As the United States intensified its efforts during World War II in the early 1940s, Fort Bragg became the largest military post in the country, accommodating 60,000 troops.
But lesser-known military training was taking place about 40 miles southwest of Fort Bragg, in what is now Laurinburg-Maxton Airport. As many as 10,000 soldiers were stationed at the site, which has become the largest glider pilot training base in the world, according to the history of the airport.
At the time, the Laurinburg-Maxton military airbase in the county of Scotland was functioning much like a town, said Seth Hatchell, deputy airport manager.
“They had a little cinema here,” he said. “They had their own chapel which still exists today.”
About 80 years later, the airport still hosts military personnel, including the US Army Golden Knights, who regularly parachute to the site.
But now executives are hoping that the airport and its large industrial park which is already home to a dozen businesses will attract more businesses that need to land and host jets, as well as more private pilots who need to land and host jets. fly for fun.
With improvements and expansion, the idea is for the airport and industrial park to serve as a commercial hub and economic engine for Southeastern North Carolina.
“I think we’ve all understood that the airport is an underutilized resource for our region,” said Guy McCook, Chairman of the Airport Commission.
With the help of State Senator Tom McInnis, a Republican who represents the counties of Anson, Moore, Richland and Scotland, the airport is expected to receive $ 8 million in funding from the state to expand one of its three runways from 6,500 to 8,500 feet.
This will make it the eighth longest runway in the state, with the ability to handle any aircraft, Hatchell said.
Laurinburg-Maxton will only be the fifth airport in the state with a runway of this length, Hatchell added.
CAN GLOBAL TRANSPARK BE A GUIDE?
In the 1990s, leaders in North Carolina envisioned a multimodal manufacturing and distribution center that would spur economic development and help bring the state into the 21st century.
The result was the North Carolina Global TransPark, a 2,500 acre business park in the town of Kinston in Lenoir County.
Laurinburg-Maxton Airport was the finalist for the project, McCook said.
“At the time, we felt like this decision was made more based on policy than facilities and location,” he said. “Having said that, we think we are well positioned to be a large industrial park. “
Airport officials are working with the state’s Commerce Department to create a strategic plan that could be completed by the end of the year. Hatchell said the Global TransPark could serve as a guide.
“I haven’t had the chance to go visit it, but it’s something that’s been on my wish list for a few months now,” he said. “Especially with our industrial park and see, okay, what worked for them and what didn’t work for them, and how can we improve? “
On its website, the Global TransPark indicates that its “sites and buildings are fully equipped and ready to work. From utility planning to advanced telecommunications connectivity, everything you need is in place to get you up and running. “
Hatchell said Laurinburg-Maxton Airport also has infrastructure, including fiber optics, water and sewage.
After the end of World War II in 1945, the United States Department of Defense gave the base to the town of Maxton and the town of Laurinburg to serve as a general aviation airport.
The donation also came with a water treatment system, which contributes much of the airport’s finances, Hatchell said.
Aging infrastructure and deferred maintenance now need to be tackled, McCook said.
McCook, a former County Commissioner of Scotland, was appointed to sit on the airport’s board of directors, which was restructured as part of a Senate bill introduced by McInnis in 2019. The Commission of Laurinburg-Maxton Airport became the South East Regional Airport Authority.
The idea, say the leaders, is to think bigger than the county of Scotland. This includes the airport’s efforts to become a designated foreign trade zone, which may simplify some customs procedures.
The airport still owns about 3,000 acres, Hatchell said, and about 1,000 acres are “prime property.”
“We just want to be the best airport possible, and we want to try to find as many resources – financial and otherwise – to try to become something that can be a great asset for communities,” said McCook.
Hatchell, 23, said he was excited about the future of the airport. After growing up in Scotland County, he attended Liberty University in Virginia, where he studied aviation.
He never dreamed that he could come back and pursue a career. Now, he said, he’s excited to be a part of something that could spur economic development.
“Being my hometown gives me even more reason to do this, to go the extra mile to bring industry and growth to the county of Scotland,” he said. “And being from here, you kind of wear it with a badge of honor.”
The Border Belt Independent is a non-profit online newsroom that focuses on the issues and challenges affecting the counties of Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland.