JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
In 1949, U.S. Army Col. William B. Bunker, Transportation School commandant, developed an idea for the world’s first military heliport exclusively designed for helicopters.
According to records provided by the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, the primary mission of the heliport was to train helicopter units and develop doctrine and helicopter unit employment policies.
The office of the Chief of Transportation in Washington, D.C., then began to establish a project to design the first heliport for the U.S. military in 1950.The revolutionary design for the heliport was adopted in 1952.
The giant, hard-surfaced “wheel” was selected for its flexibility, with its two runways which bisected a circular taxiway and eight landing pads on the outer rim. In the event that the wheel design proved to not be operationally feasible, the planners saw that it could easily be converted to a circular or square landing area.
Along with the wheel design, facilities were constructed for a fully operational transportation helicopter company, consisting of Piasecki H-21 type cargo helicopters.
Each facility was designed with 40,000 square-feet of steel and concrete to make a hangar, housing five helicopter maintenance shops, a 9,000 square-foot warehouse for supply storage, a two-story administration-operations building and a 42-foot high glass-enclosed operations tower.
After the 600-foot long diagonal runways were built, they permitted helicopter’s for take-offs and landings when operating with maximum gross weight and under all temperature conditions.
The heliport was dedicated in memory of U.S. Army Warrant Officer Alfred C. Felker during a ceremony on Dec. 7, 1954. Felker was enrolled in one of the first U.S. Army helicopter pilot courses at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and died February 1953 in a helicopter accident near Winterville, Georgia, while conducting an extended cross-country flight.
Throughout the years, the airfield that now sits at JBLE, has been upgraded due to technology advances and changing requirements.
“Over the years, meeting the requirements as safety and operational requirements changed over time, we continue to work at keeping up with and complying with regulatory changes on the airfield,” said John Musser, Felker Army Airfield airfield manager chief of aviation division. “During my time here, we have added necessary things like a two-hour fire rated stairwell, so in the event of a fire the control tower could stay safe while coming down.”
During the 1980’s, the Army began taking out the revolutionary wheel design and decided to place two concrete slabs capable of holding up to 30 aircraft at one time.
In addition to upgrading from the wheel design, the airfield now has a paved runway and shoulders, a new tall modern air traffic control tower and a fire department located at the airfield.
Since its creation, Felker Airfield has been used as a training area for pilots and maintenance personnel. However, over time, the Army moved schoolhouses to different installations, resulting in fewer units calling the airfield home. Currently, there are only four units stationed at Felker; which are two research and development units, an administration unit and the 5th Battalion (General Support), 159th Aviation Regiment B Company.
Today, Felker Army Airfield provides a unique wide spectrum helicopter and aircraft facilities in support of U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and Army aviation for training missions and requirements.
“[Felker Airfield] supports a unique mission, especially with the Research Test Development Evaluation mission,” said Musser. “It is also a key training site for the Navy. The Navy makes up 75 percent of all movements on the airfield making us one of the top five busiest airfields in the Army.”
According to Musser, the airfield is not going away anytime soon.
For more information on Felker Army Airfield history, call the Transportation Museum at 878-1109.