Exploring New York City’s Ghost Airport – A Trip To Floyd Bennet Field

This is the entrance to New York City’s ghost airport: Floyd Bennett Field.

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Before LaGuardia and JFK, Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first airport, at a time when nearly all air traffic was based out of Newark.

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Floyd Bennett Field was built at the southern end of Brooklyn on what was once known as Barren Island. At the time, Barren Island consisted of a marsh with dozens of smaller islands surrounding it. A small community existed on the island, and in fact, one man had even set up his own runway to take passengers on pleasure flights. The marsh was filled in in the late 1920′s…

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…and Floyd Bennett Field was opened on the site in 1930. Named for the famed Arctic pilot (who in fact lied about reaching the North Pole), the official dedication was marked by the flyover of 672 army aircraft.

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Today, the aerial view of Floyd Bennett looks very much the same:

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FBF was declared part of the Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972, with a number of its buildings added to the National Register of Historic Places. What this means is that when you visit Floyd Bennett Field today…

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…It’s like stepping back in time:

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Floyd Bennett Field is a great place to explore by bike, because the enormous expanse has so many neat things to discover.

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The crown jewel of the bunch is the old Administration building (seen below on bustling Flatbush Avenue)…

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…which looks as though it were built yesterday:

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Originally, this single building served as passenger terminal, air traffic control, baggage and freight distribution, and sleeping quarters for air crews.

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One of my favorite details in all of Floyd Bennett Field is the insignia on the roof:

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The building’s clock, also from another era:

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But probably the most fascinating element is the control tower…

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…which was actually added when the Navy took over the field in the 1940′s.

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At the time of Floyd Bennett’s construction, Newark was the primary airport serving New York City. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia pushed hard for the airlines to switch to Floyd Bennett, offering waterplane service directly to Manhattan (seen below – what an amenity!).

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However, at the time, passenger travel was a luxury, and in fact most air travel was centered around freight and postage. When the US Postal Service refused to move out of Newark, so did most of the other airlines.

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I have to admit – when you’re parked at one end of Floyd Bennett’s 4,000 foot runaway, it’s really, really hard not to ignore those pesky 25mph signs and see if your car can take off (doesn’t work, sadly).

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Over its 9 years of operation as a commercial airfield, numerous important and record-breaking flights left from Floyd Bennett – see the very impressive (and often amusing) list here. However, LaGuardia Airport’s opening in 1939 sounded the death toll for Floyd Bennett Field, and it was purchased by the Navy in 1941.

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The Floyd Bennett historic district consists of the Administration Building, as well as a number of hangars and repair shops.

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The below picture taken in 1931 offers a better idea of the layout – the Administration Building is in the center, surrounded by hangars.

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Two of the hangars have been beautifully maintained and repurposed as a sports and events center:

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In fact, one wonders if Hangar 8…

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…is the hangar in the background of this picture featuring Amelia Earhart at FBF (note the arched corner):

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Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the remaining buildings, which are all in pretty terrible states of decay. Take Hangar 5, for example…

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…and compare it to this photograph taken in the 1930′s. The man in the picture? Howard Hughes.

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Interestingly enough, the degradation has revealed just how many entities have called these hangars home over the years, as seen in the overlapping signage:

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I love the old emblem of “NYC” in wings…

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Connecting the two hangars is a central building…

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…which has some really great art deco details:

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Above the door…

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…a very cool rising sun motif…

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Meanwhile, at the roof, the same insignia seen in steel on the gates:

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Unfortunately, as bad as those hangars are, these are even worse:

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It appears they’re doing some level of stabilization to the interior…

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Next door, the entire roof is gone:

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This is the former garage and maintenance shop…

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Inside the entrance:

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Ouch. Really doesn’t get any worse than this:

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You know a building’s been forgotten when the trees start gaining height…

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The other side of the building…

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I wonder if this was a bay for repairs:

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Behind the garage are a series of buildings I haven’t been able to identify. I’m guessing they’re offices or barracks dating to the field’s Naval usage, which lasted until the site was decommissioned in 1971:

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At some point, I think this also was used by a police operation, perhaps the United States Park Police.

