Aviation

From Moody Air Force Base to the Valdosta Regional Airport, aviation has been an important part of Lowndes County history, providing many jobs and growth to the community.

Wedding in Airship Dec. 10, 1913 at Pine park

Wedding in Airship Dec. 10, 1913 at Pine park, Valdosta. The man in the long coat is Col. William West, original owner of Valdosta’s Crescent house.

Early Lowndes county leaders were very successful in bringing several key institutions to the area, and this includes the establishment of an airport. In January of 1930, the city council allowed the creation of a landing site on Madison Highway (the current location of the Valdosta Regional Airport).

Air mail began a regular route to Valdosta in 1939. These planes served Florida, Valdosta, and Louisiana. With local and federal funds, vast improvements were made to the Valdosta airport in 1941.

AD-Ford Plane flightsBecause early aviation had such a novelty appeal, events often were held in Valdosta that centered around aviation (note the photo above, in which a wedding took place on an airplane in Pine Park). It has been noted in the Valdosta Daily Times that “[it] was something of an event in the 1920s and ’30s when a ‘daring aviator’ would announce he planned a barnstorming show for Valdosta.” Additionally, South Georgia had no radio or radio beacons and pilots flew solely with the use of a compass and knowledge of landmarks, roads, and railroads. Albert Pendleton writes in the August 2000 Historical Society newsletter that people could be given “rides” at the Valdosta airport for 50 cents, while $5.00 would take you all the way to the Okefenokee swamp and back.

One notable event was a visit in 1931 by Harold Gatty and Wiley post, a well-known duo who set the record for aerial circumnavigation in the summer of that same year. Their plane, the Winnie Mae, was a Lockheed Vega, the same type of plane used by Amelia Earhart and other famous flyers. The Winnie Mae was on display at the Smithsonian for many years. Harold Gatty, navigator, and Wiley Post, pilot, visited Valdosta on December 10, 1931 and appeared at Valdosta High School auditorium, having landed at the Valdosta airport.

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Wiley Post and Harold Gatty with the Winnie Mae at the Valdosta Airport. Post and Gatty are in front under the propeller, with Post on the left and Gatty on the right.

Expanding populations in the Lowndes County area and the growing popularity of air travel gave the opportunity for commercial airlines to serve the Valdosta airport. The first commercial airRichasd Reissiger with Fly Valdosta promotionline to serve Valdosta was National Air Lines, beginning its routes here in 1946. The first plane landed with over 2,000 people watching. National Airlines was joined by Southern Airways in 1975, at the same time that airport facilities were expanded. The two were replaced by Republic Airlines who continued service until 1984. The airport is currently served by Delta airlines and offers 3 departures and 3 arrivals daily between Valdosta and Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. ┬áThe current Valdosta Terminal was completed in 1998 and is operated by the Valdosta/Lowndes County Airport Authority.