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Commercial air service to the Charleston area started in 1930 at Wertz Field in nearby Institute. This location was deemed inadequate for the current aircraft by the late 1930s, and the search for a new location began. Coonskin Ridge, north of Charleston, was selected in 1940, but the project was delayed by World War II. Meanwhile, Wertz Field closed in 1942 for construction of a synthetic rubber plant.

With $3,000,000 in funds, construction began in October 1944 on Kanawha (now Yeager) Airport. Seven-hundred-sixty acres of land was acquired, 365 of which made up the airport proper. The leveling of three mountaintops required 2,000,000 pounds of explosives to help displace 9,000,000 cubic yards of earth and rock. Two hundred pieces of heavy equipment were used to grade the site, and a rail siding at the base of the mountain was used to shuttle in tank cars of diesel fuel. A pipeline was run to the top of the mountain to supply the 2,500 gallons of fuel used each day during construction.

Kanawha Airport was dedicated November 3, 1947, with World War I ace Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker among those present. The terminal building was finished in July 1950, and an addition was added in 1970. The runway extension to accommodate jet airliners began in 1968 and was completed December 8, 1971. The baggage claim addition was built in 1974 and major renovations to the complex took place in 1982, 1997, 2001, and 2005. Kanawha Airport was renamed Yeager Airport in honor of Brig. Gen. Chuck Yeager, a Lincoln County native, on October 14, 1985.

Kanawha Airport was home for the 167th Fighter Squadron from 1947 to 1955, when it moved to Martinsburg. The 130th Troop Carrier Squadron (now the 130th Airlift Squadron) formed in 1955, replacing the 167th at Charleston. Both were units at West Virginia Air National Guard.

The terminal, expanded in 2001 and 2005 to provide additional boarding gates and passenger seating areas, was named for U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller in 2003. The main lobby was remodeled to provide for a larger security presence. In 2010, a protective canopy was installed across the front of the terminal, and a $20 million project to expand two runways and relocate a taxi area was completed.

In order to comply with modern FAA safety standards, Yeager Airport began constructing a 500-foot extension to Runway 5 in 2005. A reinforced earth slope, the highest in the U.S. at the time, was completed in spring 2007. On March 12, 2015, the slope failed, sending earth and rock across a residential area on Keystone Drive and into the creek beyond. Residents were evacuated, a church was destroyed and several homes damaged, and the road was closed until February 2017, after 550,000 cubic yards of debris had been cleared.

On May 5, 2017, a cargo plane made a hard landing and skidded off into a steep, wooded hillside. Both the pilot and copilot were killed.

In 2017, American, Delta and United were the major airlines serving the airport with daily flights. Service was also offered by Spirit Airlines.

This Article was written by Jack H. Smith

Last Revised on May 09, 2017

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Cite This Article

Smith, Jack H. "Yeager Airport." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 May 2017. Web. 19 January 2018.

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