Howard Hughes Sets world Record
Floyd Bennett Field
July 10- 14, 1938
Floyd Bennett Field
On July 10, 1938, Hughes set another record by completing a flight around the world in just 91 hours (3 days, 19 hours), beating the previous record by more than four hours; Hughes returned home ahead of photographs of his flight. Taking off from New York City, Hughes continued to Paris, Moscow, Omsk, Yakutsk, Fairbanks, Minneapolis, and continued to New York City. For this flight he flew a Lockheed Super Electra (a twin-engine transport with a four-man crew) fitted with the latest radio and navigational equipment. Hughes wanted the flight to be a triumph of American aviation technology, illustrating that safe, long-distance air travel was possible. While he had previously been relatively obscure despite his wealth, being better known for dating Katharine Hepburn, New York City now gave Hughes a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes.
History of Floyd Bennett Field:
Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport, later a naval air station, and is now a park. While no longer used as an operational commercial, military or general aviation airfield, it is still used as a helicopter base by the New York Police Department (NYPD). Located in southeast Brooklyn, the field was created by connecting Barren Island and a number of smaller marsh islands to the mainland by filling the channels between them with sand pumped from the bottom of Jamaica Bay. The airport was named after famed aviator and Medal of Honor recipient Floyd Bennett, a Brooklyn resident at the time of his death. It was dedicated on June 26, 1930, and officially opened on May 23, 1931. The IATA airport code and FAA airfield identifier code was NOP when it was an operational naval air station and later coast guard air station, but now uses the FAA Location Identifier NY22 for the heliport operated there by the NYPD.
Since 1972, Floyd Bennett Field is a part of Gateway National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service. Many of the earliest surviving original structures are included in a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, being among the largest collections and best representatives of commercial aviation architecture from the period, and due to the significant contributions to civil aviation and military aviation made there.
Prior to the opening of Floyd Bennett Field in 1930, a compacted dirt runway existed on the island. It was referred to as “Barren Island Airport”, but was used primarily by one pilot who took customers up for joy-rides.
The municipal airport site was chosen and designed by famed aviator Clarence D. Chamberlin. His preference was Barren Island, a 387-acre (1.57 km2) marsh with 33 small islands in Jamaica Bay, off the southeastern shore of Brooklyn. The site was favorable due to the lack of obstructions nearby, and because it was easily identifiable from the air. After much debate over the merits of other sites within the city (including Governors Island, the purported favorite of New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia), the site was approved. Six million cubic yards of sand were pumped from Jamaica Bay to connect the islands and raise the site to 16 feet (4.9 m) above the high tide mark. The new airfield’s modern, electrically illuminated, concrete runways (when most “airports” still had dirt runways and no night landings) and comfortable terminal facilities with numerous amenities made it among the most advanced of its day, earning a rating of A-1 (the highest) by the United States Department of Commerce at the time.
LaGuardia pushed for Floyd Bennett Field to replace Newark Airport in Newark, New Jersey as the city’s de facto main air terminal, including designs and plans to shuttle passengers to and from Manhattan in flying boats. He was only able to persuade American Airlines to move its Newark operations to the new airport, and many passengers complained that ground travel from Bennett Field to Manhattan took longer than from Newark. In addition, particularly in the early days of commercial aviation, freight – not passengers – provided the bulk of profits. As airmail was a major fraction of air freight at the time, airports having contracts with the United States Post Office Department attracted commercial airlines. Airlines used the cargo area available on passenger aircraft to carry airmail, guaranteeing a profit on empty flights, and often providing more revenue than passenger ticket sales on under-booked flights, which were common. Public skepticism about the safety of this new form of transportation, as well as the Great Depression, made air travel an expensive luxury. As LaGuardia was never able to convince the Postal Service to move its New York City operations from Newark to Floyd Bennett Field, neither did the airlines relocate. This hindered commercial air activities at the airfield. As a general aviation airfield, however, it attracted the record-breaking pilots of the Golden Age of Aviation because of its superior modern facilities and excellent location for flying, hosting dozens of “firsts” and time records as well as a number of air races in their hey-day, such as the Bendix Cup.
Famed aviator Wiley Post twice used the field for record-breaking ’round-the-world flights, and developed or adapted technology (such as the Sperry autopilot) there to aid him. Famous aviatrixes of the era, such as Jackie Cochran, Laura Ingalls, and even Amelia Earhart broke records at this airfield. Howard Hughes also used Floyd Bennett Field as the start and finish of his July 1938 record-setting circumnavigation of the globe in ninety-one hours (as depicted in the 2004 film The Aviator). Media-savvy pilot Roscoe Turner was also a frequent visitor at this airfield, often in conjunction with record-breaking flights.
