The History of Long Island MacArthur Airport

Introduction

Long Island MacArthur Airport, located on 1,310 acres in Suffolk County, is the region’s only commercial service facility which has, for most of its existence, struggled with identity and purpose.

Its second–and oval-shaped–50,000 square-foot passenger terminal, opened in 1966 and sporting two opposing, ramp-accessing gates, had exuded a small, hometown atmosphere-so much so, in fact, that scenes from the original Out-of-Towners movie had been filmed in it.

Its subsequent expansion, resulting in a one thousand percent increase in passenger terminal area and some two million annual passengers, had been sporadic and cyclic, characterized by new airline establishment which had always sparked a sequence of passenger attraction, new nonstop route implementation, and additional carriers, before declining conditions had initiated a reverse trend. During cycle peaks, check-in, gate, and ramp space had been at a premium, while during troughs, a pin drop could be heard on the terminal floor.

Its Catch-22 struggle had always entailed the circular argument of carriers reluctant to provide service to the airport because of a lack of passengers and passengers reluctant to use the airport because of a lack of service.

This, in essence, is the force which shaped its seven-decade history. And this, in essence, is Long Island MacArthur Airport’s story.

1. Origins

The 1938 Civil Aeronautics Act, under Section 303, authorized federal fund expenditure for landing areas provided the administrator could certify “that such landing areas were reasonably necessary for use in air commerce or in the interests of national defense.”

At the outbreak of World War II, Congress appropriated $40 million for the Development of Landing Areas for National Defense or “DLAND,” of which the Development Civil Landing Areas (DCLA) had been an extension. Because civil aviation had been initially perceived as an “appendage” of military aviation, it had been considered a “segment” of the national defense system, thus garnering direct federal government civil airport support. Local governments provided land and subsequently maintained and operated the airports. Construction of 200 such airfields began in 1941.

A Long Island regional airport, located in Islip, had been one of them. On September 16 of that year, the Town of Islip–the intended owner and operator of the initially named Islip Airport–sponsored the project under an official resolution designated Public Law 78-216, providing the land, while the federal government agreed to plan and build the actual airport. The one-year, $1.5 million construction project, initiated in 1942, resulted in an airfield with three 5,000-foot runways and three ancillary taxiways. Although it had fulfilled its original military purpose, it had always been intended for public utilization.

Despite increased instrument-based flight training after installation of instrument landing system (ILS) equipment in 1947, the regional facility failed to fulfill projected expectations of becoming New York’s major airport after the recent construction of Idlewild. Losing Lockheed as a major tenant in 1950, the since-renamed MacArthur Airport, in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, would embark on a long development path before that would occur.

2. Initial Service

A 5,000-square-foot passenger terminal and restaurant, funded by the federal government, had been constructed in 1949. Infrastructurally equipped, the airport, surrounded by local community growth, sought its first public air service by petitioning the Civil Aeronautics Board. Islip had attempted to attract scheduled airline service as far back as 1956, and this ultimately took the form of Gateway Airlines three years later when it had commenced operations, on an air taxi level, with a fleet of 11-passenger de Havilland Doves and 15-passenger de Havilland Herons to Boston, Newark, and Washington. Inadequate financing, however, had led to its premature termination only eight months later.

The airport, which only had 20 based aircraft at this time, annually fielded some 30,000 movements. Allegheny Airlines subsequently received full scheduled passenger service route authority from the CAB in 1960 and inaugurated four daily Convair- and Martinliner round-trips to Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington in September, carrying more than 19,000 passengers in 1961, its first full year of operations.

Two years later, the FAA opened a New York Air Route Traffic Control Center and a seven-floor control tower, and in 1966, a $1.3 million, 50,000 square-foot oval terminal replaced the original rectangular facility.

Mohawk, granted the second CAB route authority that year, inaugurated Fairchild FH-227 service to Albany, and the two scheduled airlines carried some 110,000 passengers from the since renamed Islip MacArthur Airport by 1969. The 210 based aircraft recorded 240,000 yearly movements.

The runways and taxiways were progressively expanded, partly in response to Eastern and Pan Am’s designation of the airport as an “alternate” on their flight plans.

3. First Major Carrier Service

Long envisioned as a reliever airport to JFK and La Guardia, which would provide limited, but important nonstop service to key US cities and hubs, such as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and the major Florida destinations, the Long Island airport urgently needed additional, major-airline service, but this goal remained elusive.

The cycle, however, had been broken on April 26, 1971, when American Airlines had inaugurated 727-100 “Astrojet” service to Chicago-O’Hare, Islip’s first pure-jet and first “trunk” carrier operation, permitting same-day, round-trip business travel and eliminating the otherwise required La Guardia commute. Because of American’s major-carrier prestige, it had attracted both attention and passengers, indicating that Islip had attained “large airport” status, and the Chicago route, now the longest nonstop one from the air field, had provided a vital lifeline to a primary, Midwestern city and to American’s route system, offering numerous flight connections.

The route had been quickly followed in the summer with the inauguration of Allegheny DC-9-30 service to Providence and Washington, while Altair had launched Beech B99 and Nord N.262 turboprop flights to Bridgeport and Philadelphia two years later.

American, Allegheny (which had intermittently merged with Mohawk in 1972), and Altair provided the established Long Island air connection during the 1970s.

In order to reflect its regional location, the facility had, for the fourth time, been renamed, adopting the title of Long Island MacArthur Airport in 1978.

During most of the 1970s, it handled an average of 225,000 annual passengers. Allegheny, the premier operator, had offered nine daily pure-jet BAC-111 and DC-9-30 departures during 1978.

By March of 1982, USAir, the rebranded Allegheny Airlines, had been its only remaining pure-jet carrier with daily DC-9-30 service to Albany and BAC-111-200 service to Washington-National–perhaps emphasizing its ability to profitably operate from small-community airfields with its properly-sized twin-jet equipment.

The early 1980s were characterized by commuter-regional carrier dominance, with operations provided by Pilgrim, New Haven Airlines, Altair, Air North, Mall Airways, and Ransome. The latter, first flying as part of the Allegheny Commuter consortium, later operated independently under its own name in affiliation with Delta Air Lines, offering some 17 daily M-298 and DHC-7 departures to seven regional cities.

Aside from Ransome, it had often appeared as if the airport’s regional airline floodgates had been gappingly opened: Suburban/Allegheny Commuter, Southern Jersey/Allegheny Commuter, Empire, and Henson-The Piedmont Regional Airline had all descended on its runways. Precision, which had inaugurated multiple-daily Dornier Do-228-200 services to both Boston and Philadelphia, operated independently, as Precision-Eastern Express, and as Precision-Northwest Airlink, and had been the only airline to simultaneously offer scheduled service from neighboring Republic Airport in Farmingdale, primarily a general aviation field.

4. Northeastern International Airlines

Market studies had long indicated the need for nonstop Long Island-Florida service because of its concentration of tourist attractions and to facilitate visits between Long Island children and Florida-relocated retiree parents. Deregulation, the very force behind multiple-airline creation, divergent service and fare concepts, and the relative ease of new market entry, had spawned Northeastern International, which was founded to provide high-density, low-fare, limited-amenity service, and fulfilled the idealized nonstop, Long Island-Florida connection when it had inaugurated operations on February 11, 1982 with a former Evergreen International DC-8-50, initially offering four weekly round-trips to Fort Lauderdale and one to Orlando. After a second aircraft had been acquired, it had been able to record a 150,000-passenger total during its first year of service, with 32,075 having been boarded in December alone.

Although its corporate headquarters had been located in Fort Lauderdale, its operational base had been established at Long Island MacArthur and it ultimately served Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Miami, Orlando, and St. Petersburgh with the two DC-8s and two former Pan Am 727-100s with seven daily departures. Incorporating both the charter carrier strategy of operating high-density, single-class, low-fare service, and the major airline strategy of flying large-capacity aircraft, it actually served a very competitive route-that of New York-to-Florida-without incurring any competition at all by operating directly from Islip.

By 1984, with Northeastern having served as a catalyst to carrier and route inaugurations, eleven airlines had served the airport, inclusive of Allegheny Commuter, American, Eastern, Empire, Henson, NewAir, Northeastern, Pilgrim, Ransome, United, and USAir, relieving JFK and La Guardia of air traffic, directly serving the Long Island market, and fulfilling the airport’s originally envisioned role of becoming New York’s secondary commercial facility. Simultaneously providing nonstop service to Chicago-O’Hare from Islip, American and United both competed for the same passenger base.

By 1986, Long Island MacArthur had, for the first time in its 36-year scheduled history, handled one million passengers in a single year, a level since equaled or exceeded.

To cater to the explosive demand and ease its now-overstrained passenger facilities, the Town of Islip embarked on a progressive terminal facility improvement program which had initially encompassed the addition of two commuter aircraft gates, the enclosure of the former curbside front awning, and two glass-enclosed wings-the west for the now-covered baggage carousel and the east for the three relocated rental-car counters and the Austin Travel agency. The internal roadway had been realigned and additional parking spaces had been created.

A more ambitious terminal expansion program, occurring in 1990 and costing $3.2 million, resulted in two jetbridge-lined concourses which extended from the rear portion of the oval terminal, adding 22,700 square feet of space. Runway 6-24’s 1,000-foot extension, to 7,000 feet, had ultimately been completed three years later after a decade of primarily local resident resistance due to believed noise increases.

By the end of 1990, the transformation of Long Island MacArthur Airport from a small, hometown airfield served by a couple of operators to a major facility served by most of the major carriers had been complete.

Several conclusions could already be drawn from the airport’s hitherto 30-year scheduled history.

1. Allegheny-USAir, along with its regional subsidiaries Allegheny Commuter and USAir Express, had provided the initial spark which had led to the present growth explosion and had been the only consistent, anchor carrier during its three-decade, scheduled service history, between 1960 and 1990. During this time it had absorbed other Islip operators, inclusive of the original Mohawk and Piedmont, the latter of which had intermittently absorbed Empire and Henson, and had shed still others, such as Ransome Airlines, which, as an independent carrier, had almost established a regional, turboprop hub at MacArthur.

