Fioreilo may be hen-shaped but he lays no eggs. Idlewild, New York's superairport, is a colossal monument to the approaching air age
EIGHT years or SO ago, when Mayor La Guardia announced that, he was going to build a 550acre, $42 millions municipal airport, most of his fellow New Yorkers thought he was talking through his famous hat.
“The Little Flower's getting delusions of grandeur,” they said on Park Avenue, and, more simply in Dodgertown, “Butch’s gone nuts.”
Notwithstanding the widespread lack of vision, imagination and faith in the future of air travel the Little Mayor raised some money down in Washington, put a few thousand men to work with bulldozers, and by the autumn of 1939 had La Guardia Field ready for business. It was the world’s largest airport, streamlined and magnificent, with 19,000 feet of runways and hangars, and service buildings sufficient to accommodate 300 flights in and out a day.
Viewing the vast project on their way to the World’s Fair in ’39, New Yorkers shook their heads and decided that their air-minded mayor had handed them a white elephant. “It’ll be years before New York ever needs anything like that.” In fact, so dim was the contemporary view of air travel that when the city tried to farm out the concession for the promenade deck that overlooks the apron, the highest bidder would only offer $600 a year. The Mayor said, no, thank you, we’ll run our own concession, and on the opening Sunday, Oct. 15, 1939, took in $6,000 from the 75,000 sight-seers who trooped to Long Island to get a foretaste of the future.
The future didn’t take long to materialize. By 1940 La Guardia Field had justified its namesake’s wildest prophecies; by 1942, when the Air Transport Command moved in, planes often had to be stacked aloft in layers to await the tower signal to move in.
This may seem a trifle old hat but it isn’t. New York is already building a new air terminal that will make La Guardia Field look like a suburban way station. At the moment it is little more than a sandy wasteland, somewhat smaller than the Sahara Desert and scenically as attractive, but it is destined to become the world’s greatest airport, with an area nine times bigger than its municipal forerunner and runways totalling 87.000 feet in length.
It is another of Mayor La Guardia’s projects to keep New York City out ahead—but this time no one is making any wisecracks about the Little Flower’s judgment. This time the populace is willing to concede that the Chief Magistrate probably knows what he is up to. If he does know—and it is going to cost upward of $100 millions to find out—then he is bringing into being an advance exhibit of postwar commercial aviation that is truly amazing in its implications. Far better than everything that has been written and said and filmed about great circle routes and wartime air transport, it gives a tangible clue to what the coming air age will probably be like.
Idlewild is the name of the new colossus among airports, and it is located at the very southeast corner of the New York City limits, a few miles east of Coney on the south shore of Long Island, and 14^ miles from Times Square. Two principal factors dictated the choice of the site.
Situated at the head of Jamaica Bay, a onetime fishing resort, it was amphibious and relatively empty. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and nothing but commuters’ one-story houses on the other, it was probably the one area within a radius of 25 miles of the heart of the city that was immediately available for airport development. Another advantage lay in the sandy bottom of the adjacent Bay, which made it possible to extend the area at a minimum of cost. It now embraces 4,527 acres of filled-in marsh and meadowland (remember La Guardia’s 550 acres) and will probably cost around $100 millions to complete, exclusive of the public facilities, subways, railroads and express highways that will eventually go with it.
Other Idlewild statistics hold up impressively. For example, 1,100 private dwellings, a community of about 3,500 inhabitants, were removed to make way for its seven-square-mile expanse. Forty-one million cubic yards of sand fill have been placed on the site by huge hydraulic dredges working in Jamaica Bay for three and one half years. When the incredible project
is finally completed it will have 12 runways, from 6.000 to 11,200 feet in length, built of 12-inch reinforced concrete, 200 feet wide, with 50-foot paved shoulders alongside; sufficient to handle 8,600 giant passenger planes a day on a peak basis of 180 planes in and 180 out in the course of an hour. Incidentally, enough concrete will be poured for runways, roadways, aprons and parking spaces to build the four-lane Queen Elizabeth Way from Windsor to Toronto.
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Filling, grading, planting, drainage, field lighting, utilities, runways, taxiways, aprons and interior roads wall cost about $35 millions; the administration centre, with its main building and 300 acres of aprons, parking spaces and loading platforms, another $10 millions. The balance of the anticipated $100 millions will go for land costs, $6,500.000; a temporary administration building, $500,000; and hangars. Since each hangar will cost $2,500,000, 20 of them would shove the already known costs up to $102 millions. *
“And not one cent of that money will he paid by the taxpayers of New York City,” says the irrepressible Mayor. “I stake my reputation for prudent administration of public affairs upon that. The airlines are now paying for everything they get at La Guardia Field but it’s not enough— wait till I get them at Idlewild.”