Floyd Bennett Field’s most storied flight was probably that of Douglas “Wrong Way” Corrigan who, in 1938, after repeatedly being denied permission by the authorities to attempt a non-stop flight to Ireland, “accidentally” crossed the Atlantic in a second-hand surplus aircraft on a flight registered to go to California. In the midst of the Great Depression a hero-starved nation hailed Corrigan for his “accident”, even giving him a ticker-tape parade in Manhattan upon his return. (Authorities had his aircraft crated and sent him and his plane back on a ship.)
On July 16, 1957, then-Major John H. Glenn, Jr., USMC, set the transcontinental air speed record, flying an F8U-1P Crusader (BuNo 144608) from NAS Los Alamitos, California to NAS New York–Floyd Bennett Field, in 3 hours, 23 minutes, and 8.4 seconds. Project Bullet, as the mission was called, provided both the first transcontinental flight to average supersonic speed, and the first continuous transcontinental panoramic photograph of the United States. Glenn was awarded his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission.
After the 1930s closure of Naval Air Station Rockaway across the inlet, a hangar at Floyd Bennett Field was dedicated as Naval Air Reserve Base New York within the larger civilian facility. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) occupied a hangar for the world’s first police aviation unit (fixed-wing at the time, eventually to become a fleet exclusively of helicopters).
In addition, about 10 acres (40,000 m2) of Floyd Bennett Field along Jamaica Bay was set aside by the city on long-term lease to the United States Coast Guard (USCG) in 1936, for the creation of Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn (CGAS Brooklyn). During World War II, the civilian airfield was first leased and then sold to the United States Navy, which subsequently established Naval Air Station New York (NAS New York) to host several naval aviation units of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, to include three land-based antisubmarine patrol squadrons, a scout observation service unit, and two Naval Air Transport Service (NATS) squadrons (processing the majority of the aircraft destined for the Pacific Theater), while still retaining the Coast Guard Air Station as a tenant.
The pilot Eddie August Schneider died in a training crash on the tarmac in 1940. NAS New York aircraft patrolled the Atlantic coastline and engaged German U-Boats, sustaining casualties, though this information was kept from the public at the time. In addition, Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) served as air traffic controllers in the air station control tower, directing traffic at the busy Naval Air Station, while others served as parachute riggers, packing parachutes and liferafts for use by aviators. Still others performed aircraft maintenance as aviation machinist mates, some of whom also served as “plane captains” for locally based aircraft.
Throughout the remainder of the postwar period and until the early 1970s, NAS New York-Floyd Bennett Field primarily functioned as a support base for units of the Naval Air Reserve and the Marine Air Reserve. CGAS Brooklyn continued to operate from NAS New York and the installation also served as a base for units of the New York Air National Guard from 1947 to 1970.
In the interim, commercial aviation in New York City moved to a new airport in Queens, which took advantage of the then-new Queens-Midtown Tunnel to Manhattan. That airport was quickly renamed LaGuardia Airport in recognition of that mayor’s efforts to bring commercially viable aviation to New York City.
NAS New York was deactivated in 1971 and its tenant squadrons and personnel transferred to other naval air stations. An Armed Forces Reserve Center, which supported non-flying units remained, and is currently the airfield’s only surviving military activity.
Most of the land transferred to the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion in Gateway National Recreation Area. The majority of the remainder, constituting the area occupied by Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, was officially transferred to the Coast Guard and no longer leased.
CGAS Brooklyn was eventually decommissioned in 1998, following its merger with CGAS Cape May, New Jersey and relocation to the new Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, New Jersey. The majority of former Coast Guard land then transferred to the National Park Service (a small portion remained in the possession of the USCG parent agency at the time the U.S. Department of Transportation and a Doppler radar tower was placed there for use by nearby Kennedy International Airport). The NYPD moved their aviation operation from a historic hangar to the former Coast Guard Air Station facilities shortly afterward.
Former “Administration Building” (Building 1) served as passenger terminal, air traffic control, baggage depot, freight receiving–shipping, and accommodations for air crews. The tower on top was added when the facility was transferred to the Navy.
The National Park Service maintains a collection of example aircraft of the type with historic connections to the airfield, and displays them in a 1950s era “nose hangar”. In addition, the airport’s original Administration Building is partially accessible to the public, including the former control tower. The runways have long since been closed, yet are occasionally reopened for fly-ins.
