Dare County Airport to celebrate 80th anniversary

By on November 6, 2023

Tony Bruno, museum curator, points to vintage image of the airport grounds. (Photo by Mary Ellen Riddle)

Event to focus on facility’s role in WWII

History comes to life at the Dare County Regional Airport on Nov. 18 as it celebrates its 80th anniversary as well the 30th anniversary of the airport’s museum.

The airport‚Äôs storied past will be shared with the overall theme of the free celebration revolving around World War II‚ÄĒin particular, the year 1943 when several Navy squadrons including VF-17 was present at the airport, and Patrol Base 16 of the Civil Air Patrol operated out of there.

‚ÄúThere were one thousand people stationed here at the height of WWII,‚ÄĚ said Tony Bruno, curator of the airport‚Äôs museum. It was called Naval Auxiliary Air Station Manteo, but was never meant to be a permanent base, he added. The Navy was here waiting for their assignment in the Pacific.¬†Navy squadron VF-17 was performing practice flights such as gunnery, low- and high-level flying and formation flying and it went on to become the most successful squadrons in WWII, according to military historians.¬†The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) flew anti-submarine patrols.

A talk about the CAP by Washington, DC historian and author Frank A. Blazich Jr. is on the ceremony’s agenda. He is also the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for the Society for Military History and the National Historian Emeritus of the Civil Air Patrol.

To add to the historic 1943 theme, reenactors dressed in period uniforms will impart pieces of military history and civilian life. Enhancing the era’s ambiance will be live music by vocalist Theresa Eman, who will emcee the event as well as sing 1943-era songs. Period automobiles will help set the scene.

The celebration is a family affair. ‚ÄúThe Dare County Radio Control planes will be there,‚ÄĚ said Bruno. ‚ÄúThey do a good job talking to kids about remote control planes.‚ÄĚ A Kitty Hawk Kites display, and a hang glider as well as a simulator are also kid favorites. Food will be available and craft venders will set up their wares. Fly-ins are welcome.

Modern aircraft and two vintage airplanes will be onsite for viewing, including a 1942 SNJ manufactured by North American. ‚ÄúEven though this particular airplane was not here in World War II, virtually every pilot that was here during World War II for the Navy trained in one of those airplanes, so it feels very representative,‚ÄĚ explained Bruno.

The museum showcases the airport‚Äôs history through myriad stories, vintage photographs, original documents, furniture, and a wide array of artifacts including Navy and Civil Air Patrol uniforms worn by Navy and CAP folk stationed at the airport, plus medals, and a cherished logbook. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got the entire log of the Civil Air Patrol because it only served on the Outer Banks from July of 42 until August of 43,‚ÄĚ said Bruno.

In 1992, in preparation for the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the airport, Harry Bridges, whose father William was a member of Patrol Base 16 of the Civil Air Patrol, brought in several items that his father had used at the airport, to put on display. The museum collection grew through donations from families related to the airport’s history. Included is the story of aviation pioneer Dave Driscoll, a self-taught aviator who developed the privately owned airport in Skyco that predated the Dare County Municipal Airport and has reverted back to farmland, according to Bruno.

A room in the museum. (Courtesy of Dare County Regional Airport)

A Silent Auction ‚Äď including the chance to win flying lessons‚ÄĒwill be happening with proceeds going to support the museum. The museum is free, but it does accept donations. It is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week year-round.

Today, as Bruno notes, the airport functions mainly as a support to Outer Banks tourism. In the summer, that includes airplane rides and a lot of banner tows activity. There is a skydiving business onsite. FedEx and UPS airplanes are there six days a week. ‚ÄúIn particular in the summer, it has a lot of corporate airplanes, turboprops jets, and that‚Äôs vacationer stuff,‚ÄĚ said Bruno. Local pilots and vacationers also keep their airplanes at the airport.

Terminal at the airport. (Photo credit: Tony Bruno)

The airport is operated by the Dare County Airport Authority. The anniversary celebration is sponsored by the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau. The airport is located at 410 Airport Road, Manteo. Celebration hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


See what people are saying:

  • David "Mac" McLay

    Congratulations on the forthcoming 80th anniversary celebration, and greetings to the operations team and museum volunteers. As a seasonal visitor I have spent many happy hours at the airport greeting guests at SkydiveOBX, and always urged them to visit the wonderful museum in the terminal building.

    Tuesday, Nov 7 @ 3:47 am