Stewart Airport in Tyler Texas


Walter E. Stewart

Walter Edgar Stewart was born in 1878 and became a well known banker, financier, aviator, benefactor, and oilman in Tyler, and in Texas. Honored with Plaque #26 on Tyler's "Half Mile of History, " he died in March of 1956.

He founded Weslaco, Texas, between between Harlingen and McAllen. The city's name is taken from the initials of the W. E. Stewart Land Co., which held title to the site from 1917 to 1919.

Stewart also helped make Tyler a medical hub of East Texas. He was instrumental in forming the W.E. and Lela I. Stewart Blood Bank at 817 Clinic Drive. Opened on June 21, 1951, Stewart provided money for construction of the building and medical equipment.

The following are highlights of his aviation career, including the building and operation of Stewart Airport in Tyler.

Orin Welch Monoplanes: A Connection with Stewart Airport

Drawing of a typical Orin Welch monoplane
Drawing of a typical Orin Welch monoplane

Orin Welch was a self taught airplane designer and manufacturer. Born in 1906, Welch was a pioneer aviator in the state of Indiana. He founded the Orin Welch Aircraft Company, Welch Aircraft Industries, and the Orin Welch School of Aviation in Anderson, Indiana.

In the 1920s Welch worked with older planes and modified them for performance improvements. By the 1930s he was building his own plane designs. His monoplanes were inexpensive, had low maintenance, outstanding performance, and had side-by-side seating. The fuselage was constructed with fabric covered welded steel tubing with a triangular cross section.

The controls were mounted overhead with an adjustable control wheel that could be positioned for either pilot. The company built 38 of the OW-5M monoplanes.

Welch died while piloting a C-47 transport plane over "The Hump" between China and India in March of 1943.

The connection between Orin Welch and Walter Stewart in Tyler is unclear.

Walter E. Stewart Plans to Build the Texas Bluebird in Tyler

Walter E. Stewart planned to build the Texas Bluebird airplane in a plant on a site at his airport in East Tyler beginning in 1946.

His airport featured a 2,500' north-south runway, and a 1,900' runway with east-west alignment. Both were grass and sand.

The aircraft would have a wingspan of 34'5" and a length of 20'6". It was to have a range of 250 miles. The Bluebird would be a rebuild of the Welch OW-6M with changes in dihedral, control cables, and powerplant.

The OW-6M Type Certificate was held by Stewart Aircraft Industries, Inc. and sometimes the plane was identified as the Stewart OW-6M.

The Texas Bluebird was to sell for about $2,000. Planned production never occurred.

The map below shows the approximate location of Stewart Airport in relation to the current Tyler street grid. The airport was closed sometime before 1960.

Stewart Airport in Tyler Texas

 

 

The Texas Aircraft Manufacturing Company

Even though the Texas Bluebird production ceased, other aviation-related industries continued on the site.

In March 1949 the Aircraft Manufacturing Company was formed with oilman S.J. Taylor and W. E. Stewart as the primary stockholders. The IRS seized the assets of Johnson Aircraft Corporation, and Aircraft Manufacturing Co. purchased them at auction in February of 1950.

Now, another aircraft, "The Texas Bullet", would play a role in the history of Stewart Airport. The Texas Bullet, with its jet assist, was widely publicized when it was flown in its experimental stages by "Pop" Johnson of the Johnson Aircraft Co.

Johnson had earlier built "The Texas Rocket 185". After losing control of the Rocket program, Johnson began work on a new, all-metal, two seat design called the Bullet 125. The design concept changed to a four-place plane powered by a Continental E-185 engine and was eventually certificated in 1950 as the Texas Bullet 205 by the Aircraft Manufacturing Company based in Tyler.

In December 1947 Johnson Aircraft Corporation of Grand Prairie, Texas, began work on the Johnson Bullet. In September of 1948 it was announced that Johnson Aircraft would move to Stewart Airport in Tyler.

After the Johnson company dissolved, S. J. Taylor and W.E. Stewart, both oilmen from East Texas, formed the Aircraft Manufacturing Company in March of 1949 and took over the design plans to continue production of the Texas Bullet.

Taylor and Stewart rebuilt the plane, removing the jet assist. After months of work and testing, they received the Type Certificate in December of 1950.

The Texas Bullet Model 205 specifications:

  • 205 hp Continental E-185-1 engine
  • Wingspan: 28'
  • Length: 23'
  • Height: 6'6"
  • Gross Weight: 2,300 lbs
  • Top speed: 192 mph
  • Range: 750 miles
  • Service Ceiling: 17,800'

The prototype was never brought to the approved type design configuration. Five aircraft were built and registered with Standard Airworthiness Certificates, the last in November of 1951.

The Texas Bullet airplane

 

KLTV Studios in a hangar at Stewart Field in Tyler Texas
KLTV Studios in a hangar at Stewart Airport

KLTV Begins Operations in Remodeled Hangar at Stewart Airport Site

Television station KLTV began broadcasting in 1954, and originally had its studios located on East Erwin Street at Loop 323 in a former hanger of Stewart Airport, as shown in the photo to the right.

The location of the studios in relation to the Stewart Airport site is shown in the aerial photo and map below.

Aerial view of the Stewart Airport site in Tyler Texas showing the location of the former KLTV studios in an old hangar building

 

Map showing the location of the KLTV tower on the old site of Stewart Airport in Tyler Texas

 

In 1996, KLTV relocated its operations from its longtime studios on East Erwin to a new facility downtown at 105 West Ferguson.

The old KLTV studios were demolished in November of 2007.

The Stewart Airport Site Today

Today, an array of satellite dishes remain on the site, as does a 498' tower originally used by KLTV (see photo below).

The tower (FCC #1052727) was completed on June 1, 1954. A Shell service station and fast-food outlets now occupy the corner.

Present-day image of the old KLTV tower site on E. Erwin Street in Tyler Present-day image of the old KLTV tower site on E. Erwin Street in Tyler

 

For more information and history about Stewart Airport, we recommend a visit to the Abandoned and Little Known Airports website.

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