The Alpha & Beta Of American Aviation Burlington International Airport’s 100 Years Of National Leadership Gets Infused By Beta Technologies11/24/2020 05:57PM ● By Jay Murry
Photos provided by Burlington International Airport and Beta Technologies
I’ve been tellin’ my dreams to the scarecrow
About the places that I’d like to see
I say, “Friend, do you think I’ll ever get there?”
But he just stands there smilin’ back at me
—“Born to Fly” by Sara Evans
If that scarecrow stood in Vermont over the past century, it had lots of smiles. It knows that passengers who used Burlington International Airport (BTV) happily arrived at their destinations; because BTV has been a national leader of aviation innovation since its inception in 1920.
As BTV enters another century of service, it has not relegated itself to a soft recliner and subsistence on memories from a distant past. Its administration embraces the future and the creative vitality from Beta Technologies. The result will be an ageless BTV whose contributions to aviation will continue to be voluminous and electric.
BTV: The “Wright” Stuff
Orville and Wilbur Wright are credited with the genesis of modern airflight in 1903. Vermont residents ascended to the skies shortly thereafter.
There was something different that put the state on a higher flight deck of aviation achievement. Visionary innovation: looking for something to enhance the evolution of aviation and putting it into practice years ahead of expectation. James Hartness in 1916 created plans for “landing places” that became the blueprints for modern airports. In 1919, the trio of Mason Beebe, John Burns, and James Taylor used the writings of Hartness to select the plot of land on which BTV now resides.
In the late 1920s, the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America deemed BTV “safe and suitable for use by commercial flyers.” One of the members of that national organization was Orville Wright. From there, BTV took off into its aviation adulthood.
Guardians of the Air
Throughout its first 100 years, BTV has had many guardians that looked after its health and welfare and provided guardians that have kept America safe. Harold Pugh and his wife Grace were highly active caretakers of BTV for over a decade that stretched into the 1940s. Grace became the first woman pilot in Vermont in 1938, and Harold’s Fly Right School of Aviation produced nearly 5,000 pilot graduates per month in 1942. BTV was the busiest airport in the world, with 662 flights per day.
The most important development that ensured BTV’s existence was its relationship with the Vermont Air and Army National Guard (VtAANG) that began in 1946. Gene Richards, current BTV Director of Aviation, says, “the relationship with the Guard and military has been the one constant thread” through the airport’s history and success. BTV became one of the most important airports in the country; especially since it was directly on the jet flight path between the former Soviet Union and the eastern US.
VtAANG was one of the first responders to New York City after the attacks of 9/11. It flew over NYC for 122 consecutive days to prevent further incursions into that airspace. Following 9/11, VtAANG continued to be recognized for military aviation excellence when it was selected by the US Air Force to fly the F-35A Lightning II jet fighter in 2019. According to Lockheed Martin, “The F-35 serves as the backbone of allied airpower for 13 nations and counting.”
The collaboration of BTV and VtAANG has given stability to Burlington and the world during times of uncertainty and unrest.
Beta Technologies: Blocking Aviation’s Growing Pains
BTV is not resting on its laurels from the last century. Director of Aviation Gene Richards knows that future success of the airport depends on what is being done now to ensure it. He got ahead of the electric aircraft curve by bringing a leading innovator to BTV.
Beta Technologies has been an effective beta-blocker for BTV by lowering the blood pressure caused by stress generated from an uncertain aviation future. Beta is creating electric aircraft that can take off and land vertically. Kyle Clark, Founder of Beta, says the plane is perfect for “moving organs between hospitals, moving people efficiently in densely populated areas, and for high-value package deliveries.”
Kyle says the most intrigue will center on the time saved by using commuter electric aircraft. “We go on an eight-minute flight from Burlington to Plattsburg, right across the lake. And it’s an hour-and-a-half drive. On a flight from here to New York City, you got to show up at the airport an hour beforehand—for a 35-minute flight. The flight to NYC in one of my little planes is just under an hour. I get there faster because I avoid all the BS associated with what we have overlaid on top of airline travel.”
Kyle expects long-range electric air flight will become common by 2040, which will undoubtedly amp up the demand to fly electric.
When Gene first learned about Beta’s research and development, he became akin to a stock market trader who just found a can’t-miss buy, “So, when that partnership started, and we started having conversations, oh! It was so contagious for me. I just wanted to help out and make them successful.”
When Kyle saw an opportunity to turn an aging BTV hangar into a Beta base of operations, he discovered a can’t-miss opportunity for his success. “Time is super, super valuable. If we had to go and permit a new hangar somewhere, we would’ve been 12 months behind. By investing $10 million into a city building, we didn’t have to go and delay for a year or two—which is worth that money for us.”
As a result, Beta is ahead of its competition that has spent much more money and time trying to keep up. Gene says BTV “expects in the near future to use Beta’s aircraft for commercial and private aviation needs.” What can air travelers expect from this synergy of innovation? A second century of BTV that will be second-to-none in the aviation industry.
1200 Airport Drive
South Burlington, VT
1150 Airport Drive
South Burlington, VT