HISTORY OF AIRLINE SERVICE AT CHATTANOOGA
Part One: 1920s-1940s
This is the first of a six part look back at the history of airline service at Chattanooga, Tennessee. Follow the link at the bottom of each page to continue to the next.
Interstate Airlines inaugurated service at Chattanooga on December 1, 1928 when their Fairchild monoplane "Miss Chattanooga" arrived from Atlanta and continued on to Nashville carrying 3 passengers and 143 pounds of mail. These flights took place at Chattanooga's first commercial airport, Marr Field, a 2,100 foot unpaved airstrip located between Dodson Avenue and the railroad just north of Glass Street.
Conditions at Marr Field were marginal at best and within two weeks of starting service, an Interstate Airlines plane was seriously damaged when it struck trees while attempting to depart the field. Luckily, the pilot was uninjured. Less than two weeks later, all passenger service at Chattanooga came to an abrupt halt following a second crash that claimed the lives of two pilots and two passengers. Marr Field's reputation as a substandard and potentially deadly airfield prompted the city to begin construction of a new airport on a large flat parcel several miles to the east.
Work on the new airfield began almost immediately and progressed rapidly as evidenced by this article from the September 25, 1929 edition of the Chattanooga Daily Times.
Construction of the airport suffered a setback in November 1929 when the site was inundated by floodwaters from South Chickamauga creek which spilled over the levees surrounding the field.
On July 3, 1930, Chattanooga formally opened its new airport, Lovell Field. Built on 216 acres, the airport featured a modern terminal and hangar facilities, a 3,300 foot unpaved main runway and 2,400 foot unpaved crosswind runway. The airport was named in honor of John Lovell, the chairman of Chattanooga's chamber of commerce aeronautics committee since 1919 who was largely responsible for the development of aviation in the city.
Eastern Air Lines began air mail service to Chattanooga on June 1, 1934 when the city was included as a stop on their Miami - Chicago route. This detail from their July 1, 1935 timetable, courtesy of Bjorn Larrson, shows one daily mail and express flight in each direction. Eastern began passenger service began on May 1, 1936 with daily Lockheed L-10 Electra flights along the same route. The first arrival was greeted by a crowd of over 250 people. This photo shows John Dale, Railway Express agent, Ernest Dennis, postmaster, Ben Lockett, superintendent of the railway mail service and John Lovell posing with the first Eastern Electra at Chattanooga as it was readied for the southbound trip to Atlanta. This initial service was short-lived and was temporarily suspended as Chattanooga's runways were lengthened and paved as part of a Works Progress Administration project.
Lovell Field reopened in 1937 with paved runways and improved facilities. This December 7, 1937 photo shows the original 1930 terminal and hangar. Both of these structures remained until the construction of the current terminal in 1990-1992.
Pennsylvania Central Airlines inaugurated service at Chattanooga on February 15, 1941 when it opened a route between the steel industry centers of Pittsburgh and Birmingham. Despite the DC-3s used in their advertising, the initial flights were operated with older and smaller Boeing 247s. Service with the 21-seat DC-3s began on April 1, 1941.
These four photos are from the amazing Picnooga collection. The top right photo shows one of Pennsylvania Central's Boeing 247s which were operated at CHA from February 15 - March 31, 1941, so these were presumably all taken during those few weeks. Chattanooga's first hangar is pictured at top left and the bottom two photos show an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 on the rain soaked ramp. Notice the two gentleman checking the engine of the PCA 247 while the props are spinning. Yikes!
A fantastic photo of Eastern's DC-3 NC25648 (sn 2236) on the ramp at Chattanooga on June 10, 1941, courtesy of Picnooga. This was one of the few DC-3s that was not pressed into wartime service and it later flew with Mackey Airlines and North Central, among others. It was used as a skydiving aircraft in the 2000s and is reportedly now in China. Here's a photo of it in 2016.
Delta Air Lines began service to Lovell Field with 6 flights a day on July 1, 1947, the first day of Delta's fiscal year. Chattanooga was one of many stops on routes between the Midwest and Florida.