When the first commercial airline flights departed Madison in 1939, no one could have imagined how air travel would take off over the next eight decades.

Back then flying was a novelty for the adventurous few – only about 1 million Americans took a commercial flight in all of 1939. The Dane County Regional Airport (DCRA) currently serves twice that number each year, and is on pace to handle a record volume of passengers in 2019.

To celebrate this 80-year legacy, more than 2,000 people of all ages gathered at Dane County Regional Airport on June 23 to explore its history and get a behind-the-scenes look at today’s innovations.

Highlights included airfield tours, the chance to check out an F16 fighter jet and Blackhawk helicopter, a visit to the airport’s original old stone hangar, and live music from the Soggy Prairie Boys and Chris Kroeze, finalist from NBC’s The Voice.

The family-friendly event culminated with the dedication of the historic airport beacon by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and DCRA Director Kim Jones.

“After so many years of guiding aviators safely home, this beacon now has a new duty – to shine a light on the history of a community and a county that embraced air travel in its earliest inception, and continues its legacy of innovation today,” said Parisi.

The beacon, an original artifact from 1939, provided a white and green rotating visual navigation aid to pilots as far as 40 miles away. Restored to exact specifications, it includes a 400 watt lamp, enclosed in a cast aluminum housing, and is designed to turn at 12 revolutions per minute.

“We’re honored and humbled to carry forward the airport’s long tradition of safety, growth, and exemplary service,” Jones added. “This celebration is a tribute that begins with the visionary individuals who brought air travel to Madison 80 years ago and those working for a smooth flight into the future.”

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