Logically, Greene County should be called the “birthplace of aviation.” The Wright brothers lived and worked in Dayton, made their first flight in North Carolina, but came to Greene County to practice controlled flight, continue their experiments and opened the first school for aviators.
Those early flights all took place here in Greene County at Huffman Prairie.
After airplanes were used extensively during WWII, the airplane became a normal part of everyday life throughout the country,
Soldiers who had flown during the war often enjoyed the time in the air so much that they purchased planes for personal use.
Gradually, more and more “civilians” became interested in flight and more folks in Greene County were interested in owning planes.
It soon became evident that businessmen could utilize a plane to go from place to place much faster than by traveling by rail as had been the custom for many years.
Not to be outdone the Xenia Aviation Company opened a small airport in Greene County on the outskirts of Xenia. It was aptly named Port Xenia.
By 1947, Port Xenia was becoming a busy place. In a news release dated October 18, William Colman, an official of the Xenia Aviation Company, commented that the nice fall weather had been ideal for flying and “things have been humming out here, especially on weekends.”
Out-of-town guests were flying their private planes to Port Xenia to visit friends or relatives.
The airport was adequate for the small planes and it was not unusual for a cross country flyer to land for a short time for a short visit in order to refuel, stretch his legs and chat with the local aviation folks.
Visitors were always welcome, and those who were interested in learning to fly were able to take lessons. In the fall of 1947, more than 50 students had made solo flights at Port Xenia and the Veterans Association gave permission for the local airport to present a course for commercial pilots. Anyone holding a private pilot license would be eligible for the classes.
Another proposed use for the airport would benefit the United States Postal Service. If one wished to have a letter delivered faster than by the customary manner, one could affix an air mail stamp, which would ensure the mail would get from one coast to another in less time.
All-American Aviation, Inc. in 1945 requested the Civil Aeronautics Board to give authority to serve Port Xenia as a mail pickup. The proposal lay for two years before additional consideration was given.
Port Xenia would have been very good as a pickup between Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati, and certainly would have been of benefit to this community.
Port Xenia authorities were most eager for the opportunity to provide the air strip for both mail and short-haul passenger services.
Unfortunately, the fact that Port Xenia had only two 2,000 feet, glass runways at the time made it impracticable for the big twin-engine airliners to get in and out of the airport with complete safety. The dream of becoming a mail stop was shelved.
The airport continued to grow in interest with aviation enthusiasts.
In the summer of 1949, an air show took place at the site. Activities to be viewed by the spectators included such things as parachute jumping, parachute packing and flight demonstrations.
Apparently a factor in putting together such a performance began when Jack Bushy of Xenia made three practice parachute jumps at the field. When news got around about his venture, folks were eager to see it for themselves, and so he became one of the featured performers at the air show.
Other plans included a glider tow. A plane towing a glider would take off towing the glider at the end of as rope. The rope between the two was severed and the glider landed on nearby field. At that time, gliders were very popular and somewhat useful
Other plans included demonstrations in aerobatic flying. Also there was an exhibition of the latest pleasure aircraft. Perhaps some sales were made that day to interested flyers, or those who wanted to fly could sign up for lessons which were given on site.
The airport was chartered by Gov. James A. Rhodes in 1968 and since that time, multiple improvements have been made including the 2005 extension of the runway to 4,500 feet to accommodate larger jet engine planes which are popular today.
Serving a larger area, Port Xenia became the Greene County Regional Airport.
The name changed again to honor Lewis A. Jackson and is now known as the Lewis A. Jackson Regional Airport.
So who was Lewis A. Jackson?
This African-American made model airplanes when in grammar school and at the age of 16 purchased a partially completed monoplane in which he installed a motorcycle engine. For some years he taught flying at a private institution and then went on to teach at Tuskegee Institute for the United States Army Air Corps. He became the Director of what became known as the “Tuskegee Airmen.”
After the war Dr. Jackson moved to Xenia to teach at Wilberforce University and Central State.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and historian.