ALBERT WHITTED AIRPORT PRESERVATION SOCIETY
Albert Whitted Airport History
Although the field has actually been around much longer, in 2022, Albert Whitted Airport celebrated its 94th anniversary. Albert Whitted Airport is nationally recognized as the birthplace of scheduled airline flight. On January 1, 1914, a small airboat took off near this airport on the first regularly scheduled aircraft flight in history. Pilot Tony Jannus flew Mayor A.C. Pheil across the bay to Tampa.
National Airlines, one of the nation's first airlines, began service here in 1934. Decades later, National merged with Pan-Am to create one of the world's largest air carriers. In the late thirties, Goodyear chose Albert Whitted as one of the first airports to base its famous blimps.
During World War II, Albert Whitted airport helped support the war effort when it was converted from a public airfield to an military air base. Hundreds of Naval cadets received their training here. For generations, Albert Whitted airport has served our community in many unique and often unrecognized ways. This service continues today.
Ens. Albert Whtted, USN
Antique Postcard... Downtown in the Sunshine City
Do you remember when you could fly for a "Penny-A-Pound" at Albert Whitted Airport? In the '70s, flights were offered to folks who would like to see St. Pete from above or experience their first airplane flight. The price was one cent for each pound the passenger weighed. You were asked to step up on a scale to determine the number of pennies it cost you to fly. If you weighed 50 pounds, your ticket was 50 cents!
Today, EAA Chapter 47 offers two great programs where first flights are absolutely free! Young Eagles is for children ages 8-17, Flying Start is for 18 and up; both programs are offered by our local volunteer pilots who give their time, planes and fuel to provide this fun and exciting service to our community.
- By Glenn Anderson
A few years ago I was chatting with local aviation pioneer, Ed Hoffman down at the airport. He pointed to the middle of runway 6/24 and said, "I used to fish right about there."
To visualize how the downtown waterfront once looked, you have only to visit Lassing Park on Tampa Bay in the Old Southeast Neighborhood. This park shows today how different the downtown waterfront was a century ago.
Whitted was one result of the 1920s dredging and landfill projects which turned shoals into channels and water into land. In less than a decade, a five mile stretch of natural shoreline was converted to a "sea walled front yard." The dredging of Bayboro Harbor to a depth of nineteen feet in the channel and twenty-one feet in the turning basin produced the landfill that became Albert Whitted Airport and the United States Coast Guard Station. It went from "fishin' hole to landing strip."
William "Bill" Straub moved to the City in 1901 and championed the cause for public ownership and multiple uses of the downtown waterfront. The project was to take until the mid 1920s with much politicking to get the waterfront project completed. The airport, the Coast Guard station, the Municipal Marina, the Port, the parks, and later, Al Lang Field, the Bayfront Center/Mahaffey Theatre, the University of South Florida campus and even the public parking lots all nicely fit that vision of public owned and used lands.
In October 1928, the City Council authorized the construction of a flying field to be named in honor of hometown Navy aviator James Albert Whitted.
- By Glenn Anderson
In October of 1928, the City Council authorized the construction of a field to be named in honor of James Albert Whitted and it was opened during the summer of 1929.
Being built on landfill from the port dredging, it went from "fishin' hole to landing strip." But Albert Whitted Airport was not St. Pete's first and only airport.
In 1926, pioneer entrepreneur Walter Fuller built a private airport, the Piper-Fuller Airport, in the Jungle area; it was St. Petersburg's first airport. Larger than Albert Whitted and designed as an amenity to tourist-oriented projects Fuller was involved in, it was later given up to development. During WWII, it was reactivated for use by primary trainer planes. Despite interest in developing it further after the war, the Jungle Property Owners Association defeated the proposal.
Another St. Petersburg airport lost along the way was Sky Harbor Airport on Weedon Island. It began operations in 1928. Both Eastern Air Transport and National Airlines used it in the '30s but it too was lost.
Period photos show several other air facilities that have since vanished. A seaplane base was located close to Gandy Blvd., and a war time emergency field was once located on Mullet Key, now part of Fort Desoto Park. The ramps of the Coast Guard seaplane facility close to the South end of Runway 18/36 can still be seen at the Bayboro Coast Guard station though they are no longer used.
- By Glenn Anderson
For many years, Albert Whitted Airport had an amenity that made it unique among the airports of the world: an airship hangar; one of very few ever built. During the late 1990's construction phase, the remaining vestiges of the blimp hanger were torn down. Reasons given were that this structure was dangerous and no longer usable. It was dismantled piece-by-piece, pieces numbered and trucked off to be rebuilt elsewhere.
Even at its beginning in 1928, Albert Whitted Airport was a modest facility, with only one short runway. Of the three existing St. Petersburg airports at that time, it was the smallest but it was the only one publicly owned. Politicians were keen on attracting more tourists, and developers looked for ways to lure more Northerners to buy into their developments. The City's publicity agent at the time, John Lodwick, decided it needed to be a more exciting place. So, shortly after the airport's opening, he convinced the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, to bring one of its blimps to the Airport as its home base. In September 1929, city council appropriated $33,062 for a municipal blimp hangar to house the airships he envisioned coming and going. It was completed and the blimp "Goodyear" flew into the city in December 1929. Unfortunately, the stock market had crashed three months earlier and this aviation venture was doomed for failure. As money dried up for almost every American and the Great Depression cut all activities to the bare minimum, so went the airship enterprise. By April of 1930, every bank in the city was forced to close.
With the Hindenburg disaster, the Depression and the end of the Airship era, our blimp hangar was a white elephant. The building was made shorter in height by about half and that is the way it spent most of its life here.
- By Glenn Anderson
The topic of my last column was the blimp hanger that had been built at Albert Whitted Airport in 1929 to house the blimp "Goodyear." With the stock market crash and bank failures of the depression having struck between the time construction started and the time the first blimp arrived, blimp activity at the airport was short lived. The only blimp activity here now is an occasional touch and go by contemporary blimps coming to the area to cover special events. A few years ago, I had the thrill to be given the Whitted Tower instruction that I "was number two in the pattern cleared for landing on runway 6 behind the blimp 'Snoopy.'" It was on final at the breakneck speed of 19 knots! We did slow flight and S turns to stay behind but ultimately had to execute a go around to keep from getting too close. From that experience I gained a real respect for "committing aviation" in and around a lighter-than-air craft.
Though I have been around the airport since the mid-70's, it wasn't until recently that I found out there are remnants of the old blimp facility still remaining. Along the west fence line of the airport, north of the blast fence, just past the "picnic nook" are what remains of the old blimp tie downs. My guess is that these concrete tie downs have such a massive "root" that they have never been removed. That, plus the fact they are out of the way of any airport activity except grass mowing, has allowed them to stand as monuments to lighter-than-air activity on the field. I hope that as the airport is developed, these concrete pylons will be marked as such and some public access to them provided.
- By Glenn Anderson