New York’s first municipal airport
Now home to several major airports, New York City’s first municipal airport was Floyd Bennett Field. Named after the famous aviator, the airport served as a hub for general aviation and trade routes. Floyd Bennett rose to fame during World War II and the Cold War era when he was laid to rest at Naval Air Station New York. Here is the history of the airport.
Floyd Bennett Field is now open to the public as a historic aviation museum and campground under the National Park Service.
The first one
As air travel increased rapidly after World War I, New York had begun to consider the potential of a municipal (city-owned) airport. While the city already hosted several private airfields, it did not establish its own airport until 1928, when the project was approved. The new development was named Floyd Bennett Field after the famous American aviator of the same name, who was the first man to reach the North Pole by air.
Floyd Bennett Field opened to the public in 1931 to much fanfare, including hundreds of military aircraft flying over the airfield. The new project would accommodate commercial flights, general aviation and a US Navy base. The airport quickly became a huge success, attracting transatlantic flights and over 1,153 commercial aircraft and 605 military aircraft by December of that year. In 1934, the airport was second only to Oakland in the United States in terms of total landings.
The airport opened with two runways, and two more were added in 1937-38 during a renovation. The last was added during World War II by the US Navy. Photo: Msedwick via Wikimedia Commons
However, the airport has not found much success among scheduled flights due to its location. Newark Airport captured much of the regular passenger and exclusive airmail contracts, making Bennett Field only popular for a few land or seaplane routes. However, the airport’s popularity among recreational travelers and charter flights has caused it to record extremely high landings each year. The lack of obstacles and access to the ocean thanks to its location made it a prime candidate for air shows, races and flying lessons.
The airport was also popular with other major users: the US military. In 1935, the Coast Guard requested the use of Bennett Field for a new unit to be built on the field. Just a year prior, the NYPD had set up the world’s first police aviation unit to park a helicopter on the airfield. The United States Navy remained the largest operator outside the airport, expanding its presence in 1937 and 1939 to build new hangars and add runways. However, the situation changed dramatically in 1940 when World War II escalated.
The US Navy finally vacated the airport in 1970, making way for new development. Photo: Getty Images
The United States Navy renamed Bennett Field to Naval Air Station (NAS) New York in 1941 and had ceased all civilian activity. A flurry of activity saw the airfield become an important hub, housing the Atlantic Fleet’s naval aviation units and several aircraft squadrons. Home to more than 6,000 at the peak of the run, NAS New York saw more than 20,000 new aircraft delivered. After the war, many temporary structures were demolished and the land served as a Naval Air Reserve station, training pilots and providing support to larger bases during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Floyd Bennett Field never reopened for commercial use, despite pressure from the city. Instead, the federal government turned the airfield over to the National Park Service for redevelopment in 1972. Today the airfield is part of the Jamaica Bay Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area , housing a historical aviation museum as well as exhibits in the control tower. . The airport grounds today serve as a campground, continuing the history of New York City’s first municipal airport.
Have you ever visited Floyd Bennett Field? Did you know the airport before? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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