This Month in History – September 15, 1990

In September 1990, the New Hanover County International Airport held a series of events to mark the opening of a new terminal building.  The celebration was five years in the making.  Ground was broken for the terminal in December 1985.  The new building, designed by the architectural-engineering firm of Howard, Needles, Tammen, and Bergendoff, was 88,000 square feet, and replaced an existing terminal that dated from 1952.

Opening events were quite a production.  On the afternoon of Saturday, September 15, 1990, officials held a dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting.  Governor Jim Martin, North Carolina’s U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, and Tommy Harrelson, the state’s secretary of transportation, all attended.  Afterwards, for two days, visitors could attend an open house and check out the new terminal.  The celebrations included musical performances, a giant cookie version of the new terminal layout, as well as souvenirs and a children’s glider contest.  Guests could also enter a series of drawings to win tickets on each of the carriers that served the airport.  Four lucky winners were announced: Fred Altibellis won two tickets to Orlando and Universal Studios, Hettie Elkins won a trip anywhere Atlantic Southeast Airlines flew, Dori Elder won the same from Enterprise Airlines, and Bebe Thomson won a flight to Paris. After the weekend events, on Monday the 17th, the first plane — a US Airlines flight— departed from the new terminal at 6:15 am.

The airport began in 1927 as Bluethenthal Field.  It was named after wartime aviator Arthur Bluethenthal, the first Wilmingtonian to be killed in World War I.  The airport has gone through numerous name changes over the course of its life. In the 1950s, it became the New Hanover County Airport.   In the late 1980s, the airport authority added “International” to the name (even though there were no direct international flights out of Wilmington), and in 1997, the airport changed its name again to its current moniker, Wilmington International Airport.

The airport has changed in other ways, too.  Regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights began to take off from Wilmington after World War II.  National Airlines began flying out in 1945.  And on February 20, 1948, the Winston-Salem based Piedmont Airlines made its maiden flight from Wilmington, taking off for Cincinnati.   Piedmont’s first flight took more than four hours, and the plane made five stops along the route.  Today, the airport has direct flights to seven cities.

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Previous Columns

August: Honoring “Hi Buddy” Wade on his 90th Birthday
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
The USS North Carolina lands a Kingfisher, June 25, 1971
May is Prom Season, May 12, 1962
Income Tax Deadline Day
Women’s History Month, March 8
A February Fundraiser, 2008
January 2019: 
Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979
A Day’s News, December 12, 1936
November 10, 1898
Halloween, October 31
Getting a Car Fixed: September 3, 1929
“Two Hundred Years of Light by the Light”: August 5, 1989
Tommies Parading in Wilmington: July 17, 1943
Williston is Closed: June 26, 1968
May: May 13, 1919: Traveling Home from War
April: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated: April 4, 1968
March: Sending Victory Mail Home
February:  Human Relations Month
January 2018:
Galloway’s Sick Note

Piedmont Airlines jet plane on the tarmac at New Hanover County Airport, 1960s
Gift of Frank C. Oppenheimer

Glider flying contest at airport terminal dedication, September 15, 1990
Gift of Collin Neilsen

Souvenir glider, September 15, 1990
Gift of Janet K. Seapker
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382