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Once upon a time Belmont had its own airport

By Alan Hodge

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Any hour of any day, people in and near Belmont can see and hear the roar of jets carrying passengers to and from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. But there was once a time when the purr of Piper Cubs and similar small aircraft was the main sound that filled the air along Wilkinson Blvd. near the Catawba River.

The reason being, Belmont had its own airport for several years there during the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The airport was a dirt strip that ran through Browntown parallel to the north side of the boulevard from about where Catos Trailer Park is now located down to Riverview Avenue. Benny Brown grew up in the area that was named for his grandfather and as a boy spent a lot of time at the airport. In fact, he credits those days with launching his career in aviation.

“I got the flying bug at the Belmont airport,” Brown said. “I went on to become a commercial pilot with over 3,000 hours of flying time.”

Brown still lives in a house with his wife Betty  that sits where the runway ended, and often thinks about the days when small planes buzzed overhead piloted by characters from Belmont and the surrounding area.

Of course, there was plenty of adventure at the little airport.

“Near where the house is there was a big tree and to land, the pilots had to come in over it and drop down,” said Brown. “Once, a pilot misjudged and bounced off the roof then went through the cabbage patch with the prop throwing cabbage everywhere. It made cole slaw with an airplane.”

Pilot Author Hawkins, whose son Festus still lives where the strip was located, also had an adventure.

“Author would never tie his shoe strings,” Brown said. “Once, the strings got tangled in the control pedals and he crashed.”

Both the cabbage-shredder and Hawkins came out of their mishaps OK.

Local aviator Manson Arrowood, who had flown anti-submarine patrol aircraft looking for German U-boats along the North Carolina coast during the war, owned the Belmont airport. His name is listed on a Civil Air Patrol “Certificate of Belligerency” roster for that time period with the rank of lieutenant. Arrowood was known for his flying proficiency and had several stunts to his “credit” in Belmont.

“I heard he flew an airplane under the Buster Boyd Bridge and the Wilkinson Blvd. Bridge as well,” Brown said. “He would swoop down on boats and chase them too.”

The late Dorothy Smith Goode, who grew up on her father Sinclair Smith’s farm in Catawba Heights, remembered Arrowood and his yellow Cub as well.

“He would land in the cow pasture and take us for rides,” she was once  quoted as saying.

Brown says the airstrip would often hold shows on weekends and Arrowood as well as other local pilots would wring their planes out.

“They would draw a big crowd,” he said. “People would line up.”

Popular stunts Arrowood would perform included throwing a roll of toilet paper out of his plane and spin around to see if he could cut the streaming tissue with the prop.

The Belmont airport was also a flight school.

“One student’s name was Sparky Armstrong and he was only 15-years-old, and officially too young to fly legally by himself but did anyway,” said Brown. “Manson told Sparky if he ever came in to land and saw the black and white FAA car, to fly over to the Mount Holly airport and wait a while.”

Armstrong took the skills he learned at the little dirt strip in Belmont, and then went on to a career in the US Air Force and with Eastern Airlines.

Back when the Belmont airport was operating, traffic on Wilkinson Blvd. was a whole lot less than today, a fact that came in handy at least once.

“One pilot named Runt Adams had a plane that was dirty and the airport didn’t have a way to wash it so he taxied across the boulevard where there was a hose,” Brown said. “After it was clean, he just pulled onto the highway and took off.”

Another incident that could have ended tragically took place just after the end of the war when a military plane was trying to find the Belmont airport in the dark. 

“He buzzed back and forth across town and finally some people took cars to the strip and lit it up with their headlights,” said Brown.

All good things must end and so did the brief yet colorful career of the airport in Belmont. Brown says that for a time it was a dirt auto racetrack, then the homes, businesses, and trailers that are there now took over. 

“I can still smell the oil, paint, and gas aroma in those planes even today,” Brown said. “It was a great place.”

*If anyone has recollections of or photos from the Mount Holly airport that ran beside NC27 please contact me here at the paper I would love to write a story on that bit of local aviation history as well.