Bozeman International Airport's Past Landings and Future Takeoff

If you've ever been to the Bozeman- Belgrade area and you didn't drive for hours along I-90, then you have probably been through the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. You've seen a mural painted by the University here, seen the statues and relics from the Museum of the Rockies and from Yellowstone Park. But have you ever seen the history of the airport? Do you know what it has coming next? Read on to learn all about Bozeman Airport's past, present, and future. 

The Beginning

    The year is 1928, a short fifteen years ago the Wright Brothers made four brief flights, the first successful flights, and the gateway to humans with wings. Now aviation pioneer, Wayne Seifert, and E.R. Kahla want to bring flight to Bozeman, Mt. Working together the two found a site they thought would be ideal for the Seifert Airport, it was located half-a-mile North of the town of Belgrade. By 1929 Seifert Airport was open with six runways, each about 100ft x 1200ft.

The Expansion

Gallatin Field at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport featured at Montana Gift Corral

Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

    By the year 1940, two generations of Americans had grown used to the idea of flight. The days of “daring young men and their flying machines” transitioned into the age of pilots. In October of 1940, the Bozeman City Manager, August H. Lake, appointed the first Bozeman Airport Commission. Three of the men on the commision were Dean Chaffin, Gardner Waite, and Eric Therkelsen. One of the first things accomplished was the addition of an extra hanger at the Seifert Airport, it was for the new Civilian Pilot Training program that Montana State University began offering that year.

     With growing demands for flight and the new CPT program, Waite knew the airport would need to expand. So he began looking into the potential purchase of lands around the airport. That same year Waite journeyed to Butte to meet with Paul Morris of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Morris offered to send members of the Army Engineers stationed at Fort Peck to survey the sites and assist with plans. The goal was to secure lands to purchase and to develop a plan for the expansion by November 22nd. They were successful.

     So on November 22nd, Morris met with the Airport Commission and they sat down to study the Windrose Charts. Morris helped lay out 4 potential runways and gave instructions on how to fill out the government forms. On December 19th the Bozeman Airport was allotted $47,000 in federal funds. The Civil Aeronautics Administration also financed construction in 1941 to help provide a training school for pilots, just prior to WWII.


Aviation Week

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport 1940 Aviation Week, featured at Montana Gift Corral

Photo courtesy of Delta Flight Museum (image of similar plane)

    In the spring of 1941, the Airport Commission had an idea to have an aviation week. They wanted to show the community the airport and gain local support. The aviation week was held June 9- 15 and was a roaring success! Seventy people showed up for the banquet and nearly 5,000 people attended the Field Day Program at Gallatin Field. Northwest Airlines had a twenty-one passenger Douglas Airliner on the field and they made several complimentary flights in honor of aviation week. John Lynch also performed several aerial acrobatics for the crowd.

Trouble in Paradise

    In July it became obvious that the city would not maintain the airport on its own. So on July 8th, the Airport Commision met the with County Commission to propose a budget for Airport funding. They used every possible argument they had to ask the County Commissioners to levy at least a portion of one million dollars to help maintain the Bozeman Airport. The County Commission would have none of that, they had no interest in listening to the arguments to begin with and flatly refused the levy.

The Plan

Roger Stradley, son of Jim Stradley, Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport featured at Montana Gift Corral
Roger Stradley, son of Jim Stradley
Photo courtesy of Bozeman Daily Chronicle 

    So the Airport Commission came up with a new plan. They made the results of the meeting public knowledge. On July 23rd the names Bozeman Airport and Gallatin Field became solidified to help boost community camaraderie. In 1942 Gallatin Field became a city-county airport and in November of that year Pilot Jim Stradley and Passenger Helen McLain made the first official landing. The plan worked and in 1944 the Gallatin County purchased half the interest on the land.


The Growth

Bozeman Airport 1950, Bozeman International Airport featured at Montana Gift Corral

Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

     The 1950 ’s was the dawn of the first era of growth. Between 1950 and 1951 an Airport Administration building was built. It was designed by Fred Willson and cost around $150,000. This building now houses the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF), the TSA personnel, and the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Airport Office. In 1952 the Bozeman Airline Terminals opened two ground gates. In the 1960’s roughly $600,000 were funded to help with even more construction and maintenance.


The Master Plan

Original Terminal at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport featured at Montana Gift Corral

Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

     In 1972 Montana Legislature passed legislation authorizing the establishment of Airport Authorities in Montana. And Gallatin Field became an Airport Authority by November that year. Now the airport had the committee required to begin overseeing and operating the airport. The first of the Airport Authorities took off. They founded new FBO buildings as well as relocating the current ones. They had a new terminal, air carrier apron, and access roads built as well as extended the water and sewer utilities to the terminal building. They also provided Belgrade with land for a new sewage treatment facility and shared the cost of a $500,000 water tank. In 1978 Bozeman Airport was given a regional award for environmental design present by the FAA.

     “The building is highly functional and an outstanding example of the use of design, art, and architecture to enhance compatibility of airport structures with their surrounding environment.”
        ---M.M. Martin, FAA Director

The Growth II

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, Belgrade Montana featured at Montana Gift Corral
Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

     During the next thirty years, the Bozeman Airport experienced a massive growth. Fire stations and snow removal facilities were added. Second level terminals began being built, parking lots were expanded for employees and travelers alike and a rental car lot was added. In 1997 the Air Traffic Control Tower was built and TSA grew and expanded to handle more people.


Growing Together

Montana State University Airplane at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport featured at Montana Gift Corral

Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

    In 2011 the Bozeman Airport changed its name to the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport at Gallatin Field with the approval of the Gallatin Airport Authority Committee. They also partnered with the Yellowstone Association and Yellowstone Park Foundation to open the “Destination Yellowstone” store as well as some educational museum displays. The following year BZN partnered with Montana State University and the campus painted the MSU mural in the terminal. On July 1st, 2012, the Bozeman Airport got its own U.S. Customs and became an international airport. In 2013 they partnered with the Museum of the Rockies and opened the new museum display in the terminal. While the Bozeman Airport was making friends with Bozeman’s local attractions, the Airport Authority was expanding everything. Terminals were added and old ones were expanded, the overnight hanger grew to hold up to ten planes, new services opened for flights to more locations around the country and to Canada and a new exit from I-90 to the airport was made. On August 31 of 2013, Bozeman was the busiest airport in Montana for passenger planes.


Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport Grows and Expands and learn it all at Montana Gift Corral

     Photo courtesy of Bozeman Airport

     It's been 90 years since Seifert and Kahla first dreamed of opening an airport in the Bozeman-Belgrade area. Those 90 years have been full of unending growth and development. And by the time it reaches its 100-year anniversary, the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport will have grown beyond what it is now. With the average number of passengers increasing by around 8% every year plans that weren't designed to start until 2021 are already underway. The Bozeman Airport is currently building a new four-story parking garage and are already working on the third level. As soon as the garage is done they have plans to begin another upgrade centered around the concourse. The plans include more amenities inside, an additional three gates as well as baggage handling improvements. On top of all of that, the BZN Airport is teaming up with the city of Belgrade to build an Airport Plaza which will have hotels, restaurants, and other shops. The Bozeman Airport is growing fast, so come and visit before the Bozeman Airport of today is the Bozeman Airport of the past!

     The Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport is ready for Takeoff!



By: Issa Rabideaux

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