Sunday, March 5, 2023

History of Chicago Executive Airport, Wheeling, Illinois, formerly Palwaukee Municipal Airport (PWK)

After World War I, a barnstormer named Ray Gauthier (or Roy Guther) flew a circuit around the upper midwest that included regular stops near Dam #1 (removed in 2014) on the Des Plaines River.
Dam #1 on the Des Plaines River, pre-2014.
In 1926, two brothers, Frank and Pete Barchard, set aside a 40-acre grassy open area with dirt runways on their farm in Prospect Heights, Illinois, to become a permanent airport. They hired an airport manager and purchased a plane to give flights and lessons. The Airport was known as "Swallow Airplane Field," named after the first plane they acquired. Eventually, the spot gained the nickname "Gauthier's Flying Field."

In November 1928, three North Shore businessmen who envisioned creating a center for commercial aviation on the Northshore purchased the growing Airport. They incorporated it and named it Palwaukee Airport. 

The Pal-Waukee Airport was named for its location near the intersection of PALatine Road and milWAUKEE Avenue. 

The Airport expanded to 91 acres in the 1930s, and 1933 brought the addition of a Blimp Hangar to the field. The Airport also experienced significant growth during the 1940s when it was developed to cover 109 acres, consisting of a gravel runway and 70 individual T-hangars.
Following WW II, in 1946, the Palwaukee airport was purchased by Park Aircraft Sales & Service of East Saint Louis, Illinois, which already had an established Ercoupe Dealership on the field.
By 1953, Park Aircraft Sales & Service had decided to consolidate its business and sold the Airport to George Priester. Priester Aviation Service continued to develop the Airport for the next thirty-three years. Lighting was installed on the paved runway, and a DC-3 hangar was constructed in 1954. By May 1959, the Airport consisted of four runways. A VOR approach was established for the Airport in 1961. New corporate hangars and a 5,000-foot runway (16/34) were constructed in 1965. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commissioned an air traffic control tower at the Airport in 1967.

A 1,600-foot partial taxiway parallel to Runway 16/34 was completed in 1974. In the same year, the FAA began an ILS installation. The most giant corporate hangar constructed to date was built in 2000. Improvements made by Priester Aviation at the Airport continued throughout the late 1970s into the early 1980s until the Airport was acquired by its neighboring communities.

On December 26, 1986, the Airport changed from private to public ownership, as the City of Prospect Heights and the Village of Wheeling purchased what was then Palwaukee from Priester Aviation. Priester continued to operate the only fixed base operation following the purchase. The FAA, the Illinois Department of Transportation and the municipalities contributed funding for the purchase. Funding from Prospect Heights and Wheeling was provided through airport revenues and did not affect the municipal taxes for the two communities.

The Airport has undergone significant construction, upgrading, and development projects. The intersection of two major arterial roadways and a drainage ditch were relocated beyond the runway safety area. A new air traffic control tower was commissioned in 1997. Beginning in 1997, Priester Aviation constructed three new corporate hangars in the east quadrant of the Airport that can provide access for the new transcontinental business aircraft entering service. North American Jet, Inc. began constructing a new second fixed base operator facility in 1998.
Chicago Executive Airport — Click Map for Expanded View

  • Chicago Executive Airport has 325 aircraft, including 57 corporate jet aircraft. 
  • The Airport logs over 77,000 takeoffs and landings each year and is the fourth busiest Airport in Illinois.
  • Chicago Executive Airport has three active runways and covers more than 412 acres.
  • It is the fourth busiest Airport in Illinois and plays a crucial role as a reliever for the region, which includes O'Hare International Airport.
  • The Airport operates 24 hours a day year-round with three runway options.
  • The air traffic control tower is staffed by the FAA and operates daily between 6 AM weekdays (7 AM weekends) and 10 PM.
  • The primary users of Chicago Executive Airport include private airplane owners, flight schools, businesses that maintain their company aircraft at the Airport and major national corporations.
Runway 16/34 — 5,001-foot long by 150-foot wide precision runway served by an ILS to runway 16. Both ends of the runway are served by a four-light PAPI visual slope indicator and an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS), 243 feet long by 170 feet wide at each end of the hard surface.

Runway 12/30 – 4,415 feet long by 75 feet wide, served by a four-light PAPI visual slope indicator on both ends. The threshold of runway 12 is displaced 295 feet, while the runway 30 threshold is displaced 432 feet.

Runway 6/24 – 3,677 feet long by 50 feet wide. Only runway 6 includes a PAPI visual approach indicator. The threshold on runway 6 is displaced 372 feet, while the threshold on runway 24 is displaced 1,249 feet

  • October 30, 1996, a twin-engine Gulfstream IV business jet with three crew members and one passenger lost control upon takeoff and crashed immediately to the north of the Airport. All four aboard perished.
  • January 30, 2006, an eight-seat twin-engine Cessna 421B with four passengers crashed about one mile south of the Airport. The aircraft was heading from Kansas to Palwaukee. There were no survivors.
  • January 5, 2010, a Learjet 35A crashed into the Des Plaines River in the Cook County Forest Preserve about a mile south of the Airport while on final approach. The jet, operated by Royal Air Freight Inc. of Waterford, Michigan, was empty during the crash, and the pilot and co-pilot were killed.
  • November 28, 2011, a Piper PA-31 crashed on approach to Chicago Executive Airport. The aircraft was operating as a medical transport plane. The pilot, the patient, and the patient's wife were killed in the crash. Two other people on board survived. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators determined the accident to be caused by "the pilot's inadequate preflight planning and poor in-flight decisions," resulting in the loss of power due to running out of fuel during the approach. The pilot's decision to operate an aircraft after smoking marijuana caused the accident.
Flight from Chicago Executive KPWK (with ATC) to Chicago. 
Cessna 172 - N9831G, Filmed 9/2022, in 4K. [runtime 18:00]

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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