Johnnie Webb - Member of the Army Air Corps

My journal entry this week was written by William Johnnie Webb who presently serves as one of our County Commissioners here in Overton County. This is his story.

The first time that I saw an airplane, on the ground, was in the early 1930’s – a World War I training bi-plane made an emergency landing on the Luther McCormick farm near the Henard School. (On State Hwy. #84 near the present Overton County Fair Grounds.) I was in the second or third grade then, and our teacher (one of the McCormick girls, either Anna Laura or Nettie), Miss McCormick, turned school out and all 30 – 40 students walked up the old muddy road (now a paved road – John Gann Lane – next to City Lake) to see the plane. That plane landed near where the Civitan Club sells tickets at their booth at the Fair Ground’s entrance.

Later on during the late 1930’s, airplanes used the John Hargrove farm (now owned by Parker Seals and Berkline) to fly "paying passengers" for a 10 – 15 minute ride -- $1.00 per ride. One 4th of July, four airplanes came and flew passengers all day -- $1.00 per ride – and even had a "parachute jump" in the middle of the afternoon.

World War II came along and I joined the Army Air Corps in May 1943 for pilot training. Returning home from WW II in April 1946, I remember airplanes flying from a field in the Cove beyond the Good Hope Cemetery on State Hwy. 52. (On the property now owned by the Floyd Huddleston family. By now, passengers had to pay $2.00 per ride.


This photo of Johnnie Webb was taken during his pilot training in 1943


Some time in the early 1950’s, Roy Scott and Osby Story each bought an airplane and flew them out of the Cookeville Airport – occasionally landing on farms in Overton county. After I finished college at Tennessee Tech in 1954, I became interested in flying again. I received my Private Airplane License flying out of the Cookeville Airport.

By the mid 1950’s, Roy Scott, Osby Story, John Carmon Bilbrey and myself began looking for a site for an airport in the Livingston area. We finally located 30 acres on top of a hill overlooking Livingston – land owned by Lee Dillon. We contacted Mr. Dillon and he advised us that he would sell the 30 acres for $3,000. We started a Drive to raise the $3,000 from the business men in Livingston. Some of those men who gave $100 each were: Dr. H. B. Nevans, Dr. D.D. Norris, Sam Coward, Gradis Winningham, Dr. E. C. Atnip, Dr. John R. Billings, Cato Taylor, Speck Bros. Hwd., Hack Roberts, Livingston Limestone Co., Ruben Smith (Overton Co. Chevrolet Co.), Aubrey McCormick (Ford Motor Co.), Lady Ann Hospital and others contributed the original $3,000 for the land purchase.

The present Airport Mountain Road crosses the end of that first proposed runway on the south end. We knew that the Road would have to be relocated. We owned the property on the south end of the Airport where the present road makes a sharp left turn up the mountain. My Uncle Jasper Poston and Curt Gore were County Highway Commissioners. They agreed to use the County Road equipment to relocate the road to its present location. Then, WE pilots cleared all the small trees and bushes to make a short dirt landing strip.

We formed the Livingston Flying Club and purchased a J-3 Piper Club that everyone flew. At that time, we did not have any hangers to store our airplanes. We developed a plan to build our own-individual-wood hangers. Four or five hangers were built – "T-hangers". The following built hangers: I built one, Roy Scott, Osby Story, Bill Speck and John Carmon Bilbrey and Clois Winningham built one together. We all flew out of a 1,200 ft. dirt strip for about one or two years.

We then approached the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the Town of Livingston and told them that we would give the 30 acre Airport property to the Town of Livingston IF they would take it and apply to the State Aeronautic Commission for State and Federal aid to build a new facility. Dwain Peterman was the Mayor, Dr. Fred T. White, J.B. Averitt, Ed Collins, Lonnie Holt, Houston (Butch) Holman and L. G. Puckett were the Aldermen. They accepted our offer and started immediately to obtain Federal and State funds to build a new paved 3,200 ft. runway and a large hanger building. Additional land had to be purchased from E. J. Savage on the north end (8 acres.)

A contract was let to grade and pave the 3,200 ft. x 75 ft. wide runway. Bob Tyler Const. co. performed the runway work. W & O Const. Co. built the new hanger building following completion of the runway.

The Livingston Municipal Airport began operating with a full-time attendant and became eligible for the List of Approved Airports in the State of Tennessee. Flying traffic began to grow at the Airport, and soon, additional land was purchased from E. J. Savage and others for another 1,000 ft. runway extension and additional "T-hangers".

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Town of Livingston had several different Mayors – some of whom did not support the Airport. One was Bill Reagan, who SOLD part of the original 30 acres to private individuals. The Airport was not managed properly at this time. (The original Airport Committee did not have ANY input in the Airport operations at this time, either!) It was rumored that the State of Tennessee considered canceling the Airport’s Contract and not participating in any future expansion… Fortunately, Bill Reagan did not stay in office a second term – the Airport Committee discovered the sale of the Airport land by Reagan only after his failure to be re-elected. The Airport had two or three different Managers during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.

Roy Riser was hired as Airport Manager in 1979 and remained until 1985. Roy is a retired Navy Pilot, a certified Instructor, A & E Mechanic, and also flew charters. The Gene Smith family was hired in 1985 to manage the Airport and did so until 1996.

Mayor Hosea Winningham was elected Mayor of Livingston in 1979 and served for 25 years. Mayor Winningham and the Board of Aldermen gave 100% cooperation in the management and improving of all Airport operations and facilities.

In 1996, Greg Booker was hired as the Airport Manager and continues to the present. Greg is a Licensed Pilot, Certified A & E Mechanic, and does an excellent job operating the Airport.

At present, we have 28 airplanes stationed at the Airport and we have a multi-million dollar Airport. The Town of Livingston has purchased additional land from the E. J. Savage heirs for the present planned expansion – extending the Airport Runway length to 5,000 ft., a new parallel taxiway, new hanger and operational building, aircraft parking, new runway lighting system and other improvements.

John Carmon Bilbrey and I are the only surviving Pilots from that original group who were flying when the Airport began to operate in the early 1950’s. L. G. Puckett and Houston (Butch) Holman , who were City Aldermen when the Airport began, are the only survivors from that original group who supported the Airport.

I have owned and flown a total of 8 different airplanes during my flying career from 1943 to 1998 – accumulating over 4,000 hours as Pilot in Command Flying Time. I am now "grounded" due to a heart problem.

During this time, several local pilot’s WIVES "soloed". These included: my wife, Jean Webb (first lady to solo from Livingston); Bill Speck’s wife, Elizabeth (Howard) Speck; and Zeda Stephens of Jamestown.

At present, I am one of the members of the present Airport Committee: Johnny Halfacre, Dr. Michael Cox, Kelly Coleman, Jason Duke, Jason Copeland, Curtis Hayes, and Linda Riser. I also represent the Overton County Court’s 5th District as a Commissioner. I consider my time involved helping make the history of our present Airport, one of my finest accomplishments in life!