In 1940, aviation had started to become a staple in communities. In Montana, airline service had been in the state for over a decade with cities like Miles City, Butte, Billings, Missoula, Great Falls, Helena, Lewistown and West Yellowstone all having airline service in 1940. Meanwhile the residents of the Gallatin Valley watched as these airliners flew over the Valley between Butte and Helena. That needed to change.
On October 23, 1940, Bozeman City Manager August H. Lake called a meeting to advise those present that they had been appointed to serve on the Bozeman Airport Commission. The new members were: Dean Chaffin, Ernest Anderson, Gardner (Pete) Waite, Eric Therkelsen, and Frank Hoey. There was some discussion regarding the desirability of having an airport for Bozeman.
Within the next two weeks, the airport commission met several times and were informed by the Civil Aeronautics Administration that federal funding might be available for their airport if they could finalize the land purchases and airport plans before November 22nd.
Options to purchase the necessary land by the City of Bozeman were obtained on November 22, 1940. Following a luncheon meeting at the Baxter Hotel, the group adjourned to the lounge where maps were spread on the table and the airport began to take shape. On December 19, 1940, they received official word that Bozeman had been allotted $47,000 in federal funds for construction of the basic airport.
During the spring of 1941, plans for the new airport were progressing well. At a meeting held at the Baxter Hotel on May 7, 1941, it was suggested that a name be chosen for the new airport. The name 'Sacajawea Field' was suggested, but it was felt that the name "Sacajawea" belonged more or less to Three Forks and that it might be better to choose the name 'Gallatin Field.' After quite a little discussion, it was duly moved and carried that they name the flying field of the Bozeman Airport, Gallatin Field.
An Aviation Week was held in June 1941 and was a huge success with nearly 5,000 attending the Field Day program at the Belgrade Airport which is northwest of the current Gallatin Field. Northwest Airlines had a twenty-one passenger DC3 on the field and made several complimentary flights. It soon became apparent that the city alone could not maintain the airport and initial discussion with the Gallatin County Commission did not go well. However, by July 23, 1942 legislation had been passed stating that the city and county could co-sponsor an airport and a joint City-County Airport Board was formed under the name Gallatin Airport Board and included Dean Chaffin, Gardner “Pete” Wiate, John Buttelman, Sam Allen and E.R. Dye.
Exactly two years to the day after land was acquired, Jim Stradley and his passenger Helen McLain made the first official landing at Gallatin Field on November 22, 1942. It was another five years before airline service came to Gallatin Field. Fast forward to today, and Bozeman Yellowstone Int’l Airport is now the busiest airport in Montana handling 1.2 million passengers annually and is the fastest growing airport north of Dallas over the past 15 years.
Today we thank those who pioneered air transportation in the Gallatin Valley. We have many of the pioneers here today including Roger Stradley (Jim Stradley's son), former Board members Bill Merrick, John McKenna and Eric Hastings; and current Board members Carl Lehrkind IV, Karen Stelmack, Kevin Kelleher, and Ted Mathis.