The largest grading project on a commercial airport ever attempted

Posted by | November 3, 2016

During World War II while the Army, Navy and Civil Aeronautics Agency were constructing airports for the war effort, attempts were made to have the agencies approve a field in Kanawha County, WV. All requests were turned down because of the large amount of grading that would have to be done.

The county then went ahead and undertook the largest grading project on a commercial airport ever attempted.

In October 1944, in Charleston, W. Va., the contract for the nation’s heaviest airport grading job was awarded to Harrison Construction Company of Pittsburgh, PA by the Kanawha County Court. The citizens of Kanawha County voted a $3,000,000 bond issue for the construction of the terminal and road access from the business section of the town. Later Congress appropriated $2,750,000 to supplement the County fund to assure the completion of the airport.

The project required removal of approximately 9 million yards of material, 40% was rock. The airport is located on a series of ridges, whose area and direction made it ideal for the construction of three runways. For all other sites investigated, the topography was such that the construction of runways of adequate length was impractical or land damages excessive.

In the early stages shovels worked on ledges that were 300 feet or more above the lowest ravine filling levels. Due to layers of pan materials between stone strata there was little opportunity for scrapers to load downhill. Early stage haul roads for both stone and dirt were among the steepest ever encountered by the contractors. Temporary roads employed up to 40% descending grades for scrapers and 25% for dump trucks.

The rock excavation was hauled by nine 1-3/4 yard to 2-1/2 yard shovels loading a fleet of twenty- three 10-yard rear dump trucks and eight 11-yard and 12-yard bottom dump trailers. The earth excavation was handled by ten 25-yard tractor-drawn scrapers and sixteen 12-yard scrapers. Seven pushers with the help of four rooters served the scrapers. With this equipment the contractor averaged from 20,000 to 27,000 cubic yards of earth and rock a day.

Alternate rock and shale layers created a situation favorable to horizontal drilling and blasting. This method was used for all but small special pockets, where six wagon drills were employed, powered by five 365 cu. ft. compressors.

To level the mountain, over 1,000,000 pounds of dynamite were used; a typical blast consisted of 2,500 pounds of dynamite placed in nine parallel 45 foot holes.

Kanawha Airport was formally dedicated on November 3, 1947. President Truman sent his plane, the “Independence;” the presidents of all the participating airlines were on hand, as were many governmental officials. Though a cold, rainy day, the event was attended by an estimated 10,000 people. The first night landing at the port was made shortly after 10 the evening before by the president of American Airlines.

dedication of Kanawha Airport, Charleston WVDedication of Kanawha Airport, Charleston WV.

Col. John Alison, assistant secretary of commerce for air, lauded the people of the city and county on their perseverance and refusal to allow the many obstacles created by rugged terrain to keep them from realizing a project deemed essential to the welfare and growth of the community. He thought it quite significant that the county should have undertaken what the Army would not tackle.

“The record shows that the county of Kanawha has spent more money per capita on airports than any other county in any state in the country,” Col. Alison said. “In addition, $125,000 was voted by the county for an access road to the airport. Other funds were made available for the purchase of land.

“These accomplishments are a fine commentary on the judgment of the 195,619 people of the county and their elected officials.”

At the conclusion of the special ceremonies, the crowd was admitted to the taxi strips to visit planes of Capital, Eastern and American airlines. Chief interest seemed to center about Capital’s “Flying White House,” the DC-4 in which the late President Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to the historic Casablanca conference.

Sources: “Dedication of Kanawha Airport,” Charleston Gazette
November 4, 1947 online at
“The Nation’s Heaviest Airport Grading Project,” The Kanawha Valley Airport online at

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