History of Lee Bird Field

Named The North Platte Field, the airport was constructed in 1921 with private funds to serve the needs of the U.S. Air Mail Service. The first terminal and hangar buildings were constructed on the east side of the North Platte River, near the river bridge, just south of Highway 30.

Using fuel burning barrels to demarcate the perimeter, the airfield became the site of the first night airmail flight on February 22, 1921, when the daring Jack Knight flew a night segment of the first transcontinental airmail flight. That flight originated on the west coast when two airmail planes left San Francisco at 4:30 a.m. heading east.  Shortly after takeoff one of the planes crashed, leaving the other to carry on eastward. After several fuel stops and three changes of pilots, the plane landed in North Platte at 7:48 p.m. where Jack Knight was waiting to take his turn in piloting the mail to Omaha. Knight had to wait until 10:44 p.m. while mechanics repaired a broken tail skid before guiding the big De Haviland 4 aircraft into the sea of darkness and heavy clouds toward Omaha.

Without any modern navigation aids, Jack landed in a wintry-cold Omaha at 1:15 a.m., where he was informed by the Omaha field manager that the plane and pilot which was to have met him in Omaha had been grounded by snow somewhere between Omaha and Chicago. Not wanting the transcontinental flight to end in failure, Jack decided to challenge the 435 miles of unfamiliar territory to Chicago. He left at 2 a.m. with a road map, and one and one-half hours later arrived in Des Moines in a driving snow storm. From there, barely skimming over the earth, he finally located Iowa City with only ten minutes of gas remaining but couldn't find the airport. The ground  crew, having thought all flights were cancelled, had gone home. Only the night watchman remained and had the sense to run to the center of the airfield and light a red flare or Knight would not have been able to land, refuel, and continue his daring flight to Chicago.

Jack finally arrived in Chicago at 8:40 a.m., after flying over 700 miles - mostly in total darkness. From there the mail was flown into Cleveland and then to Long Island just thirty-three hours and twenty minutes after having left San Francisco - thanks to the incredible bravery and flying determination of Jack Knight.

The airfield was eventually purchased by the City of North Platte in 1929 and leased to the Boeing Transport Company, one of the entities which would later merge to form United Airlines. In 1941, additional runways were constructed and the airfield became the site of a B-17 training command during WW II.

1941 was also the year the airport was renamed Lee Bird Field after the son of a North Platte pioneer family who was killed training as a military pilot in 1918. The airport has been operated as an Airport Authority since July, 1963. In recognition of the fact that airline passengers and aircraft owners are drawn to the airport from a large geographic area, the airport was renamed North Platte Regional Airport Lee Bird Field in June of 1992.

Over the years numerous dignitaries have visited the North Platte Airport. Among the notable is President Regan's visit in 1987.



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