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Irving T. Woodhams Sr.

1898 - 1993

2016 Irving Woodhams Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame

Irving T. Woodhams was born on August 8, 1898, in Kalamazoo County and caught the "aviation bug" on his first airplane ride as a young man in 1924. After landing, Irving was certain he wanted to fly for a living, and this early passion for flight blossomed into an aviation career spanning nearly six decades. A modest man, Irving was well respected for his skill as a pilot and was nationally known as a top-notch aviator and flight instructor. As an instructor, he taught hundreds, if not thousands, of people how to fly, and passed his love for aviation on to notable pilots such as Air Zoo co-founder and former WASP, Sue Parish, and Civil Air Patrol Pilot and FAA inspector Eloise Smith, who instructed Navy seaplane pilots during World War II.

Irving learned to fly shortly after that first flight in 1924, and spent the rest of his life involved in most facets of aviation. Whether flying, instructing students, managing airports, or building and renovating airplanes, Woodhams' attention to detail and keen professionalism earned him a stellar reputation within the national aviation community. Considered a superior pilot, he logged more than 14,000 accident-free hours in the air and held an active pilot license until the age of 85. His original license, received in 1926, (the year pilots were first required to be licensed) was signed by Orville Wright, the chairman of the National Aeronautic Association of America at the time. It is currently on display at the Air Zoo.
Woodhams was the first pilot to take off on a solo flight from Charles A. Lindbergh Field in 1924, which was located on the current site of the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport. The land was formerly farmland owned by Irving's father. "He was flying here before there was an airport," says Donald Woodhams, Irving's son, in a past interview. "He used to fly around my grandfather's [Alfred Woodhams] farm, which was about where the [original Air Zoo building] is. Then the city bought the property and made the airport. My father was the first manager." The City of Kalamazoo purchased Lindbergh field in 1926 and asked Irving to manage the new facility. Mr. Woodhams was known for his meticulous care of the runways and buildings, and the airport became well established under his management. This once small airport has evolved into the Kalamazoo/Battle Creek International Airport we know today. After several years as manager of the Kalamazoo Municipal Airport, Irving and his wife, Dorothy (Zuidema) Woodhams, also a professional commercial and private pilot, owned and operated the Austin Lake Airport and Seaplane Base from 1938 until retiring in 1963. For a time, the Austin Lake Airport was the only seaplane base in Michigan. "He developed that airport on training Navy students who were continuing on in aviation. That's what he did during the war," said Donald Woodhams. "Doing everything correctly was a real bug with him." Irving, known for his attention to detail, ensured that the planes flying out of his airports had perfect safety records, a remarkable feat for the time.
Because of his great contributions towards furthering aviation in Michigan, his pioneering spirit, world-class instruction, and superior skills as a pilot, Irving T. Woodhams embodies the virtue and qualities extolled by the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame.
Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program