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The First Airport in Hamilton County

Today, Hamilton County has several small airports, both public and private, but back in 1945 there was only one and I’ll lay odds most people don’t know where it was located.

Fishers? Carmel? Noblesville?

Nope. It was Sheridan.

In February of 1945, the United States Department of Commerce notified the Town of Sheridan that Blackhawk Airport had been tentatively approved as a designated landing area by the Civil Aeronautics Administration.

And just like that, Hamilton County got its first airfield.

Blackhawk Airport was located on 40 acres about 5 miles north of Sheridan on 296th Street, just a little east of the Clinton County border.

As you might guess, it was named for Sheridan High School’s athletic mascot. The facility’s owner, Lloyd G. Bailey, was a Sheridan High School alumnus.

According to a 1961 Noblesville Daily Ledger article, Bailey came from a large family of aviation enthusiasts. He and his five brothers learned how to build and fly an airplane early in their lives. Bailey himself was licensed to fly at the age of 16.

One of his first positions was with Capitol Air Service, a flight school that operated out of Indianapolis’ Weir Cook Airport (now the Indianapolis International Airport.)

During World War II, Bailey began to see a growing need in this state for smaller airports that could serve rural communities. When the fighting ended in Europe, he moved to a farm north of Sheridan and set about turning his dream of owning one of those airports into a reality.

The first structure at Bailey’s airfield was a one-plane wooden hangar that also contained the office. Once that was complete, the grass runways were leveled and the field was graded. Before the airport was even officially open, the hangar had to be enlarged to accommodate three additional planes Bailey had acquired.

In the first few months of operation a number of people brought their own private planes to the field. That prompted the construction of yet another building in the fall of 1945. A new brick and steel structure which housed a mechanic shop and a lunch room opened the following year. At that time the airport’s office was also moved into the new building.

The Bailey Air Service offered charter flights and did a brisk business taking passengers on sightseeing tours. When some of those sightseers decided they wanted to learn how to fly themselves, yet another plane was added to the fleet “for instructional purposes.”

Of all the students Bailey taught to fly, he was undoubtedly proudest of his wife, Margaret, the first licensed female pilot in Hamilton County. Margaret Bailey celebrated Mother’s Day of 1946 by making her first solo flight.

Mrs. Bailey wasn’t the only member of the family who caught the flying bug, though. Under Bailey’s watchful eye, the couple’s son, George, was operating small aircraft at the age of 10, even though his feet couldn’t reach the rudder pedals yet.

As an adult, George Bailey flew charter flights for Roscoe Turner Aviation and was later employed as a corporate pilot for Merchants Bank and Eli Lilly.

During the years of Blackhawk Airport’s operation, it served as a social center for private pilots in this area. It was a place where they could catch up on the news and pass on their experiences.

By the 1990s, however, the Baileys were getting older and LLoyd’s health wasn’t good. In 1994, after 49 years of business, the couple reluctantly closed Blackhawk Airport and returned the land to farming.

Sheridan still has an airport, though — the Sheridan Airport, established by Kenneth Biddle, owner of Biddle Screw Products, on his farm north of Sheridan. It opened in 1946, the year after Blackhawk Airport.

Thanks to Nancy Massey for additional research.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at [email protected]