Wings Over History: Exploring Kingman’s Aviation Legacy at the Laughlin Bullhead Airshow

Published by The Bee News

April 2, 2024

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The second Laughlin Bullhead Airshow scheduled for April 6, 2024, is an event not to be missed. And if you are an aviation enthusiast, the airshow could be the highlight of a weekend filled with adventure. 

Thirty miles east of the Laughlin Bullhead International Airport, or sixty miles via Route 66 and a drive through the scenic Black Mountains is Kingman. Best known for its association with iconic Route 66, this dusty desert crossroads has a rich and colorful aviation history. And there is an array of tangible links to each chapter in that story. 

The headquarters for Brown Drilling, 3375 N Bank St, is the former terminal for Transcontinental Air Transport’s Port Kingman. Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) was a pioneer in the development of passenger air service. 

Using a combination of trains and planes. The company started passenger service between New York and Los Angeles in 1929. It was the brainchild of Clement Keys, a visionary investment banker that was the president of Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company, and an associate of Charles Lindbergh. 

Aside from marketing and promotion, Lindbergh was instrumental in site location as well as development of airports along the flight corridor, including Port Kingman. During the period of airfield construction, Lindbergh was a frequent guest at the Hotel Beale in downtown Kingman. Amelia Earnhardt, while attending the official Port Kingman ribbon cutting, was also a guest at the hotel. 

Port Kingman was used by an array of celebrities and personalities. Will Rogers flew into the field on several occasions when he came to Kingman to visit Tap Duncan, a friend and pioneering rancher. Duncan had a number of celebrity associations including Buster Keaton that filmed Go West at his Lake Valley Ranch in 1925. 

Predating establishment of Port Kingman was the terminal and airfield built by Western Air Express in 1925. Recently located this airfield is west of the present Kingman airport and industrial park, which was established as Kingman Army Airfield in 1942. 

Western Air Express incorporated in 1925 and reorganized as Western Air Express Corp in 1928. The company pioneered mail and light freight delivery by air in the southwest, Mexico, and parts of Central America. 

In 1930, the company was acquired by Standard Air Lines. Shortly afterwards it merged with Transcontinental Air Transport, abandoned the original field, and made Port Kingman the center of operations. 

The merged companies were then reorganized as Trans World Airlines (TWA). In 1934, the Western Air Express division was sold, and then reorganized as General Air Lines. Two years later the company was again reorganized as Western Air Express. In 1941, Western Air Express changed its name to Western Air Lines which later became Western Airlines.

The Mohave Museum of History and Arts in Kingman has a variety of displays that chronicle some of this aviation history. This includes original nose art from WWII era B-17 heavy bombers, photographs, and memorabilia. Another display of artifacts is located at the Kingman Airport Café next to the original WWII Kingman Army Airfield control tower. 

If you are an aviation enthusiast, make plans to attend the Laughlin Bullhead Airshow. And while making your plans, perhaps you can also include a day to explore Kingman’s rich aviation history. 

Written by Jim Hinckley

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