Woods Memorial Airport

The E. W. "Cotton" Woods Memorial Airport in 1976, after the family sold it in 1975

In 1971, the Columbia Flying Service needed somewhere to go.

Columbia Regional Airport opened a few years prior and the company hadn’t gotten a bid to operate at the new airfield.

So its owners created one.

Nancy Woods Badger and her mother, Frances, built an airport with the help of volunteers from their base of customers. 

“We had quite a bit at stake and no place to go,” Nancy says. “We did that at the encouragement of our customers, who did not want us to cease operating.”

They named the airport after Nancy’s father and Frances’ husband, E. W. “Cotton” Woods, who was the first pilot to learn to fly in Columbia. 

E.W. “Cotton” Woods Memorial Airport was located closer to town than the new regional airport and had a 2,400-foot paved runway. There, a double-wide trailer was an office for Columbia Flying Service, while another trailer parked nearby served as Nancy’s house.

“It was a 24/7 job for me,” she says.

1981 Map of Woods Memorial Airport

1981 map of the E. W. "Cotton" Woods Memorial Airport, nine years before permanently closing

In 1975, about four years after they opened Woods Memorial, Nancy and Frances sold the airport and their business. Outside of their control, the airport closed in 1990, and the Columbia Flying Service with it.

The closure of small airports like Woods Memorial is a disappointing national trend, says Paul Freeman, who curates an online database of abandoned airfields

He says airports are disappearing at the rate of one per week across the United States, mainly as airport operation becomes a less viable business.

“Unfortunately, an airport is something that requires a lot of land,” Freeman says. “It’s usually not a very lucrative thing to run a small airport as a business.”

Another threat comes from real estate development.

“Airports by their very definition are leveled, cleared plots of land,” Freeman says. “If you’re going to look to build a neighborhood or a Walmart and you have a plot that’s forested, that’s a big hassle for you to clear trees. But if you look at a small airport, it’s cleared already.”

The fate of Woods Memorial, though, wasn’t quite being swallowed up by suburbia: The Boone County fairgrounds now sit on the site of the old airport.

The paved runway is still present, now serving as a road. It’s another life for the Woods family’s creation.

Nancy saw an aerial view of the fairgrounds recently, and it led to a walk — or rather, a flight — down memory lane.

“I looked at that and thought, 'Oh my gosh, that’s the spot where my trailer was. That’s where our hangar was,'” she says.

But still, a local airport is gone, and with it, pieces of history and a different time in aviation.

“It’s not the same."

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