2. Three carriers had been tantamount to its three-decade evolution: (1). Allegheny-USAir, which had reserved the distinction of being Long Island MacArthur’s first, largest, and, for a period, only pure-jet operator; American, which had changed its image by associating it with large, trunk-carrier prestige; and Northeastern, whose bold, innovative service inauguration and low fares had been directly responsible for the latest, unceasing growth cycle.

3. Many airlines, unaware of the facility’s traffic potential, never permanently abandoned the air field, including American and Eastern, which had both suspended operations, but subsequently returned; Northeastern, which had returned after two bankruptcies; United, which had discontinued its own service, yet maintained a presence through two separate regional airline affiliations-Presidential-United Express and Atlantic Coast-United Express-thus continuing to link its Washington-Dulles hub; Continental, which had returned through its own commuter agreement; and Pilgrim, which, despite service discontinuation, had maintained an autonomous check-in counter where it had handled other carriers until it itself had reinstated service.

4. Of the approximately 30 airlines which had served Long Island MacArthur, many had indirectly retained a presence either through name-change, other-carrier absorption, or regional-airline two-letter code-share agreements.

5. The Northeastern-forged air link between Long Island and Florida had, despite its own final bankruptcy, never been lost, with other carriers always filling the void, including Eastern, Carnival, Braniff, Delta Express, and Spirit Airlines.

Because of its market fragility, however, the Long Island regional airport was far more vulnerable to economic cycles than the primary New York airports had been, recessed conditions often resulting in the exodus of carriers in search of more profitable routes. In 1994, for example, three airlines discontinued service and one ceased operating altogether.

A $13.2 million expansion program of the 32-year old, multiply-renovated oval terminal, funded by passenger facility charge (PFC)-generated revenue, had been initiated in the spring of 1998 and completed in August of the following year, resulting in a 62,000-square-foot area increase. The enlarged, reconfigured structure included the addition of two wings–the west with four baggage carousels, three rental car counters, and several airline baggage service offices, and the east with 48 (as opposed to the previous 20) passenger check-in positions. The original, oval-shaped structure now housed an enlarged newsstand and gift shop and the relocated central security checkpoint, but retained the departures level snack bar, the upper level Skyway Café and cocktail lounge, and the twin, jetbridge-provisioned concourses added during the 1990 expansion phase, while the aircraft parking ramp had been progressively increased until the last blade of grass had been transformed into concrete. A realigned entrance road, an extension of the existing short-term parking lot, 1,000 additional parking spaces, and a quasi-parking lot system subdivided into employee, resident, hourly, daily, and economy (long-term) sections had completed the renovation. Shuttle bus service between the parking lot and the terminal was provided for the first time.

5. Southwest Airlines

An effort to attract Southwest Airlines had begun in late-1996 when the rapidly-expanding, highly profitable, low-fare carrier had contemplated service to a third northeast city after Manchester and Providence, inclusive of Newburgh’s Stewart International and White Plains’ Westchester County in New York; Hartford and New Haven in Connecticut; and Teterboro and Trenton’s Mercer County in New Jersey. All had been smaller, secondary airports characteristic of its route system. It had even briefly explored service to Farmingdale’s Republic Airport on Long Island and Teterboro in New Jersey, both of which had been noncommercial, general aviation fields with business jet concentrations. Three had offered terminal improvements in exchange for the service. But Long Island MacArthur was ultimately selected because of the 1.6 million residents living within a 20-mile radius of the airport, local business health, and, according to Southwest Chief Executive Officer, Herb Kelleher, “underserved, overpriced air service” which was “ripe for competition.”

Following initial Southwest interest in 1997, then-Town of Islip Supervisor Peter McGowan and other officials flew to Dallas, where Herb Kelleher stated the need for the previously described terminal and parking facility expansions before operations could begin. The meeting had ended with nothing more than a symbolic handshake.

The nearly two-year effort to entice the airline had culminated in the December 1998 announcement of Southwest’s intended March 14, 1999 service launch with 12 daily 737 departures, including eight to Baltimore, two to Chicago-Midway, one to Nashville, and one to Tampa, all of which would provide through- or connecting-service to 29 other Southwest-served cities. Although the low-fare flights had been expected to attract some passengers who may otherwise have flown from JFK or La Guardia Airports, they had been primarily targeted at the Long Island market and, as a byproduct, had been expected to attract an increased airport traffic base, additional carriers, and generate an estimated $500,000 per year for the Town of Islip. Two Southwest-dedicated gates could accommodate up to 20 daily departures-or eight more than the inaugural flight schedule included-before additional facilities would have to be obtained. The Islip station, staffed by 44, represented its 53rd destination in 27 states.

Southwest had provided the fourth spark in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s airline- and passenger-attraction cycle, traced as follows:

1. The original air taxi Gateway Airlines service of 1959 and the initial scheduled Allegheny Airlines service of 1960.

2. The first trunk-carrier, pure-jet American Airlines flights of 1971.

3. The first low-fare, nonstop Northeastern International Florida service of 1982.

4. The first low-fare, high frequency, major-carrier Southwest service of 1999.

American, the last of the original, major carriers to vacate the airport, left it with three predominant types of airlines as the millennium had approached:

1. The turboprop commuter airline serving the nonhub destinations, such as Albany, Boston, Buffalo, Hartford, and Newburgh.

2. The regional jet operator feeding its major-carrier affiliate at one of its hubs, such as ASA feeding Delta in Atlanta, Comair connecting with Delta in Cincinnati, and Continental Express integrating its flight schedule with Continental in Cleveland.

3. The low-fare, high-density, no-frills carrier operating the leisure-oriented sectors to Florida. As of December 1, 1999, three airlines, inclusive of Delta Express, Southwest, and Spirit, had operated 15 daily departures to five Florida destinations.

Long Island MacArthur’s expansion and passenger facility improvements, Southwest’s service inauguration, and the attraction of other carriers had collectively resulted in a 113% increase in passenger boardings in 1999 compared to the year-earlier period. The figure, which had been only shy of the two million mark, had been the highest in the Long Island airport’s four-decade commercial history. Southwest had carried 34% of this total.

Eleven airlines had provided service during this time: ASA Atlantic Southeast, American, Business Express, Comair, CommutAir/US Airways Express, Continental Express, Delta Express, Piedmont/US Airways Express, Shuttle America, Spirit, and Southwest itself.

Less than two weeks after Southwest had secured a third gate and increased its daily departures to 22, it announced, in a unprecedented move, its intention to self-finance 90-percent of a $42 million expansion of the East Concourse in order to construct four additional, dedicated gates and overnight parking positions by the end of 2001, thus increasing the airport’s current 19-gate total to 23.

The concourse extension, intended to provide it with both increased employee and passenger room, would free up its existing three gates for other-carrier utilization while its new four-gate facility would permit a service increase to some 30 daily flights based upon future passenger demand, aircraft availability, and Town of Islip-approved departure increases.

The expansion would mark the seventh such development of the original terminal, as follows:

1. The original oval terminal construction.

2. The partially enclosed arrivals baggage belt installation.

3. The construction of two commuter gates.

4. The enclosure of the front awning, which entailed the relocation of the rental car companies and the Austin Travel agency, and the installation of an enlarged, fully enclosed baggage belt.

5. The construction of the jetbridge-equipped east and west concourses.

6. The construction of the West Arrivals Wing and the East Departures Wing, the gift shop expansion, and the central security checkpoint relocation.

7. The Southwest-financed, quad-gate addition, increasing the number of departure gates from 19 to 23.

Victim, like all airports, to post-September 11 traffic declines, Long Island MacArthur Airport lost eight daily departures operated by American Eagle, Delta Express, and US Airways Express, although the airport’s October 2001 passenger figures had only been six percent below those of the year-earlier period. No nonstop destinations had, however, been severed. With Delta Express’s daily 737-200 Florida flight frequency having been progressively reduced from an all-time high of seven to just one–to Fort Lauderdale–its operations could be divided into three categories:

1. Turboprop regional

2. Pure-jet regional

3. Southwest

Nevertheless, in the four years since Southwest had inaugurated service, the airport had handled 8,220,790 passengers, or an annual average of two million. Without Southwest, it would, at best, have handled only half that amount.

On April 30, 2003, for the second time in a five-year period, Long Island MacArthur Airport broke ground on new terminal facilities. Designed by the Baldassano Architectural Group, the Long Island architectural firm which had completed the $13.2 million airport expansion and modernization program in 1999, the new, 154,000-square-foot, four-gate addition was constructed on the north side of the existing east concourse which had housed Southwest’s operations. Citing increased space and potential growth as reasons for the new facility, Southwest claimed that the existing three gates, which had fielded a combined 24 daily departures, had reached their saturation point and that additional “breathing room” for both passengers and employees had been needed, particularly during flight delays. The net gain of an additional gate, which would be coupled with larger lounges, would eventually facilitate eight additional flights to new or existing US destinations, based upon market demand.

The project, initially pegged at $42 million, but later increased to $62 million, was financed by Southwest, which sought government reimbursement with the Town of Islip for up to $18 million for the non-airline specific construction aspects, such as airfield drainage, which was considered a common-use utility.

The 114,254-square-foot, Southwest-funded and -named Peter J. McGowan Concourse officially opened at the end of November 2004. Accessed by a new awning-protected entrance from the airport’s terminal-fronted curbside, the new wing, connected to the existing passenger check-in area, curved to the left past the flight arrival and departure television monitors to the new, large security checkpoint from where passengers ascended, via two escalators, to the upper level departures area.

Concurrent with the opening had been the announcement that Southwest would now proceed with Phase II of its expansion by building a second, $20 million addition which would connect the new concourse with the old, altogether replacing the east concourse which had served it since it had inaugurated service in 1999. The project incorporated four more gates, for a total of eight, enabling up to 80 daily departures to be offered.

6. New Leadership, Service Reductions, and Infrastructure Improvements

The end of the 2000-decade, characterized by new leadership, airline service reductions, and infrastructure investments, once again signaled a reversal in Long Island MacArthur Airport’s growth cycle.

