History Of The Dane County Regional Airport

100 Years in the Making 

The 1920s: Madison's First Airport

  • Barnstormer Howard Morey of Chicago, Edgar Quinn, and J.J. McMannamy organized the Madison Airways Corporation. Located near highways 12 and 18 on the south shore of Lake Monona, Madison's first airport was born.
  • In 1927, the Royal Rapid Transit Company (RRTC) purchased the Madison Airways Corporation. The airport was quickly renamed the Royal Airport and the Royal Airways Corporation (RAC).
  • RRTC provided Madison with the first cabin airplane (which sat five passengers) and the first airline to provide daily service to Chicago.
  • In 1927, the City of Madison purchased 290 acres of land for $35,380. Previously a cabbage patch for a nearby sauerkraut factory, the newly acquired land would later become the present-day home of the Dane County Regional Airport.
  • In 1928, RRTC discontinued service to Chicago and liquidated its assets.

The 1930s: Madison's First Airplane Manufacturing Plant

  • Madison welcomes the first airplane manufacturing plant - the Corben Sport Plane Company. Corben designed and produced his semi-built "Super Ace" kits, which included converted Ford Model A motors. In 1934, Corben left Madison amid bankruptcy.
  • Wisconsin artist Cal Peters, in 1936, painted a Depression Era mural of his vision of what the Madison Municipal Airport would be. The mural depicted a terminal building along Highway 51 and two crosswind runways. The restored mural is displayed in the Greeter's lounge in the center of the main terminal.
  • In January of 1936, the city council voted to accept a WPA grant for the construction of four runways and an airplane hangar. Additional grants financed the terminal and administrative building as well as electric floodlights. The development price tag was $1,000,000 - 10% paid by the city and the remainder by the federal government.

The 1930s Cont.: City of Madison Opens the First Passenger Airport

  • Madison Municipal Airport, as it was known then, was completed on the east side of the Airfield and opened with Morey as manager on March 9, 1939.
  • Northwest Airlines, now Delta Air Lines, has served passengers in Dane County regularly since the first terminal was built in 1939.
  • The east side terminal location is now the site of Wisconsin Aviation.
  • In 1939, Howard Morey opened the first U.S. government-funded, Civilian Pilot Training Program.

The 1940s: Airport known as Truax Field

  • In 1942, the operation of the airfield was also transferred to the US Army Air Corps. The airfield was renamed Truax Field, in honor of Madisonian Lt. Thomas L. Truax, who died in a training flight shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • The Corps expanded the airfield to 2,140 acres and rebuilt the four runways.
  • Following the conclusion of WWII, the US Army Air Corps was deactivated and the field was returned to the city under the Surplus Properties Act with a recapture clause for national emergencies.
  • In 1946, Wisconsin Central Airlines, the predecessor of North Central Airlines (now Republic Airlines), established its home office in Madison.
  • In 1947, Robert Skuldt was named airport manager, a position that he would hold until 1981.
  • In 1948, the Wisconsin Air National Guard was established and stationed in Madison.

The 1950s: Commercial Aircraft Service in Madison

  • DC-3 airplanes were the first commercial aircraft (North Central Airlines) to serve Madison in the 1950s.
  • Following the start of the Korean War, the U.S. government enforced its recapture clause in 1951 - activating the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
  • Wisconsin Central Airlines relocated its home office to Minneapolis in early 1952.

The 1960s: A New Terminal Emerges

  • In 1962, the city completed a long-range master plan - paving the way for a grant from the Federal Aid to Airports Program - a new terminal and taxiway system was designed.
  • Jet passenger service from Madison began on Sunday, May 23, 1965, on a Northwest Orient Airlines 727 aircraft. 2,500 people attended the first flight.
  • A modern 31,000 square foot terminal building was built across the airfield on the west side - which was eight-times larger than the original east side terminal.
  • The cost of the new terminal was $2.36 million - it opened on December 15, 1966.
  • At the time, Dane County's population was 250,000 and annual airport passengers totaled 310,000 with 68 daily flights.
  • Also in 1966, the Air Force drastically reduced its station at Truax.
  • By 1968, the US Air Force was completely phased out at Truax field, leaving the Wisconsin Air National Guard to perform an alert/interceptor mission exclusively - 770 acres of land and many buildings were deeded to the city.

