Fun Facts & Memorable Moments You May Not Know about the Central Wisconsin Airport — Celebrating Its 50th Anniversary (1969–2019)

Written by Brian J. Grefe

The Central Wisconsin Regional Airport was planned and developed by a joint committee of the Marathon and Portage County Boards to offer jet-age facilities for local air travelers. With a total initial investment of $5,005,480, the airport opened on October 26, 1969.

2019 marks the Central Wisconsin Airport’s 50th anniversary!

Take a look back at the famous visitors, odd happenings, and quirky questions our local airport in Mosinee has handled over the years, plus skim a few historic highlights about our local airport.

Famous Visitors

  • President Jimmy Carter — Visited CWA on March 31, 1979, to speak at Newman High school for the 10th anniversary party for Congressman David Obey.
  • Vice President Dan Quayle — Arrived at CWA in September 15, 1992, to speak at a political rally at CWA.
  • President George H.W. Bush — Landed at CWA on October 7, 2004, for a “Wisconsin Victory 2004 Rally” held at Marathon Park.
  • President Donald Trump — Flew into CWA on October 24, 2018, and spoke to an estimated audience of 10,000 people at the Endeavor Air Maintenance Base at CWA during a political rally held for Governor Scott Walker, Congressman Sean Duffy, and candidate for Senate Leah Vukmir. During the rally and the preparations leading up to it, the airport was visited by Air Force One, Marine One, and two C-17 military transport aircraft. Learn more in “The President Comes to Marathon County.”
President Donald Trump. (Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Photopin (license).

Interesting Happenings

Historic Air Charter Movement

On September 3, 1970, CWA participated in “the largest air charter movement in the history of the United States.” A total of 38,000 members and delegates of the American milk producers were flown to a meeting in Chicago, with 1,150 leaving from CWA on 14 flights. President Nixon addressed the gathering in Chicago.

Warbird Rendezvous 2019 Logo2

Warbird Rendezvous Fundraisers for Never Forgotten Honor Flight

In July, the warbirds of EAA’s AirVenture at Oshkosh will be coming to CWA for the 3rd annual Warbird Rendezvous at CWA.

This once-per-year FREE event invites the public out onto the airport’s tarmac to view the warbirds up close and personal.

Warbird Rendevous

The Warbird Rendezvous at CWA is a community fundraiser for Never Forgotten Honor Flight. Through sales of commemorative merchandise and meal donations, the fundraiser aims to send several local veterans on the trip of a lifetime to Washington, D.C.

Visit the Warbird Rendezvous Facebook page  or view this (PDF) flyer to learn more about this exciting event taking place at CWA in July, or view “Warbird Rendezvous at Central Wisconsin Airport Supports Local Veterans” for a peek behind the scenes of the 2017 event.

Wausau Downtown Airport Mistaken for CWA

In March of 1991, passengers of a Braniff Airlines 727 charter from Las Vegas had to be bussed to Central Wisconsin Airport in Mosinee after pilots accidentally landed at Wausau Downtown Airport.  (The pilots were suspended.)

Quirky Questions

Q. Can I pack cheese in my carry-on bag?

A. Yes, you are allowed to pack block-style cheese and cheese curds in your carry-on bag. If you plan on bringing a cheese spread, though, be sure to pack the spread in your checked luggage. Cheese spread is considered to have a paste-like consistency and is not allowed in a carry-on bag. (So, yep — that means your Wisconsin maple syrup has to go in your checked bag, too!)

Cheese Curds

These rules for packing Wisconsin sundries apply to those with TSA Pre®, too.

What is TSA Pre✓®?

TSA Pre® is an expedited screening program where participants are not required to remove shoes, belts, light jackets, laptops, or 3-1-1 compliant liquids while traveling through the security checkpoint.

If you travel often, it makes getting through security quicker and easier. Call today to schedule an appointment for the next TSA Pre✓® Enrollment Event coming up in June . . .


Q. Do I have to pay for airport parking if I’m only coming to pick up my Uncle Ned from the airport?

A. Nope, assuming you can do it in a few hours. The first 3 hours of parking at CWA is FREE in any one of the three gated parking lots. Just take a ticket to enter any lot and park where you choose. That same ticket will let you out of the lot free of charge if your stay is under 3 hours. A $1.00/hour charge will apply to longer stays, with a maximum daily fee of $7.00.

Historic Highlights

Restaurant Rundown

Take a stroll down Memory Lane with these restaurant highlights…

Did you ever grab a bite to eat at any of these establishments at the Central Wisconsin Airport in the past 50 years?