Al Werner, Airport Commission for 53 years, retired on November 16, 2007, passing the torch to Teresa Rizzuto. Accepted after a three-month, nationwide search conducted by Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan, she brought considerable airline industry experience with her and was appointed to the position on February 5, 2008 after an Islip Town Board vote, now entrusted with heralding the regional facility into the next decade whose multi-faceted agenda necessarily included the following goals:

1. Devise a marketing plan to increase airport recognition, thereby attracting a larger passenger base.

2. Establish new, nonstop routes of existing carriers and attract new airlines able to compete with existing, lost-cost Southwest, to provide the required core service for this enlarged passenger base, yet avoid alienating local residents because of excessive noise.

3. Invest in infrastructure modernization and development, particularly on the airport’s general aviation west side.

4. Increase revenues for the Town of Islip, the airport’s owner and operator.

Long Island MacArthur’s very existence relied upon its ability to serve its customers’ needs, and both destination and airline reductions during the latter part of the decade, coupled with flickering, but quickly extinguished glimmers of new-carrier hope, only obviated its purpose.

Exploratory talks in 2007, with Southwest-modeled, Ireland based-Ryanair, for instance, would have resulted in both the airport’s first international and first transatlantic service, hitherto precluded by the absence of customs and immigration facilities, few connecting possibilities, and inadequate runway length on which heavy, fuel-laden widebody aircraft could take off for intercontinental sectors. But higher thrust engines facilitating shorter-field performance had remedied the latter problem, and pre-departure US clearance would have been performed in Ireland. Because Southwest and Ryanair maintained the same business models of operating single-type, 737 fleets from underserved, overpriced, secondary airports whose lower operating costs could be channeled into lower fares, domestic-international traffic feed between the two had been feasible. Despite existing Islip service provided by Delta and US Airways Express, Southwest still carried 92 percent of its passengers. However, the proposed strategy had yet to produce any concrete results.

Indeed, by the end of the year, the number of potential Southwest connecting flights only declined when decreased demand had necessitated the cancellation of six daily departures, including two to Baltimore, three to Chicago, and one to Las Vegas.

Potential service loss counterbalancing occurred on May 1 of the following year, however, when Spirit Airlines, after an eight-year interval, reinaugurated twice daily, round-trip, A-319 service to Ft. Lauderdale, with $7.00 introductory fares, facilitating 23 Caribbean and Latin American connections through its south Florida hub.

The A-319, the airport’s first, regularly scheduled airbus operation, touched down at 0954 on Runway 6 on its inaugural flight, taxiing through a dual fire truck-created water arch, before redeparting at 1030 as Flight 833 with a high load factor. The second flight departed in the evening.

The departures were two of Spirit’s more than 200 systemwide flights to 43 destinations, but the weak flicker of light they had provided had been almost as quickly doused when, three months later, on July 31, rising fuel prices and declining economic conditions had necessitated their discontinuation, leaving only a promise of return when improved conditions merited their reinstatement.

Further tipping the scales to the service loss side had been Delta Air Line’s decision to discontinue its only remaining, single daily regional jet service operated by its Comair counterpart to Atlanta, severing feed to the world’s largest airport in terms of enplanements and to Delta’s largest connecting hub, and ending the Long Island presence established as far back as 1984. Delta had cited the reason for the discontinuation, along with that in other markets, as an attempt to “optimize…financial performance.”

The second carrier loss, leaving only Southwest and US Airways Express, had resulted in a 10.2-percent passenger decline in 2008 compared to the year-earlier period.

Another attempted, but mostly unsuccessful airline service had occurred in June of 2009 with the appearance of PublicCharters.com, which had intended to link Islip with Groton, Connecticut, and Nantucket, Massachusetts, during the summer.

In order to remedy Long Island MacArthur Airport’s identity recognition deficiency, a study completed by a Phil Nolan-assembled task force strongly concluded that the search for and attraction of new airline service “should be a major focus of management,” a function up until now mostly ignored. The airport’s lack of recognition, coupled with JFK’s and La Guardia’s close proximity to Manhattan and their dizzying array of nonstop services, further urged the need for the study.

A $150,000 federal grant, aimed at answering the elusive question of why Long Islanders still chose to use New York airports when Islip itself offered a nonstop flight, attempted to determine local resident travel patterns and then attract carrier-providing service.

A partial remedy had been the implementation of a $300,000 market campaign, in conjunction with the Long Island Railroad and Southwest Airlines, to increase airport awareness by the eastern Nassau and Suffolk County population, featuring the slogan, “We make flying a breeze.”

Significant attention to airport infrastructure improvement and a related masterplan had also been given.

Long-awaited ramp repairs, for instance, had been made. One year after the $12.4 million apron covering gates five through eight had been laid in 2004, cracks, in which engine-digestible debris could potentially collect, appeared, and were traceable to an inadequate, six-inch-thick subbase which failed to rise above the ground level, and was therefore susceptible to frost. Water, seeping into the subbase, was subjected to freezing-thawing cycles which expanded the concrete, loosened its gravel, and propagated the cracks.

In order to replace the decaying, 105-foot control tower constructed in 1962, the FAA awarded J. Kokolakis Constructing, Inc., of Rocky Point, a $16.4 million contract to build a new, 157-foot, cylindrical tower next to it in January of 2008, a project completed in November of the following year, at which time internal equipment, costing another $8.8 million, was installed.

Instrumental in the airport’s modernization had been the redevelopment of its 45-acre west side, which currently houses charter companies, flying schools, and airport maintenance in mostly dilapidated hangars and buildings, but could potentially be replaced with new energy efficient and conservation compliant structures optimally used by educational institutions offering air traffic control curriculums.

During the latter portion of the decade, Long Island MacArthur Airport once again rode the descending side of the revenue curve, but remains a vital air link and economic engine to eastern Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Between 1996 and 2003, it had experienced an average annual economic impact growth rate of 6.85 percent and between 2001 and 2007 more than 900,000 square feet of commercial space was developed along Veterans Highway, its access roadway, as a result of it. According to Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies, its 2003 economic impact was pegged at $202 million and was projected to increase by 68 percent, or to $340 million, by the end of the decade without any further expansion, indicating that, as a revenue generator, that its potential had hardly begun to be tapped. The service reductions, increases in Homeland Security costs, and eroding economy had all reversed that potential, but its infrastructure improvements, more than 500,000-square-foot passenger terminal, four runways, easy access, uncongested environment, two-mile proximity to the Long Island Railroad’s Ronkonkoma station, and four-mile proximity to the Long Island Expressway places it squarely on the threshold of growth in the next decade, when conditions improve. According to newly appointed Airport Commissioner Teresa Rizzuto, “We’re ready” for new carriers at that time.

Aviation Sights of Long Island

1. Long Island’s Aviation Seed

The aviation seed planted on Long Island’s Hempstead Plains in 1909, when Glenn Curtiss had first flown above it in his Golden Flyer biplane, had sprouted and grown over a six-decade period until it had ultimately connected its own soil with that of its moon.

Its many aerospace sights, depicting its general aviation, commercial, military, and space branches, and geographically spread between Garden City and Calverton, recount this journey.

2. Cradle of Aviation Museum

The Cradle of Aviation Museum, located on Museum Row in Garden City near the Coliseum, Nassau Community College, and Hofstra University, tells most of Long Island’s aerospace story.

Tracing its origin to 1979, when then-County Executive Francis T. Purcell designated funds to restore two aircraft hangars at former Mitchel Field, it displayed several dozen aircraft until it closed for renovation in 1995. The 130,000-square-foot, $40 million facility, opening on the 75th anniversary of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight in 2002, showcases more than 70 air- and spacecraft, 11 of which are one-of-a-kind designs, associated with or constructed on Long Island and uncovered during a 20-year search which had stretched from the bottom of Lake Michigan to Guadalcanal. They had then been restored and preserved by retired airline and defense aircraft manufacturer volunteers who collectively contributed some 650,000 man-hours to the project. The result had been Long Island’s largest, year-round, educational, recreational, and cultural institution.

According to New York State Governor George E. Pataki, museum visitors “can see the brief span of years that brought Long Island from hosting the fragile biplanes of 1911 to building the Lunar Module that took mankind to the moon in the sixties. Through these displays, the Cradle becomes a powerful mirror that reflects our own skills, intellect, and ability to conquer time and space and pays tribute to American innovation and pioneering spirit.”

The Cradle of Aviation Museum, dominated by its impressive, four-story, glass atrium Reckson Center, greets visitors with a ceiling-suspended Grumman F-11A Tiger supersonic fighter in Blue Angels livery and a 1929 Fleet 2 biplane trainer, symbolically representing the soaring ascent of Long Island’s aviation heritage.

The main exhibits, located in eight galleries in the two restored Army Air Corps Hangars 3 and 4 which still bear the words “Mitchel Field. Elev 90 Feet” on their facades, and now designated the Donald Everett Axinn Air and Space Hall, are accessed by a second floor skywalk at whose entrance a third ceiling-suspended replica of a 1922 Sperry Messenger biplane designed by the Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company of Farmingdale hangs.

According to the skywalk’s plaque, “Long Island has been at the forefront of American’s aviation and space adventure for the past one hundred years…It all started here on Long Island’s Hempstead Plains.”

A one-flight descent leads to the first of the museum’s galleries, “Dream of Wings.” Depicting the triumph of flight with lighter-than-air craft, it demonstrates how balloon, kite, glider, and airship experimentations turned the dream of flight into reality and led to its heavier-than-air successors, displaying aerostatic lift generation, Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedral kite, an Otto Lilienthal glider, and a 1906 Timmons kite built in Queens, the museum’s oldest flying exhibit. A 20-hp Glenn Curtiss airship engine, designed two years later, and a Mineola Bike Shop, demonstrating, in the Wright Brothers’ vein, the technology transfer from the bicycle to the aircraft with propellers and wings, round out the exhibits.