The 1970s: The Madison Municipal Airport Transitioned to the Dane County Regional Airport

  • In 1970, a $1.9 million airport improvement plan was approved for the reconstruction and expansion of the airport's existing runways. Construction began in 1972.
  • In 1972, the City-owned airport was subsidized $650,000 per year by county tax dollars.
  • In August of 1973, the City Council backed a transfer to the County, approved by the County Board in June 1974.
  • Mayor Paul Soglin and County Executive George Reinke signed the transfer agreement on June 30, 1974, and at 12:01 the following morning, on July 1, the Dane County Regional Airport came into being.
  • In 1974, the airport had over 500,000 passengers per year.

The 1980s: Airport on a Roll

  • In 1982, the airport became a self-sustaining enterprise and paid back all debt services with no property tax support.
  • In 1986, the airport tripled in size with a $12 million project that expanded the terminal from 32,000 square feet to 90,000 square feet, adding a second level concourse with six boarding bridges.

The 1990s: Commuter Terminal and Multi-Level

  • In 1990, the airport served over 1 million passengers. In the same year, the FAA completed a Part 150 noise compatibility study.
  • In 1991, a $3.8 million expansion added a 50-foot high glass atrium and a commuter gate - expanding the terminal to over 125,000 square feet.
  • The Corben Super Ace aircraft became a fixture in the DCRA terminal when it was hung in the glass atrium as a moniker of DCRA in 1991. The replica was donated by a local EAA chapter and followed the exact specifications of the original aircraft. 
  • A multi-level parking structure was built in 1993, with an additional level added in 1998.
  • To further reduce the impact of noise, construction began for a $24.5 million runway - named 3/21 - it was the first new runway since 1942 - the runway opened in 1998.
  • In 1999 the design for the new terminal building was completed.

The 2000s: New Prarie Style Gateway to Our Community

  • In 2000, runway 18/36 was reconstructed and new runway shoulders were added.
  • In 2001, a groundbreaking ceremony initiated a 5-year, $68 million building project that doubled the size of the terminal to 274,000 square feet - the project remained on budget and on schedule. This project was designed to replicate the signature Frank Lloyd Wright, prairie-style architecture - which features an elegant appearance with accents of cherry wood, polished granite, and spun aluminum.
  • In 2002, the International Lane entrance drive was relocated and 250 parking stalls are added to the surface parking lot.
  • Also in 2002, Wisconsin Aviation completed its new general aviation terminal.
  • On June 21, 2006, a terminal dedication was held heralding a new era - A History of Progress -- A Future of Promise.
  • In 2006, Robert Skuldt was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame.
  • In November of 2008, an additional parking structure addition was completed.

The 2010s: Environmental Focus and Airfield Improvements 

  • In 2010, a new glycol management system was installed to collect and treat airplane-deicing runoff. The system replaced an existing glycol retention pond.
  • On, March 20, 2013, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new 58,800 square-foot snow removal equipment building.
  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017, marked the opening of all-new restaurant and gift shop concepts in all airport areas. Each eatery is inspired by local companies and chefs, like Ancora, Metcalfe, and Chef Tony Miller.
  • In 2017, the construction of Taxiway M began. The purpose of this project is to improve runway safety for all of MSN’s runways by reducing the multiple runway crossings and complex taxiing operations identified by the Runway Safety Action Team (RSAT). 
  • On June 23, 2019, the Dane County Regional Airport celebrated 80 years of commercial service with a community event held inside the terminal. During this event, the airport unveiled the refurbished airport beacon that is now displayed at the south end of the terminal.

The 2020s: Terminal Modernization and Expansion 

  • In 2020, phase one the two-phase terminal modernization plan began. Phase one included improved bathrooms, an additional restaurant, an improved retail shop, and expanded seating areas for gates 8 & 9.
  • Today, DCRA covers 3,500 acres and serves over 2.2 million passengers each year.