History is an important part of most airports. You often find plaques telling of notable events at the airport. If Souther Field/Jimmy Carter Regional Airport (ACJ) in Americus, Georgia, was to create such a plaque, it would need a surface the size of the Green Monster, the high left field wall at Fenway Park in Boston.
“A lot has happened at Souther Field since it was created out of a peach tree orchard in 1918,” said Mike Cochran, the field historian.
Cochran, a licensed pilot, aviation mechanic, and educator, happily shares the history of the airport, beginning with how it got its name.
“Souther Field was named after Henry Souther,” he began. “He was the father and founder of the Society of Automotive Engineers in 1910. In 1911 he started standardization of metals, nuts, bolts, steel wheel, and carburetors, just to name a few. The military needed him to help with this new flying machine for the war. He immediately became a Major and the U.S. Army used him to head up the Air Corps. In 1919 the air base had 147 Curtiss Jennies stationed there.”
Souther died during the war and the base was named after him, he noted.
“Most people bought the airplanes with plans to use the OX5 engines and discard the airframe,” he said. “The engines were often used to power farm equipment. Many of the pilots who bought airplanes used them to start the barnstorming era.”
One of those pilots was 21-year-old Charles Lindbergh, who purchased a Jenny and five propellers.
“It was 1923. At the time, he was not a pilot. He arranged for a local pilot to give him flying lessons and eventually was able to fly the airplane on his own. Lindbergh soloed here,” Cochran noted with pride. “Four years later he would fly the Atlantic in the ‘Spirit of St. Louis.’”
Lindbergh isn’t the only famous aviator to come from Souther Field. Curtis Pitts, who would grow up to design the Pitts Special aerobatic airplane, spent some time at the airport in the late 1930s while he was still in high school.
When World War II began, the airport underwent some renovation. Hangars were torn down, then rebuilt to prepare for an influx of pilot trainees.
“The United States government contracted with Graham Aviation to help with flight training,” said Cochran. “The RAF Cadets from Britain trained here.”
The primary trainer was the Boeing Stearman, he noted.
“The site was very good because of the weather,” he continued. “The base had among the highest amount of flight hours logged of American bases, yet still managed to maintain a low accident rate.”
Today, two of the original World War II hangars still remain and are used as classroom space for South Georgia Technical College, which was created in 1948 when the state of Georgia took part of the airport property and turned it into a trade and vocational school.
Cochran proudly notes that the college continues the tradition of training people for aviation careers.
“We had Eric Lindbergh speak at South Georgia Technical College recently,” he said. “This was the first time that a Lindbergh has been back to Souther Field since his grandfather was here in 1923.”
The airport was recently renamed Jimmy Carter Regional Airport after the 39th president, who hails from Sumter County, Georgia.
Today the airport is operated by the Americus and Sumter County Airport Authority. The non-towered field has two runways, one aligned 05/23 and measuring 6,011 feet, and a 3,786-foot crosswind runway, aligned 10/28.
An aerial view shows the airport boasts the classic military runway pattern that evokes a triangle. This is one of those airports that, if you know what to look for when you over fly it, you can see the impressions in the ground from the old hardstands and building foundations.
The air traffic is a mix of private jets and smaller general aviation aircraft. The airport has several instrument approaches, including a Localizer where the Initial Approach Fix is the Lindbergh NDB.
Agricultural aviation is a large component of the local traffic. Souther Field Aviation, the airport’s FBO, specializes in the maintenance of agricultural aircraft. It also is a factory dealer for Thrush Aircraft.
The airport is also home to the Americus Cup, an annual glider competition.
The airport also makes a good start for those who wish to visit historic Andersonville, one of the major battlefields during the Civil War.