Shepherd Flying Field
A Brief History
From an untilled, practically deserted spot early in 1923 the airport
has grown into one of the finest fields of its type not only in
West Virginia but the entire country, and is known east and west,
north and south to the nation’s boundaries, wherever airmen foregather.
-Charles McK. Thompson
The West Virginia Review, May 1928
Alex Parks became interested in aviation as a youngster. His early exposure to the air was through building and flying kites. He later experimented with gliders. In 1916 he learned to fly at Halthorpe, Maryland, near the present site of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
As a local Martinsburg businessman Parks envisioned a future for aviation and started the Berkeley Aviation Committee in 1922. This group met, discussed aviation and promoted flying activity in the fields then available. One of the local farmers fields used for landings was Kunkle Field, north of Martinsburg. This later became North End Airport or Ruppenthal Field. North End Airport closed in 1953 and became a housing subdivision. Van Metre Field was to the east of town and active only until the late 1940’s.
Alexander Burton Parks the Father
of Aviation in Berkeley County.
By 1923, Alex Parks and the Aviation Committee had contact with the Army Airways Office at Bolling Field near Washington, D.C. The first designated airway went from Washington to Cumberland (Mexico Farms) on to Moundsville (Langin Field), then to Dayton, Ohio. The Army was encouraging communities to locate emergency fields along the airway.
The Berkeley Aviation Committee began looking locally to determine which field would best be of service to the newly designated Airway. Studies showed that most traffic went near Pikeside. Van Metre Field east of Martinsburg, was closer to the airway than Kunkle Field, but both were overshadowed by that offered by the Shepherd Family further to the south. Shepherd Field was larger and practically on the airway. The Shepherd Family offered this large piece of real estate for use without charge and it would meet the expressed goal of providing an emergency landing site close to the airway with little modification.
The committee selected Shepherd Field and the community was asked for help to prepare the field to meet the government specifications. The community rose to the occasion. With vigor, citizens pitched in with equipment and material to meet the standards. By early May this enthusiastic band of volunteers had the Field prepared and ready for the government inspector. The stage was set for the first landing at Shepherd Field.
The Shepherd Family – L-R, Lula, Alex, James H., Robert L.
Capt. St. Clair Streett, Chief of the Army Airways Office, landed this D.H. 4 at Shepherd Field on June 17, 1923, accompanied by his flight mechanic, Sgt. Roy Hooe
These two pioneer aviators have interesting histories. Streett, a WWI aviator, had already received the Distinguished Flying Cross for leading the first Flying Expedition to Alaska in 1920.
L-R, Capt. St. Clair Streett, Lt. Nutt, Lt. Kirkpatrick, Lt.Nelson, Lt. Crumrine, Sgt. English, Sgt. Henriques, and Sgt. Vierra as they prepare to depart on the N.Y. to Nome Alaska Flying Expedition. Capt. Streett retired from the Army as a Major General in 1952.
U.S. Army Photo
Sgt. Roy Hooe, from Charles Town, West Virginia, received lasting recognition for his participation in the flight of the “Question Mark” in 1929. He retired from the Air Force in 1950 and returned to Charles Town to serve as Chief of Police.
Sgt. Roy Hooe, 2nd Lt. Elwood Quesada, 1st Lt. Harry Halverson, Capt. Ira Eaker, and Maj. Carl Spaatz pose with their aircraft, named the Question Mark, after flying for over 150 hours. They used aerial refueling for the record breaking time aloft flight. All were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Sgt. Hooe was later inducted into the Air Force Tankers Association Hall of Fame for his participation in this flight.
U.S. Army Photo
Field volunteers. This photo was after preparation of the “circle”.
L-R, Front, Unk, Alex Parks, Raymond and Minnie Shepherd. Rear, Unk, Walter Prather and James, Luke Shepherd, Unk.
Shepherd Field as featured in the September, 1923 issue of The U.S. Air Service Magazine. The circle was approximately where the intersection of runway 26 and taxiway B meet today. The field measured 1200x1200 feet
The aviation committee incorporated and became the Berkeley Aviation Club. The group operated the field, sold fuel and continued to promote aviation while they encouraged aviation related business to locate to Shepherd Field.
General Mason Patrick, head of the U.S. Army Air Service, arrived for aquick visit to Shepherd Field during an Air Service encampment in 1925. According to The Martinsburg Journal, this was General Patrick’s first arrival back to his native state via airplane.
Army aviators were the most frequent early visitors and within a few years, the Maryland Guard chose Shepherd Field as the location of their summer flying encampments. The encampments always culminated with an air show open to the public. The flying demonstrations attracted thousands of visitors to Shepherd Field and showcased the promise of aviation for the community.
Maryland Guard, 1928
Major William (Shorty) Tipton, seated third from right, was commander of the Maryland Guard. He was a WW1 “Ace” and former POW. Tipton Field near Ft. Meade, Maryland is named after Maj. Tipton. The building behind the group was built in 1926 and was the first building devoted to airport operations. Remnants of this bldg are still visible near runway 26. Note“ SHEPHERD FIELD” on roof.
George Kershner and sons with a Sopwith Camel in 1925; this is the first airplane owned by someone from Berkeley County. This airplane was formerly owned by Lawrence Sperry the inventor of the autopilot and the gyro.
Norman Rintoul arrived in 1930 with Rintoul Flying Service. This was the beginning of a commercial presence at Shepherd Field. Rintoul, while later working for All American Aviation, pioneered Air Mail Pick-Up, a system that snatched mail from the ground without landing. He went on to become Chief Pilot and retired from Allegheny Airlines.
1928 General Billy Mitchell visited Martinsburg and spoke to the
Chamber of Commerce. He presented his views on the future of aviation.
-R, Alex B Parks, Thornton Perry, Major Tipton, Gen. Mitchell,
Col. W.H. Clifford, Richard Feller.n I
The airport property was finally sold to the Berkeley Aviation Club. In 1934 it was deeded to the city of Martinsburg and later still to Berkeley County. Growth through the years added acreage and improvement to the field. WW2 brought paving and expansion to allow larger aircraft to land with patients for the nearby Army Hospital. A crosswind runway was built to provide safe operation during varied wind conditions. Post WW2 improvements brought hangers and a terminal. Thieblot Aircraft Company was built in the mid 50’s. The West Virginia Air Guard Facility was located here in the mid 50’s and the sounds of P51’s filled the air at Shepherd Field. Over the years aviation interest has continued to grow. Our airport may be the oldest continuously operating airfield in West Virginia.
Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport/Shepherd Field is now governed by an airport authority.
Bart Rogers, Airport Historian
(304) 274 1452