Long before Bradley Airport was on anyone's radar screen, Rentschler Field was a Connecticut landmark and a landing place for many of the most famous names in aviation in the 1930s and beyond.
Today, of course, "Rentschler" refers to the ultra-modern stadium that is home field to University of Connecticut football and the site of concerts by such rock and roll luminaries as Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.
For all of Fred Rentschler's skill in anticipating The Next Big Thing in the world of aviation and Pratt & Whitney's business, he would very likely be speechless if he knew that the same field where Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart landed would one day echo with the cheers of sports fans and the resonance of well-amplified electric guitars.
But Fred Rentschler might also be pleased that the airfield named after him found new life decades later, serving his community and state long after Pratt & Whitney no longer needed it for engine development and testing or for corporate air travel.
In 1999, United Technologies donated much of the site to the state, allowing UConn football and world-class sporting activities to take place in a centrally located venue. The "new" Rentschler Field has generated considerable economic development, much of it for small businesses.
Not a bad legacy for a Depression-era project.
The "original" Rentschler Field was dedicated in 1931, several years after work first began on the $450,000 hangar complex, runway and associated facilities. The field itself covered 165 acres and was of grass, not poured concrete. According to one report at the time, it took 11 tons of grass seed to create the field, and drainage was engineered with five miles of perforated pipe.
High ranking officials at every level of government flocked to the gala event on May 24, seventy-nine years ago, and attended by a crowd of 15,000. Army airplanes put on a flight demo, colorfully described by the Hartford Courant as "a display of bird-like acrobatics unprecedented in Connecticut." Politicians and military officers paid tribute to Pratt & Whitney for its contributions to aviation and national security, and to the "genius" of United Aircraft and Transport Chairman Rentschler.
For all the celebration, there was also a controversy that might well have been expected in the midst of the Great Depression. Some citizens around the country decried the cost of Army flight training.
But the pro-military, pro-aviation crowd at Rentschler Field on that rainy Sunday in 1931 would have none of it. Speakers branded critics as "communists" or "pacifists." One dignitary quipped that if Army pilots did not train regularly, it would be like buying "a fine automobile" and leaving it in the garage because of the cost of gas and oil.