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Horace Williams Airport

Horace Williams Airport

The university-owned Horace Williams Airport closed in 2018 after eighty years of operation. It opened in 1928 when local contractor Charlie Lee Martindale purchased fifty acres from UNC professor Horace Williams and built a small airfield that came to be called the Chapel Hill Airport. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s Carolina and Duke student pilots could be seen flying over Chapel Hill in Piper Cubs and other trainers, under a program sponsored by the federal Civil Aeronautics Agency. UNC bought the airport in 1940 when it received 870 adjacent acres through Williams's will. They renamed it for Horace Williams, who had been a popular professor of philosophy at Carolina from 1890 to 1940.

In 1942 Horace Williams Airport and UNC—Chapel Hill became one of five U.S. Navy pre-flight schools. By 1945 more than 18,000 cadets had trained there, including baseball great Ted Williams, Paul "Bear" Bryant, and future presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush. The airport always saw a lot of activity around big sporting events. After the war the airport was a popular destination for private plane owners and visiting alumni. On the day of the 1948 UNC-Texas football game, ninety-seven planes used the airport.

Since the late 1960s, with the rapidly expanding Raleigh-Durham airport (RDU) nearby, university administrators and town leaders have frequently debated the necessity of having an airport in Chapel Hill. One of the most compelling arguments to leave the airport in place was its use by UNC—Chapel Hill doctors traveling around the state with the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program. The call to remove the airport was especially strong in the early 2000s as the university began planning for Carolina North, a major expansion of the campus to be built primarily on the land used by and surrounding the airport. In preparation to carry out that plan, the Chapel Hill Flying Club relocated to the airport in Sanford, North Carolina, and the AHEC air operations moved to RDU in 2007. Although those plans still remain on hold, the university finally closed the airport to air traffic in 2018, citing the cost to keep it open.

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