Aviation was causing a sensation in Owensboro during the 1920s.
Frank P. Sheehan, who was familiar with Owensboro from his days as a stunt pilot for an air circus, opened his Kentucky Aircraft Corporation in offices in downtown Owensboro. By January 1927, Sheehan had overseen the construction of an aircraft factory near Daniels Lane which began producing the Kentucky Cardinal, a plane he designed.
“Owensboro is to be congratulated on its air program,” said assistant secretary of commerce for aeronautics William P. MacCracken, Jr. in a letter published in the Owensboro Inquirer on Jan. 16, 1927. “The establishment of an aircraft factory and aviation school will certainly place your city on the aeronautical map of the United States.”
Sheehan liked to pilot the first flight of each Kentucky Cardinal aircraft as it was completed. While testing one of the Kentucky Cardinals over Owensboro, a wing detached from the plane causing Sheehan to crash into Frederica Street. His passing in the crash ended aircraft manufacturing in Owensboro just as it was getting started.
The airfields near the Kentucky Aircraft Corporation factory – which became known as Frank Peter Sheehan Airport – were used until 1950 when the new Owensboro-Daviess County Airport opened at the present location west of Owensboro.
In Nov. 1945, the Owensboro Messenger called for a more modern airport with lights to accommodate night landings after a plane crashed on a farm in the area.
By Oct. 1947, commercial air service had been secured with Eastern Airlines even though the airport wasn’t suitable for their planes. After it was determined that improving and enlarging the current airport would be too costly because of drainage issues, the city and county decided to pool their resources to build a new facility on the site of the current Owensboro-Daviess County Airport.
The $900,000 facility boasted 24.7 acres of cement runways to accommodate the commercial flights. Adjacent to the administration building were hangars for Ayer Flying Service and Owensboro Aviation.
The inaugural flights of Eastern Airlines into and out of Owensboro happened on March 1, 1951. Flights were available east to Louisville and west to Evansville.
The celebration of the day of the first flights included one of the Eastern Airlines DC-3 Silverliners on the ground for public viewing and a flyover by three P-51 fighter planes. A model airplane show and series of contests were held throughout the day and included military formation flying, a speed event, stunting and combat flying where competitors attempted to cut paper streamers from opposing planes.