Airports of New Hampshire: Portsmouth International Airport

Photo Credit: Portsmouth International Airport

Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, NH, rose from the evolution of American military strategy and the subsequent economic development of the region.

Located within the Pease International Tradeport, the airport’s journey began in the 1930s as a quiet municipal airfield.

This eventually transformed into a key Strategic Air Command (SAC) base during the Cold War.

Since those days PSH has undergone a further successful conversion into what is now a thriving commercial airport.

1930s: Birth of Portsmouth Municipal Airport

The airport’s story starts in the 1930s with the construction of Portsmouth Municipal Airport. Civilian air travel was in its nascent stages, and the airfield catered to a limited number of private planes.

However, the onset of World War II in 1941 significantly impacted the airport’s trajectory. Recognizing its strategic location, the US government announced improvements to the facility, anticipating its potential role in wartime operations.

Unfortunately, these plans came at the cost of civilian access, as the airport was closed to public use under wartime defense measures in 1942.

Richmaloon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Post-War Military Evolution

Following the war, the US Navy briefly took control of the airport in 1944, leveraging its proximity to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. This period, however, was short-lived.

The burgeoning Cold War and the increasing focus on long-range airpower prompted the US Air Force to assume control in 1951.

This marked a pivotal moment, as the airport was selected as a base for the Strategic Air Command, a critical element of the US nuclear deterrence strategy.

The subsequent years witnessed a period of significant expansion. Between 1952 and 1956, the Air Force acquired additional land and embarked on a project to transform the facility into a fully functional military base.

1952: Portsmouth Air Force Base

This expansion also included a name change, with the airport being christened Portsmouth Air Force Base in 1952.

Recognizing the heroism of New Hampshire native Captain Harl Pease Jr., a World War II Medal of Honor recipient, the base was further renamed Pease Air Force Base in 1957.

For the next 35 years, Pease Air Force Base played a vital role in Cold War defense. B-52 Stratofortresses, massive long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, became a mainstay at the base.

For the regions, they became a constant reminder of the high stakes of the geopolitical climate. The base also housed KC-135 Stratotankers, aerial refueling aircraft that provided crucial support for long-range bomber missions.

The end of the Cold War saw the subsequent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission actions. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pease Air Force Base faced an uncertain future.

Photo Credits: PSM Airport

1991: A Further Transformation

The closure of the New Hampshire base in 1991 threatened to leave a significant economic void in the region. This is where the story takes an inspiring turn.

Seeing the potential in the closed military base, a group formed the Pease Development Authority. This forward-thinking organization spearheaded a remarkable transformation project.

The vast infrastructure of the base, included the long runways and support facilities. It was strategically repurposed to create the Pease International Tradeport, a thriving business hub.

Portsmouth International Airport, at the heart of the Tradeport in New Hampshire, emerged as a cornerstone of this redevelopment initiative.

Civilian air travel resumed in 1996, and the airport has steadily grown into a vital transportation link for the region.

Present Day

Continuous improvements have included a recent runway reconstruction project and a terminal expansion. They reflect the airport’s commitment to providing a modern and efficient travel experience.

In May 2019, the Pease Development Authority approved a $24 million runway reconstruction project.

In December 2021, builders completed a $19.5 million passenger terminal expansion project.

Today, Portsmouth International Airport at Pease, New Hampshire caters to a mix of commercial passenger flights and general aviation activities. Allegiant Air is a key commercial carrier servicing the airport.

The airport’s success story serves as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the region. From its humble beginnings as a municipal airport, PSM took on a critical military role during the Cold War.

In its current incarnation as a key commercial hub, Portsmouth International Airport at Pease neatly embodies the dynamic spirit of American aviation history.

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By AviationSource News 6 Min Read
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