If you've ever flown into New York City during the day, and landed at John F. Kennedy Airport, you might have noticed an odd sight. Directly across Jamaica Bay from JFK sits another airport - but one that clearly isn't used. Given that the New York City metro area boasts at least five airports in regular passenger service (JFK, La Guardia, Newark, Westchester County Airport and Long Island Macarthur Airport), what the heck is a sixth doing there taking up space in a city with such notoriously high real estate prices?
Well, that's Floyd Bennett Field, and it's now a park - one of the Gateway National Recreation Area parks that surround New York Harbor. Although no longer in service, the runways are still clearly visible, albeit with large X markings painted on them to prevent any confused pilot from attempting to land there even in an emergency, as the runways are obstructed.
Floyd Bennett was New York City's first municipal airport. It opened on May 24, 1931 after Charles Lindbergh had made his historic flight in 1927 and billed it as 'New York to Paris' which caused grinding of teeth in NY because he hadn't actually started from within city limits.
The airfield was modern and huge for its day, with four concrete runways, hangars big enough for the largest aircraft of the time and a large terminal administration building. Floyd Bennet was popular with record-breaking pilots, many of whom followed Lindbergh's lead of starting flights in New York, and now starting them from Floyd Bennett, inside the city proper. Wiley Post, Amelia Earhart, "Wrong Way" Corrigan and Howard Hughes, among others, began or ended record flights there.
By 1941, air travel had increased in popularity hugely. The one big problem Floyd Bennett had was that it wasn't really convenient to Manhattan and transportation - something JFK would deal with in spades decades later. Also, it had only one smallish building to serve as a passenger terminal, and as passengers began to become more sophisticated they began demanding amenities which needed indoor space in greater and greater square footage. in 1937, the City of New York took over the North Beach Airport on the northern shore of Queens, expanded it along the waterline and built new and bigger infrastructure. It was renamed New York City Municipal - LaGuardia Airport, after Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia, and it opened for business in 1939.
Since New York had a new, closer, large airport, it sold Floyd Bennett to the U.S. Navy in 1941, and it became Naval Air Station New York. It was used by the Ferry Command and by the Navy for antisubmarine patrols and training, as the convoys approaching and leaving New York Harbor needed aerial escort. The airport hummed with activity, for the Ferry Command was one of the busiest in the United States: every aircraft built here and destined to be flown overseas to a combat theater was checked out and then piloted by the pilots of the Ferry Command, many of them women, who were headquartered at Floyd Bennett. Grumman, General Motors and Chance-Vought all had aircraft plants near New York City, and the aircraft they produced were all flown to Naval Air Station New York to be fitted out and commissioned into the Navy, before leaving for their overseas duty stations.
After World War II, the airport remained with the Navy, as antisubmarine patrols in the Atlantic picked up as the Cold War escalated. In 1946, it was redesignated a Naval Reserve Air Station and served to support the Korean War and early Vietnam War squadrons operating in the Northeast.
In 1971, as the U.S. began to draw down forces in Vietnam, Naval Reserve Air Station New York was deactivated. It was handed over to the National Parks Service, and became a Gateway park.
Today, there are numerous activities and organizations using the Field. Sports arenas and field and track facilities have been built in some of the old hangars and adjacent on the open spaces of the apron. There are camping outings, wildlife trails (Jamaica Bay boasts a large area of nature reserve of which the Field is a part) and even an aircraft restoration organization in one hangar. The various buildings on the airport are used by several clubs and organizations, and there are remote controlled aircraft clubs using a section of one of the runways. Amateur auto racing events are held on the runways every once in a while.
While it's no longer an airport, it managed to remain an open and usable space in New York City, for which the City is grateful.