As the area of natural grasslands in the region has declined from its historic range due to urban sprawl (see: Hempstead Plains), the Grasslands Restoration And Management Project (GRAMP) was created to maintain a majority of the expanse of open grassland in the middle of the historic former airfield. The purpose is to compensate in a small way for the impact to the native flora and fauna that depend on such habitat lost on Long Island. The program is a joint venture of the National Park Service as the land management agency, and the Audubon Society.
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) has divisions located on the historic former airfield. The department’s aviation base, with its fleet of Bell 412 and Agusta A119 Koala helicopters, is housed in space leased from the National Park Service that was once the United States Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, and is also now headquarters for the New York City Police Department Emergency Service Unit. The Driver Training Unit is also located there, using a section of former runway to teach officers to operate many different vehicles used by the department.
The United States Park Police (USPP) operate out of the District 9 station, located on the former airfield, which is responsible for police coverage of the Gateway National Recreation Area.
In 2006, four of the eight original airport hangars were adapted for reuse and leased as a business concession for community-based sports and entertainment complex. However, the historical integrity of some of the hangars has been alleged to be compromised thereby, in contradiction to the protections supposedly imposed by their inclusion on the National Register and under their management by the NPS.
The former airfield also accommodates public camping, with 46 campsites. Floyd Bennett Field campground, however, is classified as primitive – with only portable toilets, and no electricity provided. Still, it is the only public campground maintained by the National Park Service that is within the limits of an American city, and the only legal campground in New York City. In 2011, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that he wants Floyd Bennett Field to feature the largest urban campground in the United States with 90 campsites by 2013, and the possibility of 600 total campsites sometime in the future.
On July 21, 2011 U.S. Rep. Michael G. Grimm introduced H.R. 2606 – New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act. According to the bill’s CRS Summary, “New York City Natural Gas Supply Enhancement Act – Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to: issue permits to allow the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of natural gas pipeline facilities in the Gateway National Recreation Area (New Jersey-New York); and enter into a lease agreement to allow the occupancy and use of an aircraft hanger building on Floyd Bennett Field (Brooklyn, New York) to house facilities associated with the operation of natural gas pipeline facilities. Requires rent proceeds and other fees generated in connection with such lease agreement to be deposited in a special account dedicated solely for use in the Gateway National Recreation Area”.
According to House Report 112-373, “Due to increased demand for natural gas in New York City, New York, additional pipeline capacity is needed. To remedy this problem, New York City is working to place a pipeline through Gateway National Recreation Area. H.R. 2606 provides the National Park Service (NPS) with the authority to approve a pipeline through its jurisdiction. As part of an agreement reached with NPS, in exchange for permitting the pipeline, the Williams Company will restore and maintain abandoned aircraft hangers in Floyd Bennett Field which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. One hanger will house the pipeline meter station and the others will be for park purposes
Runway 15–33: One of the original runways constructed in 1929, this 3,100-foot (940 m) x 100-foot (30 m) concrete runway was lengthened to 3,500 feet (1,100 m) in 1936. It was then modified to become the 4,500-foot (1,400 m) x 300-foot (91 m) taxiway T-10 in 1942. It runs parallel to the original hangars along Flatbush Avenue.
Runway 6–24 (Old): The second of the original two runways constructed in 1929, this 4,000-foot (1,200 m) x 100-foot (30 m) concrete runway became taxiway T-1 and T-2 in 1942. It runs perpendicular to the original hangars along Flatbush Avenue, from the Administration Building/Control Tower to the more modern Hangar B.
Runway 6–24 (New): Constructed in 1942, this 5,000-foot (1,500 m) x 300-foot (91 m) runway was lengthened to 6,000 feet (1,800 m) in 1952. It runs perpendicular to Flatbush Avenue on the North side of the field.
Runway 1–19: Constructed in 1936, this 3,500-foot (1,100 m) x 150-foot (46 m) runway was lengthened to 5,000-foot (1,500 m) x 300 feet (91 m) in 1942. It was again lengthened to 7,000 feet (2,100 m) at an unknown date and was the longest runway at the airport. It runs from the vicinity of the current main public entrance to the field at the South end of Flatbush Avenue, to the North corner of the field near the Mill Basin inlet.
Runway 12–30: Constructed in 1936, this 3,200-foot (980 m) x 150-foot (46 m) runway was lengthened to 5,000-foot (1,500 m) x 300 feet (91 m) in 1942. It was again lengthened to 5,500 feet (1,700 m) at an unknown date. It runs from the former Coast Guard Hangar to the Northwest corner of the field near Flatbush Avenue. For many years, the US Coast Guard used 2,500 feet (760 m) of this runway for helicopter operations. Now the NYPD Aviation Unit uses this same segment.