The “Hempstead Plains” gallery, the next encountered, represents a 1910 air meet. Amid recordings of turning propellers and accelerating aircraft, a collection of early designs graces the grass-carpeted field and includes an original Bleriot XI of 1909, the world’s fourth-oldest, still-operational airframe; a spruce-and-bamboo replica of Glenn Curtiss’s Golden Flyer, the first heavier-than-air airplane to fly over Long Island; a replica of a Wright Brothers’ Vin Fiz; a Hanriot monoplane; a Farman biplane, a 1911 Anzani engine; and a 1913 Studebaker “motor car.”

During World War I, as evidenced by the succeeding gallery, the triumph of flight was transferred into the destruction of man, as the airplane assumed the reciprocal role of a weapon, and Long Island had become the center of military aircraft design, testing, and production during this time. On display is the first airplane acquired by Charles Lindbergh, a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny purchased in 1923 for $500; along with a 1918 Breese Penguin trainer, the only one of the 250 originally produced remaining; an airworthy Thomas-Morse S4C Scout biplane with its original Marlin machine gun; and the F. Trubee Davison World War One wooden hangar, which sports the ribbed, uncovered airframe of a Curtiss Jenny with its engine, propeller, and fuel tank; and a 160-hp Gnome Monosoupope, 1916 engine from France.

During the Golden Age of Aviation, which spanned the 20-year period from 1919 to 1938, aviation matured, evolving from a dangerous sport to a viable commercial industry. The motley collection of aircraft in this gallery includes the sister ship to the original Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis and used during the filming of the epic tale; an Aircraft Engineering Corporation “Ace,” which became America’s first sport plane; a replica of a Curtiss/Sperry Aerial Torpedo; a 1932 Grumman F3F-2 Navy Scout fighter; a Brunner Winkle Model A Byrd biplane built in Glendale, Queens; an American Aeronautical Corporation/Savoia Marchetti S-56 amphibian made in Port Washington; and a Grumman G-21 Goose in blue, Pan American Airways System livery.

During World War II, as reflected by its respective gallery, the aircraft produced by Repubic and Grumman had been crucial to US victory, and within the six-year period from 1939 to 1945 depicted, some 45,000 airframes had rolled off the production line. On display are a powerless Waco CG-4 Troop Glider, which had been used to deliver soldiers behind enemy lines; a Republic P-47N Thunderbolt; a Grumman F6F Hellcat, a Grumman TBM Avenger, a Grumman F6F Hellcat, a Douglas C-47 cockpit and nose section, and the Sperry Type A-2 lower gun turret which had protected the undersides of B-17 and B-24 long-range bombers.

The pure-jet engine, as evidenced by the Jet Age Gallery, revolutionized military aviation by endowing aircraft with unprecedented speed, range, maneuverability, and attack capability, and Grumman Aircraft Corporation had been instrumental in this development, having designed more than 40 civilian and military types which totaled some 33,000 airframes and provided employment for 200,000 Long Island residents. Its military aircraft, particularly, had played crucial roles in numerous conflicts, including those in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. On display are several Grumman designs, inclusive of an E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning/command-and-control aircraft, an F9F-7 Cougar, the forward fuselage of an F-14 Tomcat, and an A-6 Intruder cockpit simulator, while Republic Aviation is represented by an F-84B Thunderjet, an F-105B supersonic fighter, and an A-10A Thunderbolt cockpit section. A Boeing 727 nose and cockpit section and a Westinghouse J-34 turbine engine round out the exhibits.

The “Contemporary Aviation” gallery features air traffic control radar screens which emphasize the congested JFK, La Guardia, and Newark airport triplex, along with their secondary airports of Long Island MacArthur and Westchester County’s White Plains, and Farmingdale’s Republic Airport, the states’ busiest general aviation/reliever field.

The “Exploring Space” gallery, the last of the eight, depicts the dramatic transition from atmospheric flight to vacuumless space and emphasizes Long Island’s rich contribution to this aerospace sector. Its exhibits include a Goddard A-series rocket; a Grumman orbiting astronomical observatory; a Grumman echo adapter; a life-size model of the Sputnik satellite which had been presented by the Soviet Union and whose original hardware had launched the Space Race; a Grumman Rigel ramjet missile from 1953; a Grumman Lunar Module simulator; and a Rockwell Command Module which had been used during a 25,000-mph earth reentry test in 1966 prior to the manned Apollo flights.

A “Clean Room,” representing the environment in which all Lunar Modules had been hand-made, leads to the gallery’s-and the museum’s-most precious exhibit, an actual, 22.9-foot-high, gold foil-covered LM-13, the thirteenth and last Lunar Module built, dramatically lit with its legs nestled on a simulated moonscape. Designated an historic mechanical landmark, the Lunar Module had been the first-and thus far, only-spacecraft to have ever transported human beings from earth to another planet or its moons.

The Museum Annex Jet Gallery, which shares facilities with the Long Island Firefighter’s Museum, features a Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, the forward fuselage of a Grumman F-14A, a full F-14A Tomcat airframe, a Grumman A-6F Intruder, and the forward nose section and cockpit of an El Al Boeing 707.

Other museum facilities include the seven-story-high, 300-seat, 76-foot-wide Leroy R. and Rose W. Grumman IMAX Theater, New York state’s largest domed venue and Long Island’s only IMAX screen; the Martian-themed Red Planet Café, which displays a 1961 Grumman “Molab” Mobile Lunar Laboratory designed for lunar surface travel, habitation, and testing; a balcony-located Aerospace Honor Roll; and the Mitchel Field Outpost gift and bookstore.

The Cradle of Aviation Museum is a world-class facility which preserves, showcases, and interprets Long Island’s rich aerospace heritage.

3. American Airpower Museum

The American Airpower Museum, located at Farmingdale’s Republic Airport, oozes with history. It is housed in an historic hangar, where historic World War II aircraft had been built, and these had then been tested at this historic airfield.

Republic Airport itself, founded in 1928 as Fairchild Flying Field when Sherman Fairchild’s existing facility had become too small to support continued FC-2 and Model 71 production, had passed the torch to Grumman for a five-year period, from 1932 to 1937, when the Fairchild Engine and Aircraft Manufacturing Company itself had relocated to Maryland.

Seversky, establishing its presence on the field in 1935, continued its tradition of aircraft building and testing, redesignating itself “Republic Aviation” and considerably expanding its facilities with three new hangars, a control tower, and a longer runway. A major supplier of military designs, it churned out more than 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts during the Second World War and 800 F-105 Thunderchiefs during the Vietnam conflict.

After acquiring the airport in 1965, Fairchild-Hiller sold it to Farmingdale Corporation, which turned it into a public facility the following year, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), purchasing it for $25 million in 1969, renamed it Republic Airport, lengthening existing Runway 14-32, constructing a 100-foot FAA control tower, and building a small passenger terminal.

The 526-acre general aviation/reliever airport, whose ownership once again changed to the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) in April of 1983, exerts some $139 million of economic impact on Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Its 546 based and transient aircraft record 190,723 annual movements, of which 93 percent encompass general aviation, six percent air taxi, and one percent military, in a full spectrum of aircraft types, including single-engine, multi-engine, piston, turboprop, pure-jet, and rotary wing, and these utilize its two runways: 5,516-foot Runway 1-19 and 6,827-foot Runway 14-32. As New York’s third largest airport in terms of take offs and landings after JFK and La Guardia, and its largest general aviation field, it handled 1,634 enplanements, mostly due to charter flight activity, in 2005.

Amidst this atmosphere, off of New Highway, is the American Airpower Museum. Hangar 3, its location, had been completed in 1927, along with other structures at a $500,000 cost and had served as the incubation point of some 9,000 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts during the Second World War. As a result, it had once been considered part of the “arsenal of democracy.” The museum, launched after a $250,000 grant from Governor George E. Pataki and dedicated during the airport’s annual Pearl Harbor Day Commemorative Service in 2000, had been built to serve as a living tribute to Long Island’s veteran population by honoring the past with the present, and to create a regional tourist destination, along with the Cradle of Aviation Museum.

Colonel Francis Gabreski, who scored most of his World War II victories in Republic P-47s, had been the highest ranking ace on Long Island and had initially served as the museum’s honorary commander.

Complementing the static displays at the Cradle of Aviation Museum itself, the American Airpower Museum features the sights, sounds, and experiences of operational World War II fighters and bombers, the first time in 54 years that the New York metropolitan area can boast of such an accomplishment. As the Williamsburg of military aviation, the facility accurately proclaims its mission as “where history flies.”

Its varied collection of pristinely restored aircraft encompass trainers, fighters, carrier-based Navy, ocean reconnaissance, bombers, and post-World War II jet types.

The North American T-6 Texan, for instance, first flew in 1935 and was one of the most widely used advanced fighter pilot trainers during the war.

Of the fighters, the Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk, which also first flew that year, attains 363-mph speeds and currently wears Flying Tiger livery. No aircraft could be more at home in the American Airpower Museum’s Hangar 3, however, than the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, the very design which was assembled here in the thousands. First taking to the skies from the runway only yards away in 1940, it was the largest, heaviest, single-engine, single-pilot piston fighter ever produced, attaining 467-mph speeds. The P-51 Mustang, whose maximum speed had been 30 mph lower than the Thunderbolt’s, flew high-altitude escort missions of B-17 and B-24 long-range bombers, shooting down more enemy aircraft than any other World War II European theater fighter.

Of the Navy aircraft, the Grumman TBM Avenger, a carrier-based torpedo bomber, had hunted German U-boats off the coast of Long Island, while the Vought FG-1D Corsair had been used by both the Navy and the Marines and had achieved 446-mph airspeeds.

The Consolidated PBY Catalina, a high-wing, amphibious ocean reconnaissance aircraft flown by a crew of eight, searched for enemy submarines. It had a 2,545-mile range, a 15,748-foot service ceiling, and a 178-mph speed.

The museum’s twin-engined, medium-range North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, designated “Miss Hap,” had been General Hap Arnold’s personal aircraft, while the type in general had been made famous by the Doolittle Raid.

