The Wheeling-Ohio County Airport ("Stifel Field") at Wheeling, West Virginia, was dedicated November 1, 1946. The first commercial airliner into the new facility was Pennsylvania Central Airlines' DC-3 NC49553; the crew consisted of Captain Bill Riley, First Officer Ray Kulhman, and Hostesses Miss Gale and Miss Johnson. PCA was originally to have sent a DC-4 for the Dedication Ceremonies, but a last-minute change resulted in the aforementioned DC-3 and crew. Bill Riley and the others happened to be in PIT Ops at the time and were "drafted" for the special trip. "Capitaliner City of Wheeling" was hurredly painted on the nose of NC49553 prior to departure. Bill states the weather conditions from PIT to HLG were very marginal that day. A TWA aircraft also landed later in the day at the new field for its part in the ceremonies.
PCA/Capital served Wheeling from November, 1946, until December, 1960. The last scheduled major airline service to HLG was suspended by Allegheny Airlines in June, 1970, because of the city's Interstate Highway accessibility to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport. Wheeling-Ohio County, however, has remained a viable and busy airport with corporate and general aviation facilities. Continued physical improvements, the creation of an Industrial Airpark, and a new Air National Guard Base have kept HLG in the forefront of aviation activity. The original Terminal Building and Tower have been only slightly modified since construction and appear much the same as they have since 1946. Thomas S. Tominack has been the Airport Manager since 1986 and has an avid interest in aviation history. He and his airport crew have transformed the Terminal Lobby into a small, fine museum. When I first visited HLG in 1993, the displays in the Lobby emphasized military aviation. I could see Tom's enthusiasm and devotion to this effort and the airport, so I offered to assist in developing more airline-oriented displays for the Lobby. The result was my personal contribution of memorabilia related to the four carriers which served Wheeling from 1946 until 1970: PCA/Capital, TWA, All American/Allegheny, and Lake Central. Airliner models, framed prints and lithographs, histories of these carriers and their service to Wheeling, and other artifacts were placed in the Lobby. The Capital Airlines Association via Roger Bentley has contributed additional PCA/Capital items which are appreciated and duly marked with engraved plaques. Tom had even located original chairs stored in the basement which had been tagged as the ones John F. and Jackie Kennedy sat in as they waited for their limousine during a political visit in 1960. These have been restored and are displayed. There are interesting items exhibited relative to the Fokker Aircraft Company; the Fokker Tri-Motor Factory was located just outside of Wheeling in Glendale. This building later became the Louis Marx Toy Company Factory.
1996 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Airport Dedication. Tom commissioned a mural, four feet by twelve feet, of the PCA DC-3 "Capitaliner City of Wheeling" as it passes over the city on its first approach to HLG. The mural is titled "Inbound to Stifel" and was placed in the main Terminal Lobby as a tribute to PCA/Capital's innaugural service to the city. This mural has been a very interesting concept, combining history with computer technology. Tom hand-built an incredibly detailed scale model of the PCA DC-3. As a hair dryer provided "power" to the props, the model was photographed. Then with the aid of computer graphics, the airplane was superimposed over a period aerial photograph of Wheeling, and the result is stunning! A wonderful dedication ceremony was held July 27, 1996. The Berlin Airlift restored C-54 (DC-4) was on the ramp along with other vintage aircraft and automobiles. Bill Riley and Ray Kuhlman were both present for the unveiling of "INBOUND TO STIFEL." The entire day and evening were celebrated by many visitors and dignitaries, culminating with a special dinner dance under tents on the ramp and taxiway. It was certainly another special event in the history of American Commercial Aviation.
A visit today to the Wheeling Airport is a glimpse back to the "Golden Era" of air transport.
Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, c.1949
Airside view of Terminal, c. 1947 (prior to addition of the Tower structure)
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