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A Local Champion for Dulles

Airport was at the center of former Senator Charles L. Waddell’s professional and legislative careers.

Leesburg Today recently published a series of excellent articles written by Margaret Morton about Washington Dulles International Airport to commemorate the airport’s 50th anniversary. In one of those articles, Morton focused on former Virginia Senator Charles L. Waddell, who was one of Dulles Airport’s greatest champions over the years.

Those who are new to Loudoun County may not be aware of Waddell’s long political career – first as a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors starting in the late 1960s, then as an influential member of the Virginia Senate for 27 years. As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, then as a member of the Finance Committee, he used his influence to help fund improvements at Dulles, enact land use decisions to protect its future growth, and improve road access to the airport.

Among his legacies are the Route 28 Transportation Tax District, which helped transform a two-lane road to a modern highway with multiple interchanges; airport improvements funded by the private sector through the Washington Dulles Task Force; and the Dulles Greenway, which was made possible by legislation he sponsored in 1988.

Waddell’s political and professional careers were intertwined, as Morton pointed out in her story. A longtime official for American Airlines, he transferred to Dulles Airport just four months after the airport was dedicated on Nov. 17, 1962.

Waddell, now 80 and retired from politics, shared some more anecdotes. They help paint a colorful picture of his years working at the airport and serving as its champion.

Some of those stories illustrate the slow pace of business at the airport in its early days. “Local young boys from the Sterling area would drag race on the two-mile runways before the airport actually opened,” he said.

“Most of the airlines featured a softball team and played their games at the nearby Sterling School at Church Road and Sully Road (Route 28),” Waddell said. “We sometimes practiced in the west employees’ parking lot or in front of the Dulles Fire House.”

Waddell said that Air Force One, the President’s airplane, would often come out from Andrews Air Force Base in the ‘60s and ‘70s to do “touch and go’s“ on the airport’s long runways. 

Since jet travel was still relatively new then, American Airlines offered 40-minute “flight seeing trips” to introduce people to flying.

“It not only helped [American Airlines] but helped Dulles as well to attract customers,” Waddell said. “The flights would take off and proceed down toward Norfolk, back west across Richmond and Charlottesville, and then northward up the Shenandoah Valley and back into Dulles, he said. The cost of a round-trip ticket was just five dollars.

Before Dulles Airport was placed under control of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in the 1980s, it faced opposition from Maryland legislators who were fighting to have Baltimore Friendship Airport(now Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport) designated as one of the Washington, D.C., airports, Waddell said.

“After being elected to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors in 1967, I remember participating in meetings which included the two Maryland Senators and the Maryland Aviation Administration, and they all made it clear that they would oppose most improvements and development at Dulles – and did,” he said.

Waddell also recalled the times in the ‘60s and ‘70s that Dulles Airport was used as a movie set.

The President’s Analyst was one such movie, and my son Jeff, about 12 years old with a recent foot injury, appeared in a walkthrough background shot with his cane,” he said.

Later, Waddell himself was an extra in Airport 1975, which featured Charlton Heston and other Hollywood stars.

“I checked in Gloria Swanson at the gate and even had a one line speaking part – ‘Welcome aboard and have a nice trip.’” However, Waddell's scene ended up on the cutting room floor because the director instead elected to use another scene of Swanson arriving outside the terminal in her Rolls Royce.

Waddell’s duel role as an airlines employee and state senator occasionally caused some confusion for air travelers.

“Sometimes people would become confused to see me working in passenger service,” he said. “One time a lady in front of [American’s] ticket counter stopped and did double take when she saw me helping direct passengers while in uniform, and exclaimed, ‘Say, didn’t you used to be Charlie Waddell?’  I responded, ‘Yes ma’am, still am.’”

And he still is.

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