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Props and Jets

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Props and Jets

The Shifting Relationship Between the United States Air Corps and a Major Industrial City from 1925 to 1948
  • by Quentin L. Hartwig, Ph.D.
    • Merriam Press Aviation History Series
      • 370 6x9-inch pages
      • 162 photos, illustrations, drawings, documents
June 25, 1925, inauguration of Rodgers Field marked the beginning of Allegheny County Commissioners’ investment into commercial aviation. A modest acquisition of 40 acres that has with time evolved to the presence of the 1500 acre Pittsburgh International Airport across town.

This book chronicles the dreams, successes, failures, promises, and fatalities in the intervening events from 1923 to the opening of the commercial terminal at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport (GRP) in 1952.

Over time, Rodgers Field, the first field, could not be enlarged, expansion of Allegheny County Airport, the second field, proved too expensive, with GRP, the third field, finally large enough to fill the needs of the commercial and military needs. In the 1920s and 1930s the political leadership of Allegheny County struggled to craft the best aviation facility to attract military and commercial interests. Experience with the shortcomings of Rodgers Field provided guidance in the design of the Allegheny County Airport.

During World War Two, Pittsburgh lay in the flight path of immense numbers of thirsty military aircraft being flown from one area of the United States to another. The breadth of the Greater Pittsburgh Airport provided the necessary space for runways and parking areas to accommodate the impressive traffic landing for refueling, maintenance and repair.

In that time period, the media devoted most of their attention to the battle arenas, in foreign lands and on distant oceans. Conflicts won meant yet another step to victory when the United States service men and women could return home. But the success ‘over there’ was totally dependent  upon the war production system ‘over here.’ In addition to the military history of Rodgers Field, this work details the worthy participation ‘over here’ of the two Allegheny County airfields.

It follows in the footsteps of a comprehensive review of the history of aeronautics in Pennsylvania in High Frontier: A History of Aeronautics in Pennsylvania by Professor William F. Trimble. He briefly recorded the politics and funding of the construction of GRP. His treatise creates a blueprint for others such as me to plumb local aviation histories.

Two local books deserve mention. The Airway to Everywhere authored by W. Davis Lewis and Professor F. Trimble described the All American Aviation Company (AAA) innovation and application of air mail pickup. AAA modified airplanes were hangared at the Allegheny County Airport during the 1930s and 1940s. A Place in the Sky: A History of the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport 1919-2001 by Richard David Wissolik and staff. It mentioned the naming of Rodgers Field.

In turn, I hope this significant chapter in Southwestern Pennsylvania’s aviation history will encourage others to delve into other aviation themes in the region such as the Civil Aviation Patrol, marine airbases, early women aviatrixes, former airfields, and aviation museums.


  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Commentary On Appendices
  • Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Rodgers Field: Pittsburgh’s First Municipal/Military Airport (Doomed From The Start)
  • Chapter 2: One Of The Best
  • Chapter 3: Only A Presidential Intervention Could Save This Local Airman
  • Chapter 4: ACA: A Push For Prominence In The Air
  • Chapter 5: The 575th Of The Air Transport Command Begins At ACA
  • Chapter 6: An Approaching Storm
  • Chapter 7: Tora! Tora!
  • Chapter 8: Conversion Of The Bell Farm Into A CAA National Defense Airport
  • Chapter 9: Further Sources Of Delays In Construction Of The Moon Township Defense Air Field During 1943-1944
  • Chapter 10: The 575th Begin Operations At The Greater Pittsburgh Airport
  • Chapter 11: Luftwaffe Sorties Over Pittsburgh
  • Chapter 12: Personal Recollections About The Army Air Base: Greater Pittsburgh Airport
  • Chapter 13: Donuts
  • Chapter 14: Heroes Past Always Present
  • Chapter 15: Looking Back: It Never Happened
  • Chapter 16: A New Mission In Response To An Iron Curtain: Soviet Threat Always a Dubious Ally
  • Chapter 17: Auxiliary Reserve Training Sites
  • Appendix 1: Commanders of the 575th Base Unit, 6th Ferrying Station (ACA) and the 444th Base Unit, Reserve Training, Air Defense Command, Grp
  • Appendix 2: Major and Minor Military Aircraft Accidents at Rodgers Field, ACA, GRP, or Nearby
  • Appendix 3: Military Personnel Stationed at ACA and/or GRP at Some Time During the Time Span 1942-1950
  • Appendix 4: Air Traffic Controllers at ACA During World War II
  • Appendix 5: Members of the 324th Observation Squadron, 99th Division, US Army 3rd Air Corps, Rodgers Field, Aspinwall, Pa, and Allegheny County Airport
  • Appendix 6: Aviation Mechanics at Rodgers Field in 1928
  • Index

Western Pennsylvania may be the most unknown of early aviation hotbeds. From plentiful airfields and daredevil barnstormers to start-up airlines and military bases, a lot happened here in the early 20th century that has since faded from memory. A couple books in recent decades have addressed the innovators and advances, but now Quentin Hartwig, local authority on aviation and a USAF veteran, delves into the military side of the story in his new book, Props and Jets.
     Following the history somewhat chronologically, Hartwig begins in 1925 as Allegheny County acquires 40 acres in rural O’Hara Township to create Rodgers Field. He chronicles the successes, failures, and fatalities as aviation blossomed over the next few decades, moving the story towards the opening of the commercial terminal at the Greater Pittsburgh Airport in 1952. Along the way are tales of other airfields too, like Bettis Airport between Homestead and McKeesport, and the much grander Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin, opened in 1931 when the first generation of landing sites had become outmoded. The County Airport itself soon became too small to serve the booming commercial and military traffic (though it still hosts more than 80,000 takeoffs and landings a year).
     Hartwig’s 17 chapters cover everything from construction to crashes, with an emphasis on aspects such as the Air Transport Command and the Army Air Base at Greater Pitt. Photos are numerous and interesting, including old large-negative photos, letters, and newspaper clippings (though one wishes for better reproduction than the large half-tone dots allow to see details better). [Publisher's Note: Some of the images used in the book were copied from old newspapers and publications of the day and thus the quality of those suffers somewhat.] Best of all, each chapter concludes with endnotes, a blessing to all who wish to delve deeper into the subjects by following his trail of sources. Appendices supply detailed lists of such things as commanders, accidents, and even air traffic controllers.
     Previous books covered much of the basic history, most notably High Frontier: A History of Aeronautics in Pennsylvania by Professor William F. Trimble (former editor of the forerunner to Western Pennsylvania History magazine), but it has now been three decades since its publication. More recently, “ Place in the Sky: A History of the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport and Aviation in Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1919-2001 by Richard David Wissolik et al, was published by Saint Vincent College Center for Northern Appalachian Studies, but it’s emphasis was on the eastern portion of the region. With Props and Jets, readers get another opportunity to explore the ups (and downs) of local aviation.
Brian Butko, Director of Publications, Heinz History Center

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