1943 – 2018: Celebrating 75 Years of Commercial Flight at RDU

From 1,160 to 11.6 million annual passengers, RDU has seen incredible growth during its 75 years of commercial air service. On May 1, 1943, the first commercial flight landed at  what was then Raleigh-Durham Army Airfield– a DC-3 aircraft operated by Eastern Airlines and destined for Florida. The flight originated in New York and RDU was one of 5 stop-overs en route to Miami.

Today, more than 30,000 people travel through Raleigh-Durham International Airport. We’re home to 9 commercial airlines who service 57 nonstop destinations, including Paris and London. Our humble beginnings keep us rooted in our core values, but what’s truly propelled our success is the support and growth of our region.

To celebrate our 75th year of commercial air service, we’ve compiled some interesting historical facts that highlight our growth as an airport and as an economic engine for our community.

From a Wooden Building to an Architectural Masterpiece

Heated by a pot-bellied stove, the original facility was developed on the military base that was constructed to support the war effort. As Eastern Airlines increased daily flight service, the demand for more accommodating facilities increased, as well. Funding was limited, so Eastern Airlines and airport authority officials got creative.

By using building materials from the former military stockade and mess hall located on the grounds, crews constructed an addition to the existing “terminal” building that featured a restaurant, two offices, lobby space and a radio room. The wooden building would remain in use for 12 years, welcoming flight service from Capital (1947) and Piedmont Airlines (1948). In 1955, the Airport Authority built a new, one-story brick terminal and the original wooden terminal was torn down in 1959.

Today, Terminal(s) 1 and 2 are designed with the customer experience in mind, utilizing sustainable principals that fuel regional growth and support quality of life for our community.

Centrally Located to Support Our Community

When original plans for what is now Raleigh-Durham International Airport were in development, Raleigh businessman John Swain and Truman Miller, Manager of Raleigh Municipal Airport, were determined to pinpoint the ideal location for the airport.

After a series of 12 low-altitude flights between Raleigh’s Sir Walter Hotel and Durham’s Washington Duke Hotel, the mid-point between the two cities was established. Today, RDU is a sprawling 5,000-acre facility that serves the Triangle region and beyond, with a customer base that includes central and eastern North Carolina, northern South Carolina, and southern Virginia.

RDU – What does the “U” stand for?

Finally, the age-old question is a key component to Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s identity. RDU is more than just short hand for your airport, it represents four core stakeholders: the communities of Raleigh and Wake County, and Durham City and County.

The simple answer is the “U” is merely the second letter in “Durham.” However, for the first four years of flight operations, RDU’s radio call sign was “RAL.” On September 25, 1947, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), changed the call sign to “RDU” to better represent our governmental owning bodies and the larger region we serve.

Today, RDU is often synonymous with the broader Triangle region. However, the three letters are rooted in aviation terminology and the history of Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

Follow RDU on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to see how we’re celebrating 75 years of commercial air service throughout the week!