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Today, of course, it’s as abandoned as everything else:

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Inside, your standard municipal color scheme:

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Room after empty room:

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Old parking spaces marked on the ground:

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I love finding old sidewalks in overgrowth:

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Inside one of the larger rooms – note the enormous National Parks sign on its side:

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Same room, different angle:

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In between buildings (ha, I actually dropped my keys here while I was exploring; I still can’t believe I managed to find them!).

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Another building, its roof collapsing:

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Clear across the field are a few more buildings of note. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked to find a warehouse like this for hitmen to meet in.

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OK, seriously. You’re a hitman. You’re probably paid very highly for your work. This is quite possibly THE most suspicious place you could be caught meeting a client in. WHY DO PEOPLE INSIST ON REPEATING THIS CLICHE OVER AND OVER AGAIN?? I mean, look at this – would you want to meet someone here if you were a hitman??

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Another dilapidated warehouse…

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I love the old wooden doors:

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A bench in profile:

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This particular warehouse looks creepier from the side:

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Inside the entrance to the warehouse…

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…and how it looks further in (obviously split into two floors):

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Finally, I took a swing by Hangar B, built in 1941 by the Navy to house sea planes.

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It doesn’t have as many details as some of the other buildings, but Hangar B houses its own secret inside…

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A volunteer aircraft restoration program, in which airplane experts and enthusiasts gather to save the flying machines they love. The hangar is often open to the public, and it’s definitely worth checking ahead before visiting:

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Picture courtesy Flickr user Petit Hiboux

Here’s my recommendation. As soon as the days start getting warmer, pick a Saturday, pack a lunch, get a bike, and head out to Floyd Bennett. BUT DON’T PLAN A ROUTE!! Instead, feel your way to FBF. Starting from, say, the Brooklyn Bridge, your goal should simply be to head South and East. Try to resist checking your map as much as possible. I’ve done this twice now, and each time I’ve found myself on streets and in neighborhoods I had no idea existed.

Once you’re there, have a picnic, then go exploring.

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Boating off Floyd Bennett Field circa 1931

 

-SCOUT

PS – A mishap at Floyd Bennett Field (according to the notes, the plane flipped forward while trying to take off):

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PPS – To answer some questions in advance, 1) no, you cannot film in any of the buildings that are run down, as they would most likely collapse and kill you, and 2) no you can’t go exploring in these buildings either.

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47 comments

  1. I’ve been to Floyd Bennett many times (I live a few minutes away). There are some other interesting buildings: http://www.flickr.com/photos/b_rubenstein/6199353530/ and interesting sights on the Dead Horse Bay side of Barren Island: http://www.flickr.com/photos/b_rubenstein/6403148385/

  2. One of the runways is still in usable condition, and on occasion aircraft use it for air shows. I suppose it could also be used as an emergency landing field for an airliner experiencing trouble right after takeoff from JFK, though AFAIK that has never happened.

  3. I really enjoyed your take on FBF. Such an interesting and relevant piece of NYC and NY State history.
    Nicely done.

  4. Janice Delaney Stearns

    Wow – I so enjoyed that. I am from Bklyn, but have never been there and always wondered about FBF. Thanks for the tour – maybe I can get there again someday…living in Vermont now. Thanks Scout!

  5. What a great piece about some place I didn’t know existed! But of course, so much of it is familiar. Strange that I don’t remember hearing about it at all, and I’m 3rd generation NYer. Perhaps not so strange, though, when my family wasn’t the flying type, especially in the 30s! Thanks!

  6. Great piece. For many years, traveling between Flatbush and Breezy Point, my family would pass Floyd Bennett. There were US Navy ships docked on the bay side and a decommissioned F-15 fighter was positioned right outside the entrance gates. Years later, the NYPD used the filed for defensive driver training. There were a number of NYPD marked cars, rather “wrecked” marked cars, scattered throughout the fields. NYPD Aviation used the field for its helicopters. Not sure if that is still the case.

