The Rocky Mountains proved a formidable barrier to early aviation, leaving Colorado in a familiar position: bypassed. As with the railroads fifty years earlier, transcontinental air traffic went through Wyoming; Colorado had to make do with a Denver-based spur line—in this case, Colorado Airways, which began flying the fifty-five-minute Denver-to-Cheyenne route in 1926. Airplane technology quickly conquered the mountains, and Front Rangers began taking to the skies. In 1938 Continental Airlines became the state's first coast-to-coast passenger carrier, and after World War II Colorado became a major aviation axis, hosting Lowry Air Force Base and Buckley Naval Air Station as well as the U.S. Air Force Academy. Ultimately air travel changed life for Coloradans, tying them into national affairs as never before.
Denver Municipal Airport opened in 1929, its four gravel runways squeezed onto a square-mile parcel in northeastern Denver. Boosters called it "the West's best airfield," but critics derided it as a pork-barrel reward for Mayor Benjamin Stapleton's political allies. Time proved out the boosters; by 1950 Stapleton Airport was serving six major airlines and 200,000 passengers, and in 1986 it ranked as the fifth-busiest airport in the world. Three years later voters authorized construction of Denver International Airport, a 34,000-acre facility to be supported by Front Range Airport and other satellite sites. Once again detractors cried boondoggle, particularly when construction glitches pushed the project behind schedule and over budget. When DIA finally went into service in February 1995, it was the largest airport in the world—and one of the most talked about.
Photo of old Denver municipal airport:(Caption) Denver Municipal Airport in 1931, soon after its first expansion—a second hanger.Colorado Historical Society
Photo of airmail plane:(Caption) The revenue from carrying airmail sustained early Colorado aviation. Pilot Floyd Pace (left) flew the Pueblo-to-Cheyenne, Wyoming, route in 1926.Colorado Historical Society
Photo of DIA terminal:(Caption) Denver International AirportColorado Historical Society