By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Located approximately 30 miles from the geographic center of Texas, the city of Brownwood is known for being the home of Howard Payne University, championship high school football teams and perhaps, just as famously, the destination restaurant Underwood’s Bar-B-Q. Brownwood is also known for its airport, Brownwood Regional Airport (KBWD), which has a long and interesting history.
The airport opened during World War II as Brownwood Army Airfield and was used by the United States Army Air Forces as a training base. The 68th and 77th Reconnaissance Groups trained at Brownwood during 1942 with a variety of aircraft, including B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-24 Liberators, P-40 Warhawks and A-20 Havocs. In addition to the training performed at the airfield, patrols were flown over the Gulf of Mexico and along the Mexican border. Until the end of World War II, the primary mission of the Brownwood Army Airfield was the training and preparation of combat crews for overseas replacement.
The U.S. Government deeded the sprawling 1,500-acre airport to the City of Brownwood after World War II. An F-4 Phantom and an F-111 are on display as a reminder of the airport’s historic past as well as many photos inside the airport’s terminal building.
After the airport was deeded to the city, it became a stop for Texas International Airlines, which began operations in 1949 flying DC-3s across Texas. Brownwood Regional received commercial service from Texas International Airlines for nearly 30 years until they stopped flying there in 1977. Mesa Airlines also provided commercial service to the airport until 2005. Fast forward to present day, the airport serves corporate customers (such as FedEx, UPS, Kohler, 3M, McCoy’s Lumber, Belles), the U.S. Army, and U.S. Department of Agriculture and has approximately 50 based aircraft. According to a 2010 economic report, the airport generates nearly $6.3 million in economic output, and the on-site businesses employ 62 people.
Bobby Burks is the manager of the airport. He grew up in Comanche and started flying in 1980. He became an instructor-rated pilot and airplane inspector in Oklahoma before returning back to Texas. He was the airport manager at Coleman Municipal Airport before moving to Brownwood.
According to Burks, the airport enjoys a good relationship with local government officials, but admits there is still work to do to spread the word of general aviation to the citizens of Brownwood.
“Some of them do not know we are here,” laughs Burks. “But most people get excited when they hear I work at the airport. Airplanes fascinate everybody. One of the first things they ask is ‘how do you learn to fly?’”
Burks is more than happy to discuss the airport with local folks, and the airport also hosts many field trips for area schools and is currently in the process of developing a day of learning at the airport called an “Air Fair.” The primary goal of the Air Fair is to augment classroom learning through the excitement of aviation where classroom topics come alive through real-world applications and hands-on activities.
Recently, the airport has undergone some improvements with the help of TxDOT Aviation Division grants.
“We just completed work on Runway 17-35. They put in a 2-inch asphalt overlay and narrowed it to 100 feet. We also have new lights and a four-bar PAPI system on both ends. We also have a new wind sock to replace the one that’s been here since the 40s,” chuckled Burks. “We’re proud of those improvements.”
In the future, Burks is working on securing grants for pavement improvements around the terminal building and taxiways.
“After that’s done, it’s going to be in pretty good shape around here,” said Burks.
The airport also has a modern terminal building that offers visitors the following amenities:
- Passenger Lounge
- Pilot Lounge
- Conference Room
- Pilot Weather/Flight Planning
- Satellite TV
- Wireless Internet
- Vending Machines
“It’s been an adventure,” said Burks. “I’ve been in aviation for 35 years and it’s in my blood.” For more information about the Brownwood Regional Airport, visit their website at