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Airport History

1931: Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport was originally founded as Hillsgrove State Airport. Opened for business in July, it became the first state-owned and operated airport in the United States. The facility originally consisted of 158 acres of cleared brush and turf runways. The Airport was formally dedicated on September 27, 1931, and two air shows drew a crowd of over 150,000—the largest crowd that had attended a public function in the country until that time.

Photo Credit: Jim Warcup, RIAC

1931: The first State-built airport building, the Comfort Station, was constructed near Occupasstuxet (now Airport) Road.

Photo Credit: Jim Warcup, RIAC

1932: August marked the inauguration of passenger, mail and express service to New York and Boston.

1932: On October 16th, Hillsgrove State Airport sponsored an “air pageant” (air show), which included appearances by famous early pilots Jimmy Wedell, Russell Boardman, and Capt. Fred Williams. Air shows were popular at Hillsgrove, which held them with some frequency in the airport’s early years.

Photo: Credit Warwick Historical Society

1933: The Art Deco style Terminal Building was constructed. In addition to processing passengers and luggage, the building contained airport administrative offices and a control tower. The building currently houses a U.S. Weather Service office, and is one of the relatively few Art Deco style buildings remaining in Rhode Island.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

1933: Pilot Ruth “Boots” Wiggins spent her summer vacation assisting in the management of her father’s aviation company at the Rhode Island State Airport. Ms. Wiggins was one of many female pilots flying at Hillsgrove in the early years of aviation.

1933: Civilian Works Administration authorized funds for airport work in RI.

1935: Airport officials contracted for the construction of concrete runways, 3,000 feet long and 150 feet wide, along the original runway alignments. Runways were designed so that pilots could work with the prevailing winds to efficiently fly and land aircraft. This runway configuration is still in place today. Work also included installation of a two-way radio station, a federally designated airway double-light beacon for night flyers, and the addition of a radio beam navigation system at the airport, the only one in New England at the time. This allowed pilots to use the airport’s radio signal strength to guide them into Hillsgrove.

Photo Credit: State of RI, Division of Planning
Photo Credit: State of RI, Division of Planning

1938: Hillsgrove State Airport was renamed Theodore Francis (T.F.) Green State Airport in honor of Green, who served as Rhode Island's Governor from 1933-1937, then as U.S. Senator, and who was an avid supporter of aviation.

1938: Hangar 1 (State Hangar 1), an important example of a “unified” hangar, was built in 1938 and is shown on the right hand side of the accompanying image from a period postcard. This hangar type included the functions needed to store and maintain aircraft, as well as a five-story control tower and administrative offices. Hangar space was leased to tenants, creating a revenue stream for the airport.

Photo Credit: Paul Schopp
Photo Credit: Paul Schopp

1939: The Rhode Island National Guard’s 152nd Observation Squadron, the first aviation unit of the Guard, moved to Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport and began anti-submarine patrols to protect coastal shipping and convoys.

Photo Credit: Jim Warcup, RIAC

1941: Hangar 2 was constructed to provide needed hangar space for the Rhode Island National Guard unit stationed at Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport. Designed in the Moderne style, the building continued the use of forward-looking architectural trends associated with the speedy, futuristic mode of travel.

1942: The Army Air Force assumed control of the airport on April 1, 1942 and Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport became known as the Hillsgrove Army Air Base. It became a fighter base for the First Army Air Force and a transition-training base for officers upon graduation from flying school.

1945: The Army Air Corps returned control of the Hillsgrove Army Air Base to the State of Rhode Island.

1946: Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport re-opened for civilian use on March 1.

Photo Credit: RI State Archives
Photo Credit: RI State Archives

1949: The first improvements made after World War II went into service, including a new fire observation tower and additional concrete ramp and apron space.

1950: Post-war air traffic reached record-breaking levels, serving nearly 120,000 passengers and transporting over four million pounds of cargo.

1950: Hangar 3 was constructed to accommodate growing demand for hangar space in the post-war years.

1958: Rhode Island received a grant of $150,000 for construction of a control tower and fire station. Warwick Ladder 8 occupied the new fire station.

Photo Credit: RIAC (from PAL large format photo for RIHRA recordation)

1961: Construction of a new airport terminal, located on Post Road, U.S. Route 1, was completed. The new terminal was part of a major airport improvement program, which included the addition of the fire station (1959) and upgrades to runways and taxiways to accommodate landing the large jets that were becoming popular.

Photo Credit: Paul Schopp
Photo Credit: Paul Schopp

1993: The Rhode Island Airport Corporation (RIAC) replaced the Division of Airports as the day-to-day administrator and operator of the airport. RIAC is a quasi-public agency, and is a division of the RI Commerce Corporation.

1990s: Another round of major airport expansion and improvement resulted in the development of the current airport terminal, the Bruce Sundlun Terminal Building at Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport (1996), additional parking, and other circulation improvements. RIAC opened an additional four gates at the North Concourse (1997).

Photo Credit: RIAC

1998: T.F. Green opened a federal Inspection Services Facility.

2005: Annual passenger traffic at T.F. Green reached its peak with 5.7 million travelers.

2007: RIAC streamlined the flow of arriving and departing passengers with an enhanced checkpoint area and opening of new passenger arrival ramps.

2008: New shops, concessions and food court opened, offering a wide variety of local products and national chain selections.

2010: The InterLink Transportation Hub was completed with the opening of a consolidated rental car facility and the start of MBTA commuter rail service to and from the airport. This initiative greatly enhanced the intermodal connections between T.F. Green and the regional transportation system.

2011: Federal Aviation Administration issues Record of Decision approving preferred alternative for Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport Improvement Program.

2013: Travel + Leisure readers voted Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport (Green) one of the best airports in the country for the third time, having done so previously in 2009 and 2010. Hangar 1 demolished and construction began on runway extensions and runway safety areas as part the Rhode Island T. F. Green International Airport Improvement Program.