A Century of Flight<br><i>Verde Valley pilots celebrate 100 years in the friendly skies</i>
ORVILLE Wright heads into the unknown Dec. 17, 1903, for a 12-second ride that would be the first powered, controlled flight. At right is brother Wilbur.
Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, N.C., (selected from a list of breezy sites provided by the U.S. Weather Bureau) Orville and Wilbur Wright put all of their dreams into a flimsy framework of wood and canvas and an engine built by their mechanic, Charles Taylor. The previous days’ attempts had not gone well.
Before Orville climbed aboard the Wright Flyer, the two shared a long good-bye. Both knew that Orville, like dozens before him, could share the fate of the mythological Icarus and come crashing to his death.
But to the respective glee and wonder of Wilbur and five fellows from the Coast Guard looking on, the unwieldy machine flew.
The Wrights were not the first men to fly. They were not even the first men to build an airplane. Mankind had dreamed of flight since the first bird flew overhead. Particularly adventurous individuals had been working on a flight contraption since at least the 18th century.
There were balloons. There were gliders. There were ornithopters with big flapping wings. And all were about as controllable as a dinghy without oars.
What the Wright Brothers gave the world 100 years ago on this date was the first flying aircraft that could be powered and directed by a person at the helm. Roll, pitch or yaw – there was at least a semblance of control. The basic design theory is still in use today in jets, spacecraft and submarines.
The wing-warping system and elevator control are a simple idea, one that would-be aeronauts had been trying to pin down. The Wrights’ design was the key to the door that many had been pushing against futilely for generations. It unleashed a century of astonishing progress.
In the first 10 years, flight went from a fairytale to a rabid hobby for scores of death-defying pilots around the world. Airfields popped up everywhere.
Arizona’s love affair with the airplane started early, too.
The Rimrock Airport could be the oldest landing strip in the Verde Valley. It dates back to the mid-1920s and, according to some accounts, it could also be Arizona’s oldest continuously used airstrip.
“There may be some older,” said Joy Mosley, who lives on the north side of the runway, “but not continuously used.”
Mosley, a pilot who started flying at age 50, shared historical aspects about the small airport located off Beaver Creek Road near the Beaver Creek School.
“In 1926, the strip was bulldozed on the mesa to provide a landing strip for Russell Boardman, a famous aviator, who invested in the Rimrock Dude Ranch,” she said. “He brought his Travelair 2000 to transport people from Phoenix and Flagstaff to the dude ranch.”
The Rimrock, according to Mosley, had other interesting uses over the years. During World War II, Navy cadets from Cottonwood used it for an auxiliary field. The Northern Division of the Civil Air Patrol and the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Aero Squadron were also based at the site.
The airport became a private residential airport in 1962 when John Muretick and C.P. Stevenson developed what became Rimrock Acres II. “We let the public land here but ask anyone flying in to sign a ‘hold harmless agreement,’” Mosley said.
The 2,500-foot runway is now owned by the Rimrock Airport Association, with about 18 members and 15 aircrafts. Earl Haase built a home there in 1963, bringing along his Cessna 120. He said association fees help with maintenance costs, and volunteers from within the association usually keep up the runway.
In the spring of 1929, when Marcus E. Rawlins dragged a grader behind his truck, scrapping an airstrip where the Cottonwood Municipal Airport is today, he envisioned the Verde Valley as a hub of aviation activity.
"Rawlins believed this would be a national airport," said historian Nancy Rayne Smith, of Jerome.
Rawlins, an automobile mechanic from Jerome, opened his airstrip informally on April 20, 1929. He incorporated in June of that year as the Clemenceau Air Port. Smith said that Rawlins believed Central Arizona was the only practical air route between the West Coast and all points east. In 1930, Rawlins obtained a 10-year lease on the 144 acres from the United Verde Extension, owned by the Douglas family.
In 1932, William A. Clark III, heir to the United Verde Copper Company, and Rawlins joined forces to open the Verde Valley Airlines, which would haul passengers, mail and freight. Unfortunately, the airline would never open. After buying the company's first airplane and ordering more, Clark and his pilot, Jack Lynch, were killed in a plane crash near the airport while Clark was learning to fly on instruments.
On May 23, 1940, after Rawlins' lease on the property ran out, Douglas gave the airport and property to Yavapai County. From 1942 until August 1945, the airport was used to train pilots for the U.S. Navy.
According to Smith, a huge snowstorm hit the area in December 1967, and the airport's hangar caved in under the snow load. County officials did not want to spend the money to rebuild the hangar. In June of 1968 the newly formed Cottonwood City Council took over ownership of the airport and changed the name to Cottonwood Municipal Airport.