  7. I have explored FBF by bike as well. Walking it is not as interesting – it is pretty big. The trails to walk on the northern side I found boring here – although a Park Ranger leads a cross-country skiing outing after the first snowfall of each year on the trails.

    Sometimes it can be fun to watch folks flying their model airplanes – the model strip is on the northern side – near the walking trails.

    Plus there are some campgrounds available as well – the part closest to the bridge going south. Who would have thought you can camp in Brooklyn?

    It is also super easy to get to via bike by just hugging the belt parkway from either Queens or Brooklyn or crossing the bridge from Riss Park/The Rockaways.

  8. I believe NYPD Aviation is based there.

  9. Awesome stuff. I went to FBF during Open House NY a few years ago and got to go into the administrative building and the control tower (which was sort of a minor lifelong dream of mine; I think I made my girlfriend take about 40 pictures of me in there). The administrative building has a little museum on the ground floor, so I guess it must be open to the public sometimes. The upper floors are very cool, though in varying states of restoration. I believe some of the hangers were open during the tour, as well, but we didn’t have any way to get over to them, though some of the members of an official tour we surreptitiously attached ourselves to offered to give us a ride. Love it out there.

    FBF also has a fairly prominent role in the book “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill, which has some wonderful passages about the outskirts of Brooklyn (especially impressive given the writer is English).

  10. We go to the beach here still, accessible by a bus that takes you directly from the subway. My dad’s drum & bugle corps used to practice here when I was a girl in the mid-late 50s.

  11. ♥ FBF – the rangers have always been super nice whenver I have called about shooting out there :)

  12. If you bike out to FBF, you should also take the time to explore Dead Horse Bay! Come for the history, stay for the historic trash along the shore!

  13. I used to live in an apartment on U btwn 28th and 29th. I remember back in the late 60s seeing thick black smoke rising from the direction of Floyd Bennett while looking out of the window of that apartment. As best as I can recall, I was told that a bomber had crashed, I think a B-17. I did a search some time ago online but was unable to find anyting out about the incident. Does anyone remember this?

  14. I lived just across the bridge at the end of Floyd Bennet, Rockaway,
    and went to High School in Brooklyn. The bridge, the Marine Parkway, would link Queens (Rockaway) and Brooklyn. It was the “marker” for
    us Rockaway kids, and there were many, who would take the Flatbush
    Ave. bus to home. Great memories from the pictures and stories Scout and I’ve emailed quite a few old friends linking your site. One suggestion is if you want to explore an incredibly beautiful ocean view location, go to Fort Tilden, just a short half mile from Floyd Bennet. You most certainly will find this “oasis” hard to believe exists in NYC.
    Bjmack

  15. I can tell you with certainty that the NYPD uses portions of the area for driver training andavaition units. I was there last week avoiding cones on the course and was happy indeed to discover the campgrounds. Never mind a day picnic, I’m packing a tent and staying overnight!

  16. Floyd Bennett is a jewel in the city! There is a huge community garden there as well as the Aviator Sports Center. It also houses training for NYC Bus Drivers and the NYC Sanitation Department. You can also camp at Floyd Bennett as there are dedicated tent and RV spots. The first weekend of each June, the native American Pow-Wow comes to teh Field and it is amazing. There is so much to do there and it is 10 minutes from my house. Great way to “escape” the city without really leaving.

  17. On Tuesday evenings from May to August, there are amateur US Cycling Federation bicycle races on the historic runway loop.

  18. I was wondering how long it would take you to get here. As always I like your take on an interesting subject. There are a million stories out there just waiting for the scouting touch. And just how fast did you go?

    • Oops, should have mentioned that. Casual pace, I think it takes about 2-3 hours or so from the Brooklyn Bridge, depends on how many water breaks you take.

  19. In the mid-fifities, we would go a couple of times a summer to Riis Park, and traveling the last leg of the trip by city bus, we would pass by a still-functioning FFB. Never a beach lover, the sights of the all the Air National Guard planes (mostly Korean-War vintage) was the high point of the trip for me.

