Written by Sarah Calise, graduate assistant
The holiday season is upon us, which means many people will be traveling great distances to visit family and friends in order to celebrate and give thanks. One thing I am most thankful for is the airplane. Yes, flying has become quite the hassle–long security checkpoints, random fees for breathing in the wrong direction, and all of the upset babies of the world crying for the duration of your flight. Yet, it still beats driving.
Despite some recent disputes, the Wright brothers are often credited with the invention of the first successful airplane. “On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made four brief flights at Kitty Hawk with their first powered aircraft,” and thus changed travel, warfare, business, and communication forever.
November is National Aviation History Month, and the Albert Gore Research Center preserves some wonderful materials from regional and university collections concerning aviation and aerospace history. The James Gillespie Papers are housed in over 50 boxes of information pertaining to the Gillespie Airfield of the 1940s and 1950s, covering the business aspects of the airfield as well as James Gillespie’s career and personal interest in aviation. The papers reveal a wide range of topics such as aircraft parts, finances, flight records, advertisements, maps, personal artifacts, air shows, photographs, and aviation in the Middle Tennessee area.
Additionally, the archives hold the papers of Aaron Weise, a Murfreesboro native and World War I pilot. This relatively small collection has several folders worth of material related to Weise’s aviation and military career from 1918—1929. It includes aviator certificates, a pilot book that belonged to Weise, and war department special orders.
Another series of military papers are those of Sewart Air Force Base, a former base for the United States Air Force located in Smyrna, Tennessee from 1941—1971. The War Department ordered the construction of the base soon after the United States entered World War II. Over the years, the base was home to several wings of the Air Force, including the 314th Troop Carrier Wing, the 463rd Troop Carrier Wing, and the 64th Troop Carrier/Tactical Airlift Wing. After it was inactivated for military use in 1971, the base eventually transferred over to the care of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority in the 1990s. Newspapers clippings, publications, photographs, and various other materials relating to the history of the base can be found in our archives.
Established in 1942, Middle Tennessee State University’s Aerospace program has materials at the Albert Gore Research Center as well, although it is largely unprocessed. However, the Eugene Holloway Sloan Papers contain some documents on the program. The Sloan Papers include newspaper clippings on the MTSU program, materials for Aerospace Education workshops, and the International Aerospace Seminar from the 1970s. For more information on the Aerospace Department’s archival holdings, read Matt Norwood’s blog post from a few months ago. Matt, a Public History graduate student, is spearheading the effort to organize and process the material.
These documents are just some of the papers highlighting aviation and aerospace history in the Middle Tennessee area, and the materials continue to expand. Just the other day, while digging through unprocessed League of Women Voters material, I found planning guides for the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport. You never know what you’ll find in an archive.
So as you sit and wait (or maybe you’re always late like me and have to run) in airports this holiday season, stop and reflect on the vast influence of the airplane. Its invention has touched nearly every single aspect of our lives, whether we are conscious of it or not. I know I personally enjoy overnight shipping from online retailers–and it will come in handy when ordering gifts a few days before Christmas!