Twelve major American airlines have already signified their willingness to be got to Idlewild, and the sooner the better. The Mayor also holds cheques for $3,750,000, to pay for a 10-year gasoline concession, from a group of firms headed by the Texas Company, and from the Gulf Oil Corporation. The Mayor hasn’t decided to accept or reject the bids as yet, but whoever wins will have to sell prodigious quantities of gas to pay off $375,000 yearly on a profit of a few cents on each gallon. This appears to be exactly what the Little Mayor has in mind—prodigious returns for everybody and particularly returns in continued commercial pre-eminence and international prestige for his beloved New York City.
Will Pay Its Way
“Idlewild will be one of the best investments the city ever made,” he exclaims on his Sunday radio program, “and let me tell you why. It will pay its way, for we are building this greatest of airports not because we hope that some day there will be a need for it but because commercial aviation will be needing it the moment it’s completed. Why am I so certain about that? Because conservative estimates place the increase in national passenger and cargo flying at 300% as soon as planes and personnel become available! And since La Guardia is already taking care of all the traffic it can handle, that means we’re going to try to have Idlewild in partial operation by October, 1945.”
With a view to October operation work is being rushed on the three main runways, and early in July the skeleton framework of the temporary administration building was already beginning to show above the seemingly endless sands of Idlewild. It is hoped by 1947 to have the three additional principal runways and pc -manent buildings finished, and by 1950 the six secondary, 6,000-foot runways and most of the other installations.
When fully operational the new field will be able to handle 900 schedules daily to all parts of the world, which means 900 arrivals and departures of stratospheric giants weighing at least
300.000 pounds, the kind now on the drafting boards. Their flights will be entirely transcontinental and transatlantic. Short-distance hops, with a radius no farther than Montreal, Toronto and Chicago, will be scheduled from La Guardia, with one ninth the area and one sixth the capacity of Idlewild.
In addition to the 12 major American companies, it is expected that as many foreign lines will use the newer airport. Together, the Mayor predicts, they will maintain several flights a day, possibly as many as one an hour, to London, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Mexico City, South America and ports on the Caribbean, and at least one a day to Scandinavia, Russia, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Africa, and to the Far East by way of Europe and Afxica. Most of the travel from North An, _ ica to other continents is destined ap \ent.b¿ to be by land plane over
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ncere lL^is comes to pass—and it ,o promised for 1950—30,000 passengers will come and go each day, almost 1,000 of them from foreign countries; 20,000 pounds of mail and
100.000 pounds of freight a day will be carried on transatlantic cargo planes. And upward of 40,000 employees will be required to run the airport with j its scores of hangars, administration I buildings, warehouses and office buildI ings. Thus Idlewild will become a city within a city of possibly a quarter of a 1 million people—a city created by the | airport and dependent on it.
Such a community would be bigger j than all but four in Canada: Greater | Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and j Winnipeg. Whether it will actually grow up around Idlewild is so far j purely a matter of speculation. Adjacent to the suburban area of Long Island, the airport may draw its workers from a radius of 50 miles away. In any case the airport, with 40,000 employees, will create an economic community bigger than Hamilton, Ottawa, Quebec or Windsor.
Forty thousand is Mayor La Guardia’s estimate. At first it seems fantastic, but so does everything else about Idlewild until you stand on the edge of its sandy immensity and realize that what look like a few sticks and baby carriages off on the horizon are 80-foot drag booms and ‘40-ton bulldozers. According to the j Mayor, 40,000 is the number of men and women who will be permanently employed in management, operation, maintenance, traffic, transportation, ! sales, food dispensing and other airport activities.
Plan for 40 Hangars
The figure becomes less fabulous when broken down. For instance,
1,000 employees per hangar, working in three or possibly four shifts, does not seem unreasonable, and Idlewild is planned for an eventual total of 40 hangars. Now consider the central administration building as projected. It will have a million square feet of floor space or about double that of the main RCA building in Radio City, j The RCA building houses a daytime population of around 15,000, most of ¡ whom work in offices. Idlewild, of course, will provide much larger public spaces but it will also require hundreds 1 of offices, shops, restaurants, rest and lmAige rooms, each calling for numerous | employees, and a small army of cusI toms, immigration, quarantine, aviaj tion and other federal offices, who will help swell the population.
The permanent administration building has been redesigned about 100 J times and still remains an architect’s j dream or nightmare. However, it will j contain one or more hotels, theatres, a hospital, consulates, clubs, and all the other appurtenances of a selfcontained, international community the like of which neither Jules Verne nor H. G. Wells ever imagined in their j trafficking with the future. Included ; also will be such items as central traffic control, linked by radio with the intercontinental world of flight, j and the world’s most modern weather bureau, atop a post office equipped to handle air-mail packages and letters. When you add all these together you j begin to wonder if the Mayor’s prediction of 40.000 employees isn’t a teeny bit conservative.
