Stephanie Burt Williams
In June of 1919, two Army officers from what was then Camp Bragg, at Fayetteville, landed their Curtiss biplane on an alfalfa field outside Winston-Salem. They were scouting for pilots and potential airfields, and the rich, rolling land of central North Carolina seemed ideal. At that time, few people in Winston-Salem had ever seen an airplane, much less traveled in one.
That brief visit by Sherman and Saunders, the two pilots, prompted local government officials to buy land and build a sizable, well-appointed airfield near the Old Kernsville Road, between the east side of the city and the village of Kernsville. It was named Maynard Field.
Tom Davis, a Winston-Salem native, had loved aviation from that day in June of 1919, and he pursued it for the rest of his life. He had an amateur pilot’s license before he received his high school diploma, having accumulated 25 hours of flying time. In Arizona, he earned a commercial pilot’s license before making his way back to his Hometown at the age of 21.
At the same time, Lewin S. McGinnis founded Camel City Flying Service, which functioned as the fixed-base operator at what was then Miller Municipal Airport in Winston-Salem (eventually Smith Reynolds Airport). McGinnis had financial support from Dick Reynolds, who in 1927 had founded Reynolds Airways.
When Davis returned to Winston-Salem, he joined up with these two gentlemen. Davis provided the tone, pace and character of the fledgling company and continued to do so for almost 50 years. These three men created the base of what became a bustling industry in the triad area of North Carolina. Piedmont Aviation was formed.
The staff bonded like a family and made customer service a priority. Tom Davis bought control of the company in 1940 and began acquiring key staff while handling leadership rivals and personnel reassignments. But commercial flight was still a dream.
The war years were a busy time at the airport. The U.S. Army Air Corps, in addition to training B-25 pilots, installed a weather bureau, control tower facilities, and extended the runways. Barracks were built at the airport for military personnel. The Air Corps’ Office of Flying Safety set up its national headquarters primarily in downtown Winston-Salem and at the airport with 600 personnel.
It was a cold and rainy February 20, 1948 when the Piedmont Airlines DC-3 waited on the tarmac for its inaugural flight. In just a few short years as the aviation industry boomed, a company that had once been more of a group of people who loved airplanes had become a commercial carrier with stops in Charlotte, Asheville, Tri-Cities, Lexington, and Cincinnati. The captain of that first flight was Leon Fox with Harold Dobbins as co-pilot.
And from there, it snowballed. The 50s and 60s saw steady growth of stops like Atlanta and Washington, D.C. In 1968, Piedmont airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 737 jet and set an air record in the process. The jet was the first to fly coast to coast non-stop from Seattle to Wilmington, N.C., then on to Winston-Salem.
Deregulation came, the creation of hubs, and the growth into a national airline. But the company never forgot its roots-the people: pilots, mechanics, engineers, stewards and stewardesses who made Piedmont go. There were Christmas parties, The Piedmonitor, problem solving, and thanks for loyal service. And, as always, Davis thought of it as a “Piedmont family.”
By the time it was sold to and merged with USAir from its founding four decades earlier, Piedmont had become one of the largest airlines in the nation. When Tom Davis died April 22, 1999, he left a legacy of an airline known for safety, incomparable customer service, and a family like atmosphere among its workers. “I miss Piedmont” is a comment often heard in airports today.
Whenever Mr. Davis came through the airport, he always wanted to be treated like anyone else, and not make a fuss over him. But he wasn't like everyone else. We just wanted to make him feel as special as he always made us feel.
Mr. T.H. Davis, Sr.
Hop Hee Dunne
Mr. Bill Taylor
The Late Capt. Leon Marshall Fox
The Late Capt. Stephanie B. Hamilton
Capt. Gerald B. “Buddy” Bowen
Capt. Ron Gabor
Capt. Kenneth “Ken” Duncan