The collection also includes several jet fighters. The L-39 Albatross, for example, is a 570-mph Soviet trainer which first flew in 1968 and is still in service with 16 countries. The Republic F-84 Thunderjet, one of the first pure-jet fighters, attained 620-mph speeds and served from 1948 to the Korean War. The RF-84 Thunderflash, also designed by Republic, is a 720-mph photoreconnaissance aircraft with horizon-to-horizon photograph capability, and served between 1953 and 1971. The Republic F-105 Thunderchief, a supersonic fighter and attack bomber, had been most extensively deployed in Vietnam in its F-105D guise, carrying more than 12,000 pounds of ordnance and achieving 1,390-mph speeds. It served for a quarter of a century, from 1955 to 1980. The General Dynamics F-111, a supersonic, March 1.2, variable-geometry strike aircraft, first flew in 1967, and had seen service in Vietnam, Libya, and Iraq.

Aside from the aircraft themselves, there are nose and cockpit sections, including those of a Fairchild-Republic A-10, a Mig-21, a Beech 18/C-45, and a Douglas C-47, as well as engines, such as a General Electric J-47 and an Allison V-1710.

World War II’s aviation story is also told by means of films, period scenes and dioramas, an extensive model and memorabilia collection, vintage vehicles, a “Ready Room,” a “Briefing Room,” a “Canteen,” a gift shop, and era-related music.

Tours are periodically provided to the historic, five-story, 1943 control tower located in Hangar 4. The view from the cab, amid vintage radio and radar equipment overlooking Republic airport’s two runways, provides insight into the controllers’ functions, which often included coordinating vectors from P-47s, A-10s, F-84s, and F-105s enroute to the region’s dense air base network comprised of Zahns Airport, then virtually across the road, Grumman in Bethpage, Mitchel Field in Garden City, the Floyd Bennett Field Naval Air Station in Brooklyn, and the Vought factory across Long Island Sound in Connecticut, a network emphasizing Long Island’s early nucleic role in aviation.

Because the American Airpower Museum’s collection is predominantly operational, several flight experiences are offered.

Its own, and signature, opportunity, aboard a Douglas C-47 Skytrain which had last been used by the Israeli Air Force, simulates the famed, D-Day allied invasion of Normandy during the early-morning hours of June 6, 1944.

After donning paratrooper uniforms, helmets, and modified parachutes in the Ready Room, would-be jumpers move to the Briefing Room, where, amid wooden benches and period maps, the pending mission is detailed, along with the necessary regrouping maneuver behind French hedgerows after parachuting to the ground. French francs are distributed.

The cohesive, identically clad team now climbs aboard the twin-engined, olive-green C-47, which is configured with wooden side benches and actually partook of Normandy operations.

During a recent summer flight, the aircraft taxied out to Republic Airport’s Runway 1 and initiated its piston engine-propelled acceleration roll, raising its tailwheel and surrendering to the flawlessly blue sky while retracting its undercarriage.

Climbing to 1,200 feet and maintaining a 125-mph airspeed, the Douglas twin straddled Long Island’s south shore off of Jones Beach, which simulated the similar sands of Normandy.
Upon reaching the designated “drop zone,” the jumpmaster yelled, “Stand up! Check equipment! Hook up!” and the paratroopers connected their lines to the aircraft in preparation for imminent bailout.

Parachute jumping procedures were drilled and the actual, 1944 event was recounted. Regrettably, the realism necessarily had to end there.

Nevertheless, after relanding, the sensation of the D-Day disconnection during the real jump was recreated as the temporary troopers climbed out the aft, left hatch, their Velcro-attached lines separating with gentle tares, a symbolic disconnection from machine before being gravity-induced into an exponentially accelerating tumble to French soil until the unraveling surfaces of their parachutes blossomed into arresting airfoils.

Before removing uniforms, passengers are instructed to reach into their pockets to retrieve a card which reveals the identity of their historical double-or that paratrooper they had represented during the simulated mission. The paratrooper, however, had made the actual jump. And the card indicates whether he had lived or died as a result of it.

Other than the American Airpower Museum’s own C-47 flight experience, vintage aircraft static displays and aerial opportunities are scheduled during holidays and special occasions, such as during Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, historical anniversaries, and the annual Labor Day Flight of Aces weekend, the latter created to encourage young people to write about the virtues, victories, and achievements of a World War II-age friend or relative. The winning composition is awarded a bomber flight experience. Aircraft have included the MATS C-121 Constellation; the Berlin Airlift “Spirit of Freedom” C-54; the B-17 Flying Fortress; the B-24 Liberator; the B-25 Mitchell; and the PT-17 Stearman, the last four of which were operated by the Collings Foundation.

A post-museum visit dinner at the 56th Fighter Group Restaurant located on the Route 110 side of Republic Airport, although not affiliated with the museum itself, both complements and completes a World War II living history day. Resembling a 1940 wartime English farmhouse, it further transports the diner to this era with its “Officer’s Mess” entry; rustic, timbered ceilings; fireplace-adorned dining rooms; World War II-related photographs, memorabilia, and propellers; simulated, bombed-out patio; Big Band music; and views of replica P-40, P-47, and Corsair aircraft. The steak and seafood menu is noted for its signature beer-cheese soup.

The American Airpower Museum is a living aviation time portal to World War II and Long Island’s invaluable contribution to its victory of it. A post-museum dinner at the 56th Fighter Group Restaurant provides the culinary cap to it.

4. Bayport Aerodrome Living Aviation Museum

The Bayport Aerodrome Living Aviation Museum, created by the Bayport Aerodrome Society to preserve and present early-20th century aviation at a representative turf airport, is a 24-hangar complex of privately owned antique and experimental aircraft located at Bayport Aerodrome.

The aerodrome, three miles southeast of Long Island MacArthur Airport, is a nontowered field with a single, 150-foot-wide by 2,740-foot-long grass/turf runway (18-36) and 45 based single-engine aircraft. Of its average 28 daily movements, 98 percent are local, with the remainder transient. Designated Davis Field from 1910 to 1952, it had then been renamed Edwards Airport until 1977, whereafter it had been acquired by the Town of Islip. On January 22, 2008, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a feat proudly proclaimed by its plaque, which reads: “Bayport Aerodrome. Only L.I. public airport w/ grass runways. National Historic status 2008.”

Formed in 1972 for the very purpose of preserving such an era, the Bayport Aerodrome Society conducts complementary tours on weekends between June and September of its operational aircraft collection, which includes Piper Cubs, Waco biplanes, N2S Stearmans, Fleet Model 16Bs, Byrds, and PT-22s. There is also a small museum.

5. Grand Old Airshow

The Grand Old Airshow, first held in 2006 at Brookhaven’s Calabro Airport, was created to transport spectators to earlier, biplane and World War II eras and showcase Long Island aviation.

Calabro Airport itself is a 600-acre, nontowered, municipal field which was constructed during the Second World War to provide logistical support for the Army Air Corps, but was acquired by the Town of Brookhaven in 1961, whose Division of General Aviation now operates it. The field, sporting two runways-4,200-foot Runway 6-24 and 4,224-foot Runway 15-33-is home to three fixed-base operators which offer tie-down pads, T-hangars, conventional hangars, flight instruction, and refueling, as well as Eastern Suffolk Boces, the Dowling College School of Aviation, the Long Island Soaring Association, and Island Aerial Air. There is a small terminal with a luncheonette. Of its 217 based aircraft, some 92 percent encompass single-engine types, and it averages 370 daily, or 135,100 yearly, movements.

The airshow entices the visitor by urging him to “join us this year as we go back in time to celebrate Long Island’s Golden Age of Aviation,” a time when “biplanes graced the skies decades ago.” It continues by offering the experience of “bygone days of aviation, as World War I dogfights, open-cockpit biplanes, World War II fighters, and, of course, the famous Geico Skytypers, soar through Long Island’s blue skies.”

Previous shows have featured antique vehicles and static aircraft displays, the latter encompassing TBM Avengers, Fokker Dr-1s, Nieuports, and Messerschmidt Me-109s, while aerial stunts have included comedy maneuvers performed in Piper J-3 Cubs by “randomly chosen” audience member Carl Spackle; Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome-borrowed Delsey Dives and balloon bursts targeted by Great Lakes Speedsters, Fleet 16Bs, and PT-17 Stearmans; speed races between runway-bound motorcycles and airborne, low-passing PT-17s; aerobatics by SF-260s; and skywriting by Sukhoi 29s.

A Sikorsky UH-34D Sea Horse Marine helicopter, used for combat rescue in Vietnam, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and by NASA during the Project Mercury astronaut recovery program, demonstrated search-and-rescue procedures.
Both Long Island aviation and formation flying are well represented. Past shows have featured Byrd, N3N, Fleet Model 16B, and N2S Stearman aircraft from the Bayport Aerodrome Society; P-40 Warhawks and P-51 Mustangs from Warbirds over Long Island; F4U Corsairs from the American Airpower Museum; and North American SNJ-2s from the Republic Airport-based Geico Skytypers.

Vintage vehicle and aircraft rides are available. Spectators bring their own lawn chairs and line them up next to the active runway. There is period dress and speeches are given by Tuskegee Airmen. Concession trucks sell everything from hot dogs to ice cream and souvenirs and numerous aviation-related schools and associations man booths.

The Grand Old Airshow, held in the fall, is a single-day, single-visit, outdoor glimpse toward the sky where Long Island’s multi-faceted aviation history was written and where it is now recreated.

6. Grumman Memorial Park

Grumman Memorial Park, located on a one-acre site of the former Grumman Aerospace Flight Test Facility in Calverton only one thousand feet from one of its runways, is, according to its self-description, “a volunteer effort paying tribute to the incredible advances in aviation and space flight that took place on Long Island thanks to the teamwork of the employees of the Grumman Corporation. This dedicated band of people took aviation from the fight deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier to man’s first steps on the moon.”

Leroy Randle Grumman, the man behind this company’s name, had been born on January 4, 1895 and established the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation 35 years later, according to the park’s plaque “in a small garage in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There and later in Valley Stream, Farmingdale, Bethpage, Calverton, and locations throughout the country, the company designed and produced innovative aircraft and spacecraft for both the military forces of the United States and the civilian market.” Incorporated in all these designs had been the company’s straightforward philosophy of “keep it simple…build it strong….make it work.”