1969–1974: Antler’s Airport Inn

1974–1995: Aerodrome Restaurant

1995–2008: The Runway Restaurant

2008: Sullivan’s at the Airport

2008–2011: The Airport Restaurant at CWA

2013–2018: Fly Away Café

2018–Present: The Blind Rooster


If you haven’t visited yet, head out to CWA for brunch, lunch, or dinner at The Blind Rooster Kitchen + Bar, located on the 2nd floor of the airport.

They have specials like a Friday Fish Fry and a Sunday brunch, and they just put on a lovely Mother’s Day buffet . . .


Restaurant parking is FREE for the first 3 hours. Just follow the signs . . .

See their menu and hours at their Facebook page.

Airport Timeline

Below are some memorable dates in the history of the Central Wisconsin Airport. Much of the following was captured from newspaper clippings scrapbooked by John Howland of Weston.

  • October 26, 1969: Central Wisconsin Airport opens. North Central Airlines Flight 450 lands a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 aircraft at 7:38 a.m.
  • 1990: The Central Wisconsin Airport is removed from Marathon and Portage County Tax levy. CWA has been operating tax free – on its own revenues since.
  • November 1990: The U.S. House and Senate approve funding of a tower at CWA. Need for a tower had been discussed since the 1970s.
  • Spring 1998: Construction starts on the current concourse expansion.
  • September 11, 2001: 9/11 tragedy brings numerous changes to the airport industry. The Central Wisconsin Airport had to revise its parking policies, specifically where vehicles could park in relation to the terminal building. For a period following the attacks on aviation, there was an earthen berm hastily installed in front of the terminal building. Like many airports, CWA officials had to completely change the check-in and passenger screening process in a short period of time to accommodate new and ever-changing security regulations. Unlike many airports, CWA was well positioned to accommodate many of these changes due in large part to the recent concourse expansion.
  • 2010: Planning for a major terminal remodel or replacement begins. A new midfield site is considered, but ultimately rejected in favor of remodeling the passenger terminal building in its existing location.
  • June 2016: The 5-year $38 million terminal project celebrates its grand reopening and is attended by Edward Losinski. (As a Portage County Supervisor, he was instrumental in the initial development and commissioning of the airport in 1969.)
  • 2019: CWA looks to finish an Airport Master Plan Update. This document along with the necessary planning efforts will well prepare the airport for success for the 20-year planning horizon. Major projects that are anticipated to come out of the Master Plan include a runway decoupling project, a general aviation area redevelopment, and new access to the Fixed-Base Operator.

*  *  *

Our airport has certainly grown in the 50 years since its humble beginnings . . .


Today, 3 airlines (American, Delta, & United) provide service at CWA to Minneapolis, Chicago O’Hare, and Detroit. From those hubs, passengers are able to fly anywhere!

The Central Wisconsin Airport now has 2 commercially sized runways that are 7,648 feet and 6,501 feet long, an air traffic control tower, and a modern terminal.


In 2018, over 250,000 passengers chose to fly to or from CWA. That number is anticipated to increase between 5% and 10% in 2019.

Even if you’re not flying anywhere, community members are invited to head out to CWA to:

  • Relax in our restaurant/bar while watching the planes land
  • Browse our art gallery featuring paintings and photography provided by the Wisconsin Visual Artists’ Guild (and available for purchase)
  • Hold a meeting, class, celebration, or gathering in one of several conference rooms available to rent (starting at $25/half day)
  • Attend a community event, such as the Warbird Rendezvous

(If you’re interested in keeping up with CWA happenings, I invite you to follow us on Facebook.)

Looking toward the future, the Central Wisconsin Joint Airport of Marathon and Portage Counties is focused on an easy passenger experience and ensuring that the communities of Central Wisconsin have convenient access to the rest of the country — and the globe.

The Joint Airport Board would like to thank this incredible region of Central Wisconsin for the tremendous amount of support and trust over the last 50 years, and we look forward to what we can accomplish together in the next 50 years!


So, skip the LONG drive, lines, and wait times…

  • Park super-close in our convenient lot (only $7 per day).
  • Enjoy fast check-in and security.
  • Get to your gate in minutes, not hours.
  • Experience the comfort of our newly renovated, expanded, modern terminal.

Three major airlines. Minutes from your home or office.

Fly CWA first — It truly is easier from here!

Brian_GrefeBrian J. Grefe

Airport Director  |  Central Wisconsin Airport

Brian has been serving as Airport Director at Central Wisconsin Airport (CWA) since February 2016. Prior to CWA, he worked at airports in Aspen, CO, and in Duluth, MN. With his wife and two sons, he is now living in Rib Mountain.  Email Brian Grefe.

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Image credit: Cheese curd photo by elviskennedy via PhotoPin. (License.)