Pilots winging their luxury liners into Idlewild two or three years hence will find a ground layout unlike anything hitherto known in airports. Conventionally, such layouts have placed the loading and unloading aprons on one side of the field, with the waiting rooms, ticket offices and so forth immediately adjacent. As finally approved by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, the airlines and the Mayor, the design of Idlewild places the 300-acre administration oval almost in the exact middle of the field, with the runways arranged in a pattern of tangents.
Whether the arrangement looks most ! like an articulated pinwheel, a Martian spider, or a scratch-pad doodle is beside the point. Of greater interest is the fact that it represents the most advanced thought in airport design and is likely to become the model for all future metropolitan fields. Evolved after months of study and controversy, it permits triplicate take-offs and landings under all possible wind conditions and makes a maximum use of the lozenge-shaped area. Theoretically, with six runways available no matter what the direction of the wind, planes could take off and land at the rate of one a minute or 360 movements an hour. Even with present-day instrument flying, 240 landings and take-offs are guaranteed.
As novel as the runway pattern are the progressive schemes developed for the huge administration centre—to the public the core of the whole amazing project. In area only slightly less than two quarter-section farms, the centre will provide parking space for thousands of cars, entrance and exit roadways, and the administration building itself, a vast semicircular structure with entrances on different levels for various kinds of traffic. Two promenade decks will accommodate the hordes of sight-seers who will visit the field as they once went down to the depot to see the Limited go through, and six gourd-shaped loading platforms will make it possible to load and unload 90 planes at once.
Without Benefit of Press Agent
So much for the world’s greatest airport as it presently exists, on the site and in the minds of its engineers, architects, and principal crea ter, Mayor La Guardia. It has no press agent or public relations office, incidentally; if you want to find out anything about it you do youT own digging and take along your own camera.
But, in a sense, this is only the beginning of the story, the first $100 millions, so to speak, for its implications and ramifications extend far beyond the acreage on the shore of Jamaica Bay. For example, Idlewild may be only 14 3^2 miles from Times Square but in between are the cluttered streets of three boroughs: Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. To dodge them and provide an easy 30-minute journey from the airport to any part of the big city several new traffic arteries will have to bo built or completed.
One of these will connect with the financial district of Lower New York by wav of the Bay Parkway and the new Battery Tunnel (another $75 millionsitem). A second six-lane express highway will tie into the existing speedways on the North Shore of Long Island and give easy access to La Guardia Field, the Bronx, Connecticut, and the hotel and retail shopping district of mid-town New York? There is much talk, of course, about helicopter shuttle services between these various points but ldlewild’s planners seem to prefer proved realities, among them a third arterial highway which will by-pass New York altogether to reach New Jersey and the West byway of still another tunnel under the Narrows at the entrance to New York Harbor. The cost? Oh, possibly another $150 millions.
Even when the effects of Idlewild on its own immediate area are noted (including a projected airlines terminal in New York with a helicopter landing deck), we’ve only scratched the story. True, Idlewild makes it possible to visualize something of the revolution in transportation that lies immediately ahead of us, but the full scope of that revolution can only be obtained from the plans of the Civil Aeronautic Administration.
The CAA has a national plan for construction of 3,500 new airfields in the U. S. and improvement of more than half the existing 3,000 fields at a cost of about $1,250,000,000. “By investing $25 billions in roads during the last 25 years, we made the United States a nation on wheels . . . for a much smaller investment we start the United States on its way to becoming a nation on wings.” That’s the CAA slant on the breath-taking program outlined.
And this appears to be no Sunday Supplement dream, any more than Idlewild. The CAA estimates there is a total of six million prospective fliers in the U. S. and that 10 years after the war there will be 400,000 civilian airplanes against 25,000 at present. The airports proposed in the plan would be for both commercial and private flying, but 95% of the new ones would be small, suitable only for local service and personal planes. The CAA leaves metropolitan airport planning to city authorities.
For many years to come Idlewild will probably be the daddy of them all. Mayor La Guardia calls it his baby, and will talk about it by the hour. I’ve heard a number of his eulogies on his pet project and they’ve all ended in exactly the same way. When the Mayor finally reaches the limit of his descriptive powers he turns to h»s listeners and says:
“What’s the sense talking about Idlewild? Go out to Jamaica some day and take a look at it yourself!” He grins then, and adds: “I’ll bet you’ll say as I do . . , that it’s the goldarndest thing you ever saw.”