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Aurora’s 100 Years of Flight

By John Jaros, Executive Director; edited by Jennifer Putzier, Curator.  This article originally appeared in the Aurora Historical Society e-news, June 2010 edition.

On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with their twelve second flight.  Only seven years later, Aurorans witnessed a flying demonstration in their own hometown.  This list, compiled by Executive Director John Jaros, is just some highlights from Aurora’s aviation history.

1910 — Wright Brothers Flying Demonstrations
Wright plane at the Aurora Driving Park, flown by Fred Welch

Wright plane at the Aurora Driving Park, flown by Fred Welch

As part of a four-day “Homecoming” Celebration over the 4th of July weekend, Aurorans witnessed flight demonstrations — one of the earliest public demonstrations in the state.  The event took place at the Aurora Driving Park, a horse racing track and fair grounds (located where the Riddle Highlands Historic District is today).  There were several more flying demonstrations here during the 1910s.

Exposition Park

The Driving Park closed about 1920, but in 1922 the new Exposition Park opened in North Aurora.  This was an amusement park that also hosted the 9-state “Centennial States Fair” during summers through 1931.  Among the many amusements were balloon ascensions and airplane stunt shows.

Aurora Airport

100_years_flight_ride_ticketThe original Aurora Airport opened in 1928, adjacent to Exposition Park.  One of the founders was John Livingston, a champion aviator of the 1920s and 1930s.  This premier racing pilot entered 139 races between 1928 and 1931, finishing first 79 times and second 43 times.  Livingston lived in Aurora in the late ’20s and early ’30s, and his association with the airport ensured its success.  It became part of a national route the year it opened.

World War II

Arch Dewey (1912-1988) piloted the famed “City of Aurora” GB-17 Flying Fortress (sponsored through bond drives by the Aurora Lions Club).  With Dewey at the controls, the ship flew more than 50 missions as part of the North African Heavy Bomb Group, leading raids on the Italian mainland.

Walter E. Truemper (1918-1944), Aurora’s only Medal of Honor recipient, was a navigator in the 8th Air Force.  The crew’s B-17, “Ten Horsepower” was crippled during a bombing run over Germany.  The copilot was walled, the pilot wounded and unconscious.  They managed to get the plane back over England, where the rest of the crew bailed out and Truemper and the Engineer attempted to land the plane.  When ordered to bail out, he replied “Sir, if that’s an order, okay, but I would rather try to bring her in, the pilot is still breathing.”  Their landing attempt failed; Truemper and the Engineer were killed, and both received posthumous Medals of Honor.

Aurora Municipal Airport

The old Aurora Airport closed in the late 1950s due to the opening of the East-West Tollway.  Airport Road, which ran along the north edge of the field, still serves as a reminder.  The new Municipal facility in Sugar Grove opened in January 1961.

FAA Control Center

The FAA’s busy Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center is located in Aurora on Indian Trail.  It opened in 1962, replacing the former center at Midway airport.