municipal Airport until 1989 when Skymaster took over. Skymaster was sold to Atlantic North, which operated from March of 1993 until August of 1993. From 1993 to the present day, there have been no air carrier operations at Laconia Municipal Airport. The Laconia Airport is a now a General Aviation Airport with all civilian flying except scheduled service.

"Laconia Airport's Rich History and Bright Future" exhibit runs from September 5 through 25 and is free and open to the public Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; other hours are by chance or appointment.


Early photo of a biplane which appears to have landed in a field at Sawyer Meadows. Note farm buildings in background. (Courtesy photo)