Aviation History Exhibitions

Phoenix Airport Museum, Aviation History Collection

At Your Service

Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, lobby

Good flying weather with clear skies continues to attract private flyers to the Valley of the Sun, and has been doing so for decades. From recreational flying and air sports to corporate aircraft and private jets, General Aviation typically includes everything other than commercial airlines. Phoenix Deer Valley Airport is often one of the busiest general aviation facilities in the country and in 2020 was the fifth busiest airport in the world based on landings and takeoffs.

Essential to the success of Phoenix’s bustling general aviation activity is the Fixed-Base Operator (FBO), a commercial business that provides aviation services at the airport. As a dedicated facility for general aviation, FBO’s provide everything from aircraft fuel and maintenance to hangar rental and aircraft sales. Other amenities may include a pilot lounge, conference room or catering services.

General aviation values customer service as a top priority to keep these flyers coming back. Line Service personnel are the backbone of the FBO, on hand 24/7, supporting the ground operations of all inbound and outbound aircraft, flight crews and passengers. They refuel and park aircraft as well as handle baggage and detail planes. As ambassadors of their city, this team of specialized workers is the first point of contact a general aviation flyer meets. Professional, knowledgeable, and courteous, they are At Your Service.    

Image caption: 1920s, A Ford Tri Motor, surrounded by curious onlookers, takes on fuel and oil at Sky Harbor Airport. The Ford Model TT truck is delivering Red Crown Aviation Gasoline, a product of California’s Standard Oil Company. Red Crown gained notoriety as the fuel used by Charles Lindbergh on his New York—Paris flight in 1927.

The first small aircraft engines did not burn a lot of fuel and were refueled by hand from portable gas containers. Large aircraft engines, of the era, required more fuel, making refueling by hand impractical. Trucks carried barrels of fuel or were fitted with fuel storage tanks. The trucks were driven to the aircraft and the fuel was pumped from the truck into the plane.

original wedding chapel at Sky Harbor


Historic Fly-In Weddings at Sky Harbor

Terminal 3, Level 1, south side

Decades before couples began flying to exotic locations to get married on a beach or in a castle, they were flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to tie the knot at an open-air chapel located just off the runway at Sky Harbor's first Terminal.

The chapel was meant to entice Hollywood celebrities to Phoenix for speedy discreet weddings since Arizona law didn't require couples to wait three days to get a marriage license, unlike California.

The Phoenix Junior Chamber of Commerce built the chapel in 1937 on a construction budget of just $15, using additional adobe bricks from a project at the Arizona State Fair. Its Spanish-style design featured an archway and a bell tower topped with a wooden cross.

Although some celebrities did take the opportunity to fly-in and get married, local residents tied the knot in the chapel more frequently. In fact, officials performed 42 wedding ceremonies at Sky Harbor before the chapel closed in the 1940s. Today, the airport prohibits weddings due to operational concerns, making Sky Harbor fly-in weddings a part of the airport’s colorful history.

Image caption: 1940s, an unidentified couple embrace in front of the chapel. The chapel’s exterior stucco has eroded to reveal the handmade adobe bricks beneath. Image courtesy of Phoenix Airport Museum Aviation History Collection.

For images and additional information, call (602) 273-2744

American Flagship Service
The World's Most Successful Aircraft

Terminal 4, level 3, east of center

AA DC-3 Flagship

The Douglas DC-3 was the first airplane to make commercial air travel profitable. Airlines could now make money hauling just passengers and their luggage, without relying on government subsidies for transporting U.S. Mail. The plane that changed the world, the DC-3 revolutionized the U.S. airline industry. The aircraft could carry 21 passengers and 3 crew members. It had an impeccable safety and dependability record along with improved aerodynamics and flying characteristics.

American Airlines initiated their new DC-3 passenger airliners in 1936. With an air of exclusivity, they named their fleet Flagships - a Naval term that refers to the lead ship in a fleet of vessels, typically the first, largest and fastest. American’s Flagships were able to cross the continental US from New York to Los Angeles in 18 hours with only three fuel stops. Previously a cross-country flight was a grueling ordeal typically requiring 25 hours, more than one airline, at least two changes of planes and as many as 15 stops. Transcontinental flights were outfitted with sleeper berths, comfortable seating and luxuries such as drawing rooms, lavatories and fine dining served with china and silverware.

The earliest American Airlines’ Flagships were named after U.S. states or cities that they served. Each plane flew a large pennant outside the cockpit window while parked. The flag’s red, white and blue design includes four stars, similar to the U.S. Navy Admiral’s flag. 

Image caption: American Airlines Flagship Skysleeper, 1940s, Flagship San Francisco, a Douglas Sleeper Transport or DST, was outfitted to comfortably carry 14 passengers with seats that folded out into beds and overhead berths. The 21-seat daytime version was the famous DC-3 Flagship. 

Your Career in the Sky: What it Takes to be an American Airlines Stewardess in the 1950s

Aviator Spotlight:
Lincoln J. Ragsdale

Terminal 3, level 4, post-security
Through January 2023

Lincoln J. Ragsdale

World War II created opportunities for black American men wishing to fly and serve their country. Lincoln Johnson Ragsdale Sr. seized the opportunity by becoming a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He was also a civil rights activist, successful businessman and respected community leader who persevered in the face of racial prejudice, discrimination and exclusion, becoming one of Phoenix’s prominent and historical figures. His life was one of service, honor and change.

Ragsdale was born in 1926 and raised in Oklahoma to a mortician father and schoolteacher mother. The family business was a success and the Ragsdales lived more comfortably than most black families during the Great Depression. While attending a segregated high school, young Lincoln began to develop a love for flying. He flew regularly by paying a local pilot with money he had earned.

When Ragsdale graduated high school in 1944, he enlisted in the Army Air Force and trained to be a pilot at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, becoming a member of the nation’s first all-African American unit to fly for the U. S. Army Air Force. As part of the U.S. Army’s early integration effort, he wanted to refute the popular notion that blacks could not fly airplanes.

After the war, Ragsdale, a second lieutenant at the time, continued his military career as a member of an integrated gunnery unit stationed at Luke Air Force Base, Phoenix. He was one of the first black officers stationed there.

Ragsdale remained in Phoenix, becoming Arizona's first black funeral-home owner in 1948, carrying on the family profession. In addition to the mortuary business, Ragsdale, an entrepreneur, had numerous other business ventures, including construction, a nightclub, insurance, ambulance service and a flower shop.

In the 1950s, Ragsdale, as a community leader, championed for civil rights and was instrumental in various reform efforts in Phoenix. He fought for desegregation of schools, neighborhoods and public accommodations. Ragsdale and his wife broke the color barrier by moving into an all-white neighborhood during a time when Phoenix was segregated.  Despite being harassed and never fully accepted in their neighborhood, the couple lived in the home for 17 years and raised four children. The Ragsdales became a local symbol of resistance to housing discrimination.

Ragsdale continued in aviation as a civilian pilot flying his private plane out of Sky Harbor for nearly four decades. He was a member of the Phoenix Aviation Advisory Board during the 1970s where he played a key role in preserving general aviation services for small executive aircraft. In October 1995, the Phoenix City Council approved a proposal to rename the Sky Harbor Executive Terminal as the Lincoln J. Ragsdale Executive Terminal in honor of Ragsdale’s significant contributions to aviation in Arizona. 

Image caption: Lincoln J. Ragsdale wearing a leather flight helmet, mid-1940s