It’s been more than a century since the first airplane landed in Brownwood, but it’s the future — not the history — of aviation here that’s more exciting.
“It’s a busy place,” Bobby Burks, manager of Brownwood Regional Airport since 2011, said. “We’re always trying to stay ahead of things.”
Those “things” include not only overseeing daily airport operations where approximately 60 aircraft of varying types are based, but also complying with complex Department of Defense regulations that allow the airport to service military aircraft — like the large C-130s cargo transports that conducted training exercises last November.
The airport also adheres to rules of federal and state environmental and natural resources agencies, as well as Federal Aviation Administration requirements. With the airport so close to the Pecan Bayou, daily monitoring samples are required.
“We are hoping the military will bring the C-130s back this year,” Burks said. Those exercises could include paratrooper jumps and cargo drops, depending on the weather. The jumps had to be cancelled in 2016 due to unfavorable conditions.
The sale of fuel to military aircraft remains important to the airport, even after the 21st Cavalry Brigade at Fort Hood went on inactive status two years ago.
“We still do get military traffic,” said Guy Andrews, executive director of the Brownwood Municipal Development District, even though that business is not as strong as it had been. “But we’ll take anything we can get.”
Andrews said a modern airport such as the one Brownwood has is a key factor in developing and maintaining the economy of any community.
“It makes site selections (for business and industry) so much easier,” Andrews said. “There are quite a few executives who fly in here. For example, people coming here from Odessa can make a 45-minute flight instead of a 3-1/2 hour drive.”
The airport is also vital to local plants owned by companies like Kohler and 3M, Andrews said.
“Many of our major industries might not be here without the airport,” Burks added. “They use it all the time.”
A study conducted in 2010 for the Texas Department of Transportation concluded that Brownwood Regional Airport generated economic activity of more than $6.2 million with salaries, wages and benefits of $2.4 million. The airport and related support services accounted for a total of 62 jobs.
Capital expenditures for infrastructure and other airport improvement between 2006 and 2010 generated $824,106 in economic activity that created nine job-years of employment. A job year is defined as one job lasting one year.
The study was prepared by the Center for Economic Development and Research in the Department of Economics of the University of North Texas at Denton.
The airport recently completed a $2.1 million improvement project to the 5,599-foot main runway that included new runway lights. The pavement needs to be resealed about every seven years toprevent it from becoming brittle, Burks said.
Work on taxiways around the terminal is anticipated in the near future, with assistance from grants through the TxDOT Aviation Division.
“That will put us in good shape,” Burks said.
Burks said the airport enjoys a good relationship with the community as well as local governmental officials, and builds on that by hosting field trips from area schools.
“The city administration is pro-airport,” Burks said. “They are hard to beat. They’ve really backed us. Emily (Crawford, city manager) listens to you. I try not to ask for much, and try to be frugal, so she knows when I ask for something, I really need it. It’s my tax dollars, too.”
He said he was also gratified that the city chose him to be its airport manager from among more than 50 who applied.
The municipal airport has five fulltime employees and one part-time employee. Other employment comes from those working for FedEx and UPS, which are also based at the airport.
Burks has more than 35 years experience in aviation, including 18 at the Brownwood airport. Before being named manager in September 2011, he had been airport foreman for four years and served as interim manager for three months.
Burks is a former Coleman airport manager and has served on the Comanche Municipal Airport Board. He holds Federal Aviation Administration certifications as a flight instructor and aircraft mechanic.
The Brownwood airport traces its roots to 1935 when a 200-acre tract was leased by the city from Brown County, but it was World War II that prompted significant development. The site was known as the Brownwood Army Airfield and used as a training base with a variety of aircraft. The 1,500-acre airport was deeded to the city after the war, and that included the hangar still in use. It had been constructed in less than three months in the spring of 1941.
The airport became a stop for Texas International Airlines passenger service in 1949. Those flights were discontinued in 1977, but several commuter airlines provided passenger service until federal subsidies were withdrawn in 2005.
Brownwood had entered the age of aviation decades earlier. On Oct. 4, 1913, the U.S. Postal Service established daily “aeroplane mail service” between the Brownwood and Comanche post offices. The pilot, Lester Miller of Dallas, also offered flights to the public at fairs held in Brownwood.
On Oct. 7, 1914, Katherine Stinson, the youngest aviator in the world to pass all international flying tests, was at the fair to offer flights for $25 per passenger. Her family formed the Stinson Aircraft Company, and the second oldest general aviation airport in the United States — Stinson Municipal Airport — is located in San Antonio.
Landing fields in Brownwood were located west of the end of Austin Avenue, and north of Avenue K.
In 1929, the board of directors of the Brown County Fair Association granted permission for pilots to use 50 acres inside its one-mile racetrack, but only on a temporary basis until a municipal airport could be built. That led to the acquisition of acreage in the mid-1930s where Brownwood Regional Airport now exists.