by Richard Malley for Your Public Media
After acquiring the World War II Bradley air base from the US Government in 1948, the State of Connecticut poured considerable resources into upgrading the facility, with the goal of developing a regional air transportation center. In 1952 a state-of-the-art terminal building, Murphy Terminal, was opened in the spirit of “if you build it, they will come.” Slowly but surely “they” (the airlines and their passengers) did come, validating the State’s vision.
The 1950s saw rapid advances in the size, speed, and luxury of commercial airliners. Cutting-edge piston-engine aircraft such as the gorgeously streamlined Lockheed Constellation and the popular Douglas DC-6 drew passenger traffic away from long-distance passenger trains and steamships. Turbo-prop aircraft like the Lockheed Electra brought the first application of commercial jet power to Bradley Field late in the decade.
The introduction of scheduled jetliner service at Bradley dates to 1961 when United Airlines inaugurated service with Boeing-720 aircraft. TWA and American Airlines soon followed suit, signaling the beginning of the end of piston-engine airline service. As jetliners increased in size and weight, the State undertook various improvement projects, including increasing the size and strength of taxiways and terminal ramps and lengthening the main runway. In a few short years Murphy Terminal sprouted its own wings in the shape of concourses with multiple boarding gates.
It is a bit difficult today to understand what a powerful symbol the commercial jetliner was in the early 1960s. The ability to fly farther, faster, higher, and more safely caught the imagination of an increasingly mobile generation.
Richard Malley is Head of Collections at the Connecticut Historical Society.
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