Phase One of the park, completed on October 28, 2000, had been dedicated to “preserving the legacy of the Grumman Corporation (and) to the men and women who designed, built, and flew the aircraft and spacecraft that soared into the heavens and beyond.”

Centerpiece, mounted on a pedestal in a climbing profile, is an F-14A Tomcat. Powered by two 20,900 thrust-pound, afterburner-equipped Pratt and Whitney TF30-P-414A turbofans, the swing-wing, variable-geometry fighter, whose sweepback varies from 20 degrees in the forward to 68 degrees in the aft position, was the 331st such Tomcat airframe to roll off the nearby Calverton assembly line and first flew from the almost arm’s reach runway on July 6, 1979. Delivered two months later to the US Navy’s VF-101 Fighter Squadron in Oceana, Virginia, it carried 2,385 gallons of fuel, including that accommodated in two, 267-gallon external tanks, and had a 1,191-mile nonstop range. The Mach 2 aircraft had provided 25 years of service before being decommissioned, and had been one of 712 F-14s to have been produced between 1970 and 1992.

Surrounded by inscribed bricks, which comprise the “Walk of Honor,” the display has several interactive features, including a visitor-controlled audible recording of its story, sounds of an afterburner take off, and wing and tail light activation.

The second aircraft on display, part of the park’s Phase Two expansion, is the Grumman A-6E Intruder located on the other side of the small parking lot. Tracing its origins to its initial version, the A2F-1 which had first flown in 1960, it was one of 693 all-weather attack aircraft which were powered by two Pratt and Whitney J-52 P-8B turbojets and had maximum take off weights of 58,600 pounds. Operating at 42,400-foot ceilings, the 648-mph aircraft could deliver eight 500-pound bombs with pinpoint accuracy, and it could carry an entire arsenal of weapons, striking targets more than 500 miles from the aircraft carrier on which it had been based without the need for refueling. Production ceased in 1997.

Aside from the two aircraft themselves, displays include the original Calverton Plant 7 flagpole, a Bethpage Plant 14 guard booth, and a Bethpage runway section, along with its side light, from which every Grumman F6F Hellcat had taken off.

Also viewable is a Hughes AIM-54A Phoenix long-range air-to-air missile, an integral part of the F-14 Tomcat AWG-9 Weapon System. Featuring a 13-foot length and three-foot wingspan, the device had a 1,021-pound gross weight, of which its 132-pound warhead had been propelled by a solid rocket motor. Traveling at a speed of Mach 5, it had a 96-mile range. The F-14 could carry up to six such Phoenix missiles.

Grumman Memorial Park, a work-in-progress whose nine additional acres will eventually encompass a visitor center and other aircraft displays, offers an initial glimpse into Grumman’s superior military designs only yards from the factory which had hatched them.

7. Conclusion

Long Island’s six-decade aerial journey, which had begun on its Hempstead Plains in 1909 when Glenn Curtiss had first taken off in the Golden Flyer biplane and ended when the Lunar Module had first landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility in 1969, is expertly recounted by its world-class aviation sights.

The History of Republic Airport

1. Farmingdale’s Aviation Origins:

Located in Farmingdale, Long Island, Republic Airport is an historically significant airfield to the region and the world, having played both military and civilian roles. But long before it became an airfield, it gave rise to the manufacturers that built airplanes.

“The Industrial Revolution and airplane manufacture came to Farmingdale during World War I when Lawrence Sperry and Sydney Breese established their pioneering factories in the community,” wrote Ken Neubeck and Leroy E. Douglas in their book, Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale (Arcadia Publishing, 2016, p. 9). “They were drawn by the presence of two branches of the Long Island Railroad… the nearby Route 24, which brought auto and truck traffic to and from the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge in Manhattan; the level outwash plain, which provided land for flying fields; and the proximity to skilled workers… “

The area’s first aviation roots, however, were planted as far back as 1917. The Lawrence Sperry Airplane Company, incorporated that year with $50,000 of capital and located on Rose and Richard streets in the village of Farmingdale, produced its first aircraft in the form of the Messenger.

Designed by Alfred Verville of the US Army’s Engineering Division at McCook Field, the minuscule, 17.9-foot-long, all-wood biplane was intended for “aerial motorcycle” missions, alighting in small clearings to drop off and pick-up messages from field commanders, thus earning its name. Farmingdale’s aviation roots were equally cultivated by Sydney Breese, whose Breese Aircraft Company, located on Eastern Parkway, designed the Penguin. Resembling the Bleriot XI, the mid-wing airplane, powered by a two-cylinder, 28-hp, roughly-running Lawrence engine, was a non-flying, preflight trainer intended to aid US Army pilot transition from primary to operational types. Deployed on the open prairies of Texas, it sported a wingspan too short to produce lift, but allowed fledgling aviators to gain the feel of pre-departure aerodynamic forces on their horizontal tails. Of the 301 produced, only five were ever used for this purpose; the remainder were placed in storage.

2. Fairchild Aviation Corporation:

If Lawrence Sperry and Sydney Breese laid Farmingdale’s aviation foundation, then Sherman M. Fairchild cemented it.

Initially interested in aerial photography equipment, he founded the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation in 1920, selling two such devices to the Army, and further developed the company into Fairchild Aerial Surveys to engage in map-making when he had received a contract for an additional 20.

Seeking to replace the myriad of airplane types he operated with a single, specifically- designed camera platform, Fairchild devised the required specifications for one, but could not locate a manufacturer able to build it at a reasonable cost. Forced to do so himself, he established his third aviation company, the Fairchild Aviation Corporation, and moved into the Sperry factory in South Farmingdale, vacated as a result of founder Sperry’s tragic death in December of 1923.

The high-wing, strut-braced, single-engine utility aircraft, designated FC-1 and first flying in prototype form in 1926, featured an enclosed and heated cabin to protect the pilot and his camera equipment, but its original OX-5 engine proved inadequate. Retrofitted with a higher-capacity Wright J-4, it was redesignated FC-1A.

The FC-2 production version, supported by wheels, floats, or skis, featured increased cabin volume. Powered by a 200-hp Wright J-5, the aircraft, intended for commercial operations, sported a 31-foot overall length and 44-foot wingspan. Accommodating a single pilot and four passengers, or up to 820 pounds of cargo, it had a 3,400-pound gross weight and could attain maximum, 122-mph speeds and operate 700-mile segments.

Demand at the South Farmingdale factory soon eclipsed capacity. After aerially surveying the region, Fairchild himself chose a 77,967-acre alternate on the south side of Route 24 and Conklin Street in East Farmingdale, a site which offered prevailing, South Shore winds and multiple-mode ground access by means of a railroad line and the major, Route 110 corridor, which would facilitate both personnel and raw material transport to the new field. Repackaged into airplanes, the latter could then fly out.

“The 77,967-acre Fairchild Flying Field was developed in the late winter and early spring of 1928 and was originally owned and operated by the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Manufacturing Company,” according to the Long Island-Republic Airport Historical Society. “The first flights from (it) took place in (the) late spring of 1928 after the Fairchild Airplane and the Fairchild Engine factories were completed and aircraft were produced (there). Fairchild built Model 41, 41A, 42, 21, 100, and 150 airplanes… “

Wings, like those of the Hempstead Plains to the west, once again rose from the farm fields of Long Island, built, propelled, and supported, respectively, by the Fairchild Airplane Factory, the Fairchild Engine Factory, and the Fairchild Flying Field, after Faircam Realty, Inc., purchased the land and its initial layout was established on November 3, 1927.

Although Fairchild produced multiple models at its new Long Island aviation center, its roots would quickly prove tenuous. Moving its headquarters to Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1931, after only three years, it vacated its facilities, which were almost immediately reoccupied by the American Corporation, or AVCO, whose Airplane and Engine divisions produced the Pilgrim 100 transport for American Airways. But the Depression, taking too large a bite out of the economy, severely diminished demand for it, since aircraft acquisitions were high on a company’s cost reduction list, and its presence proved shorter than Fairchild’s. By mid-1932, it had equally disappeared.

3. Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation:

Initially located in Valley Stream, where it designed floats, the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation moved further east, to the Fairchild Flying Field, and took up residence in the former Fulton Truck Factory, where it hatched its first production fighter, the FF-1. Powered by a single, 750-hp Wright engine, the biplane, with a retractable undercarriage, was also offered in scout configuration, as the SF-1.

The most significant aircraft to emerge from the East Farmingdale production line, however, was the Duck. Tracing its origins to the Loening Aeronautical Engineering Corporation’s XO2L-1, it had been submitted to the US Navy in 1931, but, since Loening himself lacked the required facilities to build it, he turned to Leroy Grumman, his former colleague, who re-submitted it in modified form. Accepted on April 25, 1933, the biplane, called XJF-1, was powered by a 700-hp Twin Wasp engine, which drove a three-bladed Hamilton Standard propeller. Its bracing, consisting of one set of struts outboard of the fuselage and a second one, of wires, between the two wings, was minimal for its day. Water operations were supported by a centerline, under-fuselage float, into which the undercarriage retracted.

In all, 632 JF and J2F Ducks were produced, pressed into global, multiple-role service.

Although Grumman’s Farmingdale presence exceeded that of all others, it nevertheless ended after a half-decade, in 1937, when it relocated to larger headquarters in Bethpage, Long Island.

4. Seversky Aircraft Corporation:

Seversky Aircraft Corporation next took center stage in Farmingdale when it relocated there from College Point in Queens, occupying the former American Corporation factory.

A decorated World War I ace, Alexander P. de Seversky, like Igor Sikorsky, immigrated to the US from Russia, and in 1923, developed the first gyroscopically-stabilized bombsight at the Sperry Gyroscope Company, before establishing his own Seversky Aero Corporation, which focused on aircraft instruments and parts.

Injected with fresh capital, it initially occupied the EDO Corporation’s floatplane factory.

His first major design, the SEV-3, was both aerodynamically sleek and progressive, reflecting Seversky’s aviation-intuitive nature. Powered by a single, 420-hp, nose-mounted, Wright J-6 Whirlwind engine, the all-metal, low-wing aircraft, accommodating a pilot and two passengers in sliding, tandem canopied cockpits, was either supported by a wheeled undercarriage or floats, and in 1933 established a world speed record for piston amphibians. Two years later, on September 15, it sustained a 230-mph airspeed.

