The history of aviation in Michigan City dates back to the barnstormers. Barnstormers operated in the Michigan City area as early as 1915 creating a local interest in aviation. In the late 1920s/early 1930s, several aviation enthusiasts in the area started the Michigan City Flying Field, at what is now the present site of the Michigan City Municipal Airport. In about 1931/32 the Dunes Aircraft Corporation, known as the Doodlebug Flying Club was started in the Michigan City Flying Field. The Dooddlebug Flying Club is one of the oldest if not the oldest flying club in the country. The presence of the Doodlebugs continued to foster a local interest in aviation. Many of the pilots in the Doodlebugs went on to become flight instructors in the World War II.
The 1940s saw the beginning of the City’s participation in aviation. In 1945, Michigan City formed its first Board of Aviation Commissioners as a Department of Aviation. However, the City had no airport. A site study was conducted, and a site on the south side of the city was selected. The 2,400’ x 60’ runway was built in one weekend. A member of the Doodlebugs was the first to land on the new runway. The first Michigan City Airport came into existence. In the same time period, Joe Phillips purchased the Michigan City Flying Field and operated it as a private airport.
Between 1950 and 1970 aviation in Michigan City continued to grow. The city had two airports, one owned by the City and one privately owned. However, both airports were adequate at best. Through several grants from the FAA, the City began to improve its airport. A new Administration building was built, and the runway was paved. During the same time, Joe Phillips also made improvement to his airport. He created a 4,000 foot long grass runway, and also developed an airline that serviced Michigan City residents to and from Chicago. Aviation in Michigan City was looking good, so it seemed.
The period beginning in the 1970s was a difficult one for aviation in Michigan City. In 1971, the City tried to sell the Municipal Airport to build a new City Hall. The FAA put a stop to that action however by reminding the City of the terms of their 1959 FAA grant, which required the City to operate the airport or pay back the money.
Michigan City turned its focus to the development of one airport to serve the City. A site selection study was conducted and identified three sites within the City and one outside the City limits. The City of course wanted the airport located with in the City. In addition, there was strong public opposition to the site outside the City, thus it was dropped from consideration. The Mayor approved $50,000 of revenue sharing money for an environment impact study. The FAA told the City to “make up its mind!”
Through the selection process, it became apparent that the further development of the Municipal Airport would be impossible. The City employed R.W. Armstrong & Associates, Inc. at this time to provide guidance on the airport development. In 1985, the City sold the old Municipal Airport site on US 421 and in 1986 it purchased Phillips Field. The old Municipal Airport site is now the site of two department stores and several other restaurants and businesses. Through the Grant process, the City began to modernize the new Municipal Airport.
The airport currently claims around 50 based aircraft, including business jets and other twin aircraft. Twenty-one Executive type hangars and two T-hangar complexes currently house the aircraft. Plans included in the current Airport Layout Plan include a runway extension to bring the current 02-20 runway to 5000 feet. Several recent guests to the airport include President Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, the on-camera crew of the Good Morning America morning show, and top executives both in government and industry.
The present airport’s journey from the first flying field in Michigan City, to a private airport, to a publicly owned airport has been a long and winding path. However, now under City ownership with significant improvements accomplished and one major one still in the works, the Airport is poised to serve the community well for the foreseeable future.