An effort to promote Yeager Airport as the staging point for military air units conducting training exercises in southern West Virginia has proved successful enough to require a larger operations center for visiting air squadrons.
The airport’s governing board on Wednesday approved a proposal from The Thrasher Group to design the new building, to be located in Yeager’s general aviation area, adjacent to the new U.S. Customs building. The approval vote was contingent upon the board’s legal counsel signing off on the plan.
Air units training in the area, including 61 that used the Charleston airport as a temporary base for training missions last year, have been using the Woody Williams Military Flight Operations Center as a field headquarters. Named in honor of West Virginia-born Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams, the flight center opened in 2019 in the former Eagle Aviation building. It provides 2,000 square feet of office space, a briefing rooms, flight plan area, changing rooms, kitchen, lounge, restrooms and lockers.
If a larger military flight center is built, it is expected to retain the name of the current building. Williams, a Marine veteran and the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Battle of Iwo Jima, lives in the Barboursville area.
“Basically, we’ve outgrown the Woody Williams Military Flight Operations Center,” Yeager Airport Director and CEO Nick Keller told members of the airport’s governing board during a meeting on Wednesday. “We need something big enough to handle two or three squadrons at a time training here, instead of just one.”
In 2020, flight squadrons from all branches of military service conducted training exercises from Yeager.
Yeager Airport’s Home Base Program has agreements with the owners of a half-dozen inactive surface mines, all within 45 air miles of the airport, making tens of thousands of acres available for drop zones, remote landing exercises, search and rescue drills and other training scenarios. The area’s steep hills and narrow valleys also provide challenging terrain for night flight and low-altitude training.
On average, military units stayed an average of four days in the Charleston area while staging training missions from Yeager. The service branch bringing the largest contingent here last year was the U.S. Navy, which brought a total of 300 sailors to Charleston for three two-week sessions. In June, military aircraft from units outside the state were operating at Yeager on all but eight days.
A study by Marshall University’s Center for Business and Economic Research estimated that military training staged from Yeager last year pumped $2.1 million into the Kanawha County economy, mainly through hotel and restaurant sales. An additional $800,000 worth of fuel was pumped into military aircraft by the airport’s Capital Jet Service.
While inclement weather scrubbed some military training exercises that had been scheduled for this month, at least one Navy flight detachment has booked a slot at Yeager for training in March.
It was also announced during Wednesday’s meeting that Yeager Airport is being considered as a temporary base for the U.S. Army’s Golden Knights parachute team and its five aircraft for six months, starting in June, when an extensive renovation of the unit’s home base takes place.