The foundation of many subsequent versions, which externally exhibited only minor variations over the basic design, it evolved into the next major iteration, the BT-8. As the first all-metal, enclosed cockpit design operated by the US Army Air Corps, it featured a 24.4-foot length and 36-foot wingspan. Powered by the 400-hp Pratt and Whitney R-985-11, the 4,050-pound airplane, accommodating two, had a 175-mph maximum speed. Thirty were built. It led to the definitive version.

Originally occupying Hangar 2 on New Highway and today used by the American Airpower Museum, Seversky Aircraft Corporation took over the Grumman factory in 1937 when it had relocated to Bethpage, thus maintaining two facilities. But, echoing the short history of the East Farmingdale airfield’s tenants, it came to an abrupt end: although Seversky, like many other aviation-minded “geniuses,” possessed the necessary design skills to create progressive airplanes, he lacked the necessary managerial flip-side of the equation needed to devise a proper, and profitable, business plan to market them, resulting in a $550,000 loss by April of 1939. While conducting a European sales tour six months later, on October 13, he was ousted by his own board of directors, who voted for his removal from the very company he had founded.

Reorganized, it was rebranded “Republic Aviation Corporation.”

5. Republic Aviation Corporation:

Fairchild Flying Field’s fortune was about to change. Fueled by World War II, the fledgling Republic Aviation Corporation would explode in size and its roots would become so deeply implanted in Farmingdale soil that it would be decades before they could be unearthed.

Instrumental in that war was the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt.

Succeeding the Seversky P-35, it was the result of Army Air Corps requirements, which included a 400-mph airspeed, a 25,000-foot service ceiling, at least six.50-caliber machine guns, armor plating protection, self-sealing fuel tanks, and a minimum fuel capacity of 315 gallons.

The Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, which dwarfed all other aircraft, was the world’s largest, heaviest, single-engine, single-seat strategic World War II fighter, offering unequaled dive speeds.

War-fed growth of the officially-renamed “Republic Airport” resulted in the expansion of the company’s existing factory on the south side of Conklin Street, as well as the construction of three additional buildings, the installation of a control tower, and the lengthening of its existing runways, all in an effort to support P-47 production, which totaled 9,087 units in Farmingdale alone and required a work force of 24,000 to accomplish by 1944. Employees filtered in by the thousands every day. A round-the-clock production line spat a completed aircraft out of the factory every hour, and these were then ferried by the Women Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs. Republic Aviation, one of the country’s primary defense arteries, pumped man-and-machine into the agricultural plains of Farmingdale and transformed them into an arsenal of democracy within an 18-month period.

“By 1945, Republic was contributing more than 30 percent of the Army Air Force fighters to the war effort against the Luftwaffe in the skies of Europe,” wrote Leroy E. Douglas in his “Conklin Street Cut-Off” article published in the September 1984 issue of Long Island Forum (p. 182). “Thus, Republic, Ranger, and its 23,000 plus workers-more than half of whom were women-did their part to win the war.”

When World War II’s doors closed, so, too, did those of the Thunderbolt factory, and Republic was forced to diversify its product range in terms of purpose and powerplant, converting military Douglas C-54 Skymasters into commercial DC-4 airliners, producing 1,059 civilian Seabee amphibian aircraft, and attempting to design a passenger transport of its own.

The resultant aircraft, the Republic XF-12 Rainbow–along with the competing, and identically-powered, Hughes XF-11–both received a contract for two.

Emulating the graceful lines of the Lockheed Constellation, the Rainbow, featuring a 93.9-foot overall length and incorporating design experience amassed during Republic’s fighter aircraft development, exuded an appearance quintessentially captured by Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine when it reported, “The sharp nose and cylindrical cigar shape of the XF-12 fulfills a designer’s dream of a no-compromise design with aerodynamic considerations.”

Peace proved the aircraft’s enemy. The close of World War II obviated its (and the comparable Hughes XF-11’s) need. Nevertheless, because of its long-range, high-speed and -altitude, day and night, limited-visibility photo-reconnaissance capability, it was ideal as a territory-mapping platform. Indeed, on September 1, 1948, the second of only two aircraft built photographed its transcontinental flight path from the Air Force Flight Test Center in Muroc, California, to Mitchell Field in Garden City, Long Island, during Operation Birds Eye.

Returning to its military roots, Republic entered the pure-jet era with a P-47 Thunderbolt successor.

Featuring a 37.5-foot length, the design, conceived shortly before the end of the war in 1944, retained the straight wings associated with propeller airplanes. These spanned 36.5 feet.

First flying on February 28, 1946, the 19,689-pound fighter-bomber, designated F-84 Thunderjet and able to climb at 4,210-fpm, established a national speed record of 611 mph, as powered by the 3,750-thrust-pound J35-GE-7. Its range was 1,282 miles and its service ceiling was 40,750 feet. Its production totaled 4,455 units.

Development of its successor began in 1949. Because of an Air Force funding shortage, Republic reduced development costs by retaining commonality, to the tune of 60 percent, with the F-84, but introduced swept wings. The aircraft, powered by a 4,200 thrust-pound Allison XJ35-A-25 engine and initially designated YF-96A, first flew on June 3 of the following year, three months before it was renamed F-84F Thunderstreak.

Korean War-sparked fund increases enabled Republic to complete a second prototype, which first flew on February 14, 1951 with a YJ65-W-1 engine, and it was followed by the first production example, which took to the skies on November 22, 1952. The type was deployed by NATO countries during the Cold War.

F-84F Thunderstreak production totaled 2,713 airplanes.

Nevertheless, Ken Neubeck and Leroy E. Douglas summarized Republic-based aircraft manufacturing by stating in their book, Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale (pp. 7-8). “While aviation started in Farmingdale with cloth-covered triplanes and biplanes and prop engines, after World War II Republic helped moved the United States into the jet age with the F-84 and F-84F, which assisted US forces in Korea and NATO nations in the 1950s.”

6. Fairchild Republic Corporation

Although Fairchild departed the very airport it had created in 1931, that absence was short-lived. Reappearing three years later, it took up residence in its former engine factory as the newly formed Ranger Aircraft and Engine Corporation and remained there until 1948. But, for a second time, history was to come full cycle.

Acquiring Hiller Helicopters nine years later, it became Fairchild Hiller, and in July of 1965, it purchased the majority of Republic stock, resulting in the Republic Aviation Division of Fairchild Hiller. Fairchild had thus returned to the soil in which it had planted its first seeds. In 1971, it continued its buying spree, purchasing Swearingen and producing and marketing the 19-passenger, twin-turboprop Fairchild-Swearingen Metro commuter airliner. The following year, the company adopted the official title of “Fairchild Republic.”

Its principle design, conceptualized before the Republic acquisition, was given birth by the Air Force requirement for a close air support aircraft incorporating simplicity, ease of maintenance, and short-field performance, in order to operate from small forward air bases close to the battle line.

Designated A-10 Thunderbolt II and enjoying a production run of 733, it was instrumental in the Gulf War and during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

7. Post-War Manufacturing:

Although Republic Airport and its aviation companies had been associated with mostly-military aircraft design and manufacture, several diverse commercial and space components also emerged from its doors.

Integral to the Boeing 747, for instance, were the leading edge slats, trailing edge flaps, spoilers, and ailerons built by the Republic Aviation division of Fairchild Hiller, while it was also contracted to provide a similar role in its proposed, but canceled, supersonic 2707 airliner.

Equally integral to the Space Shuttle were the Fairchild Republic components manufactured in Farmingdale.

After awarded a $13 million contract by Rockwell International of Los Angeles on March 29, 1973, Fairchild Hiller designed and developed six aluminum vertical tail stabilizers, which sported 45-degree leading edges and measured 27 feet high by 22 feet long, in Hangar 17, along with their associated rudders and speedbrakes. The first, installed on test vehicle Enterprise, facilitated its atmospheric launch from a piggy-backed 747 platform over Edwards Air Force Base on February 18, 1977, while the others were mounted on Space Shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor.

Expanding the commuter airliner involvement initiated with the Swearingen Metro, Fairchild Republic signed an agreement with Saab-Scania of Sweden on January 25, 1980 to launch the SF-340, in what became the first fully collaborative venture between a US and European aviation manufacturer. Fairchild Republic was contracted to design and build its wings, engine nacelles, and vertical and horizontal tail surfaces, with final assembly occurring in Sweden.

Fairchild Swearingen was assigned North American marketing responsibility, while a jointly owned Swedish company, Saab-Fairchild HB, established an office in Paris to fulfill this function elsewhere.

Powered by twin turboprop engines, the aircraft accommodated 34 passengers in a four-abreast configuration with a central aisle.

After completing some 100 wing sets, however, Fairchild terminated its contract work on the regional airliner, withdrawing from all civil projects, and the aircraft was redesignated the Saab 340.

8. Changing Roles:

Passed the ownership torch on March 31, 1969, Republic Airport was thereinafter operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which continued to transform it into a public-use entity by acquiring 94 adjacent acres from the US government and purchasing an additional 115 privately owned ones to the south and southwest.

“The Metropolitan Transportation Authority took title to Republic Airport as a first step in converting it into a general aviation (field),” according to the Long Island-Republic Airport Historical Society.

Initiating a modernization program, it made several improvements. High-intensity lights were installed on 5,516-foot Runway 1-19 and 6,827-foot Runway 14-32, for example, the latter of which was also equipped with an instrument landing system (ILS). The Fulton Truck Factory, the airport’s original structure dating from 1916, was razed, while Flightways transformed a ten-acre site on the north side of Route 109 into a complex of new hangars, administration buildings, fuel storage tanks, and aircraft tie-downs. A dual-level Administration, Terminal, and Maintenance building opened in 1983, not far from, and shortly before, the operational phase-in of a 100-foot, $2.2 million FAA control tower.

In order to promote economic development of the surrounding region, New York State legislature transferred ownership, for a third time, to the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) on April 1, 1983, which was advised by a nine-member Republic Airport Commission. It hardly curtailed the modernization momentum.

Indeed, eight years later, a $3.5 million, 25,600-square-foot Grumman Corporate Hangar, replacing the aircraft storage facility previously maintained at its now-closed Bethpage airfield and housing a Beechcraft King Air, a Gulfstream I, and two British Aerospace BAe-125-800s, opened.

In April of 1993, ground was broken for a $3.3 million, 20,000-square-foot SUNY Farmingdale Aerospace Education Center on the east side of Route 110.

Million Air, a subsidiary of Executive Air Support, constructed an 11,700-square-foot Executive Air Terminal and corporate hangar on the airport’s south end, and, by 2001, Air East commenced operations in its own, new, radiant-heated, 10,000-square-foot hangar, which also featured a 2,500-square-foot shop and 4,500-square-foot office and flight school. Yet another hangar-and-office complex, located in the Lambert area, opened its doors in June of 2005 when Talon Air, a charter company, began operations from it.

In order to provide increased clearance needed by the latest-generation of business jets, such as the Gulfstream V and the Bombardier Global Express, taxiway B (bravo) was relocated.

Indeed, more than $18 million in capital improvements were made since 2000 alone.

These enhancements, provisioning the airport for its new, general aviation role, had perhaps been a premonition of things to come.

In 1982, Fairchild Republic won a contract to build two new-generation Air Force T-46A training jets; but, the milestone, initially envisioned as a monetary lifeline, only provided the reverse effect: although the prototype was first rolled out three years later, it lacked some 1,200 parts, and although the second made a successful, 24-minute maiden flight in July of 1986, the contract for the program, fraught with controversy, was canceled, resulting in the layoffs of 500 employees.

Like so many companies dependent upon military contracts for survival, Fairchild Republic, without choice, ceased to exist the following year, leaving its sprouting factories and a legacy, which had begun six decades earlier. Ironically, the two names which had been the most instrumental in the airport’s beginning and growth-Fairchild and Republic-were the same two which had been involved in its demise. The doors of the Farmingdale airfield’s primarily-military aircraft manufacturing and testing chapter thus closed, and those to its general aviation one opened.

“With the company experiencing major financial problems in 1986-1987 and with the loss of support for the T-46A program in Congress, Fairchild terminated both the SF-340 and T-46A production after building only four aircraft,” according to Ken Neubeck and Leroy E. Douglas in Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale (p. 99). “Thus, by the fall of 1987, seventy years of airplane manufacturing in Farmingdale ended with employment and economic loss to the community and the New York metropolitan area.”

9. Airline Service:

In 1966, a year after ownership of Republic Airport was transferred from Fairchild Hiller to Farmingdale Corporation, it was officially designated a general aviation (civil) facility, fielding its first landing, of a twin-engine Beechcraft operated by Ramey Air Service from Islip, on December 7. In order to transform it into a gateway by facilitating airline connections at the three major New York airports, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracted with Air Spur to provide this feeder service four years later, assessing $12 one-way fares.

Although Republic was never envisioned as a major commercial airport, its central Long island location, proximity to the Route 110 corridor, and considerable infrastructure poised it for limited, scheduled and charter service to key business and leisure destinations within neighboring states. Yet its inherent operational limitation was succinctly stated in the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update.

“At Republic Airport,” it explained (Chapter 3, p. 8), “the New York State Department of Transportation implemented an aircraft weight limitation of 60,000 pounds in 1984. This weight limitation restricts the operation of aircraft over 60,000 pounds actual gross weight without the written consent of the airport operator.”

“Forecasts indicate that there will be an increase in the number of jet aircraft based at Republic Airport,” the Master Plan Update stated, “as well as an increase in jet operations,” as ultimately proven by annual pure-jet operation statistics: 2,792 in fiscal year 1986, 4,056 in 1990, 4,976 in 1995, and 6,916 in 1998. And, of its average annual number of based aircraft-about 500-this segment was also the fastest growing: 10 jet aircraft in 1985, 15 in 1995, and 20 in 1998. That number has since more than doubled.

One of the first scheduled airline attempts was made in 1978 when Cosmopolitan Airlines, operating an ex-Finnair Convair CV-340 and two ex-Swissair CV-440 Metropolitans in single-class, four-abreast, configurations, offered all-inclusive, single-day, scheduled charter packages to Atlantic City from its Cosmopolitan Sky Center. Its flyer had advised: “Fly to Atlantic City for only $19.95 net. Here’s how it works: Pay $44.95 for a round-trip flight ticket to Atlantic City, including ground transportation to and from the Claridge Hotel and Casino. Upon arrival at the Claridge, you’ll receive $20.00 in food and beverage credits good at any restaurant except the London Pavilion. You will also receive a $5.00 flight credit good for your next fight to the Claridge on Cosmopolitan Airlines.”

The carrier also briefly attempted to offer two daily scheduled round-trips to Boston on its 52-passenger CV-440s in 1980.

Facilitating this scheduled service growth was the construction of a passenger terminal.

“The terminal building, completed in 1983, has approximately 50,000 square feet of useable floor space and houses airport service vehicles, maintenance, fire protection, public terminal space, and rental areas on the first floor, plus administration offices on the second floor. Approximately 70 employees work in the building,” according to the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update (Chapter 1, p. 17).

Attempting to establish a link between Farmingdale and the major New York metropolitan airport of Newark International in order to feed its departures, PBA Provincetown Boston Airline commenced shuttle service with Cessna C-402 commuter aircraft, connecting Long Island by means of a 30-minute aerial hop with up to five daily round-trips and coordinating schedules with PEOPLExpress Airlines. It advertised avoidance of the excessive drive-times, parking costs, and longer check-in requirements otherwise associated with larger-airport usage, and offered the convenience of through-fares, ticketing, and baggage check to any PEOPLExpress final destination.

According to its June 20, 1986 Northern System timetable, it offered Farmingdale departures at 0700, 0950, 1200, 1445, and 1755.

Demand soon necessitated replacement of the C-402 with a larger, 19-seat Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante.

All of these brief, unsuccessful scheduled attempts, nullifying local residents’ ill-founded concern that Republic would ultimately develop into a major commercial airport and inflict its noise on close-proximity ears, failed to attract the needed traffic to render them self-supporting, emphasizing several airport-specific factors.

1). Republic was consistently associated with general, and not scheduled, operations during the latter part of its history.

2). Long Island MacArthur had already established itself as the island’s principle commercial facility, and carriers, as demonstrated by Precision/Northwest Airlink, gained no revenue advantage by diluting the same market, yet incurring increased airport and operational costs to do so.

“Republic Airport has had service by various commuter airlines and each has ceased service… ,” according to the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update. “The commuter service market area is limited, geographically, taking into account the larger airports, such as La Guardia, Kennedy, and MacArthur and the service they offer.”

“Since 1969, Republic Airport has accommodated the region’s need for an airport devoted to private and business aircraft, as well as charter and commuter operations,” it also stated (Chapter 1, p. 1). “Because Republic is situated in the midst of residential, commercial, and industrial development, its role is inconsistent with that of a scheduled air carrier airport for commercial jet transport.”

With the number of annual passengers having consistently increased-from 13,748 in 1985 and 30,564 in 1990 to 33,854 in 1995-its future commuter role could not be entirely ruled out.

“While past efforts by commuter airlines have not been successful, the potential for future service exists and is to be considered in the planning for the airport,” it concluded (Chapter 2, p. 10).

10. The Future:

Unlike Roosevelt and Glenn Curtiss fields, which succumbed to modern-era pressures and swapped their runways for shopping malls, 526-acre Republic only surrendered a small portion of itself to the Airport Plaza Shopping Center. Instrumental in early-aviation development and in the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, and Iraq wars, it transformed itself into a general aviation facility, peaking with 546-based aircraft and becoming the third-largest New York airport in terms of movements after JFK International and La Guardia.

Billing itself as “the corporate airbridge for Long Island’s 21st-century economy,” this westernmost Long Island general aviation facility accounts for 1,370 jobs and $139.6 million of economic activity, supporting 60 on-airport businesses. The 110,974 movements recorded in 2008 encompassed 52 by non-rigid airships, 7,120 by rotary wing, 76,236 by single-engine pistons, 6,310 by twin-engine pistons, 5,028 by turboprops, and 16,228 by pure-jets. The latter, its second-highest total, emphasizes its increasing role as the “Teterboro of Long Island,” perhaps pointing the way to its future. Indeed, companies considering the area for their corporate locations cite the airport as a major asset, since it provides close-proximity aerial access for personnel and materials.

Toward that end, the State of New York approved funding in April of 2009 for a Vision Planning process to collect data from residents, employees, businesses, and users, and then plot its future course. Specifically, the program had a three-fold purpose-namely, to define the airport’s role, to determine how it will fill that role, and, finally, to ascertain how it will work with the community to attain the desired operational and economic goals.

“As part of the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS), Republic Airport is designated as a reliever airport with commercial service,” according to the 2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update (Chapter 1, p. 1). “Under ownership by the New York State Department of Transportation, there are specific state development and policy procedures which are followed.”

Although it may never eclipse its current general aviation role, its importance was not to be underestimated.

“”Republic Airport is an important regional asset,” it stated (Chapter 1, p. 1). “It provides significant transportation and economic benefits to both Suffolk and Nassau counties. The policy of the New York State Department of Transportation and the Republic Airport Commission shall be that Republic Airport continue to better serve Long Island.”

Whatever the future holds for it, it has a nine-decade foundation upon which to base it, as acknowledged by the plaque hung in the passenger terminal by the Long Island-Republic Airport Historical Society, “honor(ing) the tens of thousands of men and women who labored here in East Farmingdale, contributing significantly to aviation technology and aircraft production.” Those men and woman turned the wheels of the 11 aviation companies based there.

Sources

Long Island Republic Airport Historical Society website.

Neubeck, Ken, and Douglas, Leroy E. Airplane Manufacturing in Farmingdale. Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2016.

2000 Republic Airport Master Plan Update, New York State Department of Transportation.