    Once on the beach itself, I’d be thrilled to see the the different types of aircraft flying in low, preparing to land, and I guess that was the beginning of a lifelong interest in aviation.

  20. How well I remember Floyd Bennett Field.
    As a little boy of 14 I would pedal my bike from (East 22nd st and Avenue “U” to Floyd Bennett Field.
    I had a job on weekends. It was to Yell and bark Out. “Take a ride in the “Red Bat” ( It was an open cockpit Red Waco Bi-plane) for $3 snd see the Statue of Liberty…. I watched General Italo Balbo led a group of 25 Savoia-Marchetti S-55X seaplanes, and Francesco de Pinedo , an Italian General, crash during Take off . Then as a kid this was the most tragic thing I had ever seen in in my life.

  21. i think, though this is unverified, that it was an old mafia thing to sign contracts for hits in run down buildings that smell like pee. un dunno,its just what some one who would know told me.

  22. The problem with Floyd Bennet,and the rest of Gateway,is no money.The park service took it over,with no idea what to do with it,and no funding. I know that NYPD used it for driver training,and the aviation unit.I was supposed to go for scooter training there,but didn’t get to.The only time I remember going on the site,was for a new car show,about 1980.And movies using old warehouses for meetings is still being done. One of the last Sopranos shows,did it.

  23. I live in Downtown Brooklyn and bike to FBF pretty often. Usually takes me about 90 minutes. Obviously, there are endless routes take, but I like shooting up Union Street to Prospect Park, riding the loop until Coney Island Ave, cutting over to Ocean Parkway at Church Ave, then taking the bike path all the way down to Coney Island. I’ll take a left on Neptune Ave, ride through Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, eventually linking up to Flatbush Ave (you gotta do some zig-zagging)…Take a right on Flatbush and bike straight out towards Rockaway. FBF will be on your left and you can’t miss it. The entrance will be a little closer to the Rockaway toll booths.

    Such a great ride. Enjoy!

  24. Unfortunately, as with most federal parks, the money goes to the marquee venues. What is really sad is that within the Gateway Park System all of the money goes to Fire Island and Sandy Hook. My first visit to FBF was for an open house event where there was several dozen planes on display that you were able to walk around and inspect the aircraft.

    As to FBF, I will usually get there a couple of times a year by bike and have always relied on the runways as a way of clocking extra mileage and running sprints with friends. On a few occasions, I have stopped for lunch at the model airplane club and watched the people there. As several posters have mentioned, it is the only place in the 5 boroughs that you can legally tent camp. Over the years I have attempted to get friends to tent camp there for a night, but no takers. I would be willing to do it in the winter when there are no bugs.

    I recall about 3 or 4 years ago on two separate occasions outside sets were constructed by the Hanger B; one was a city street and the other was a rail station. On another occasion I remember seeing a Concord Jet on a barge that I believe was going to the Intrepid.

    • I know the movie “Salt” was filmed there recently. I never saw the film, but I heard that anything in the jungle of Korea was really FBF.

  25. Great post. I coached some hockey camps out in the hangar this past summer and wondered what amazing stories this place held. Thanks for the post Scout.

  26. I was in Troop 326, Brooklyn NY, some time around 1956 there was a Scouting Event called “Wings over Floyd Bennett,” where the scouts, including me, got to take a ride in a B29 or B52 Bomber. We actually put on Parachutes and were given a 15 minute plane ride. Does anyone remember this event? davis.park@yahoo.com

  27. This was a fascinating piece. I was born and raised in the Brownsville section of Brooklyh. When I got married, we moved to Sheepshead Bay,then Coney Island, and finally back to Sheepshead Bay. In 1957 and 58, when I was in the US Naval Reserve, I was stationed at Floyed Bennett Field. Brooklyn was a great place to live and grow up in. I moved to NJ in 1972,but commuted to NYC, untiil I retired, and moved to Florida.

  28. The old administration building kinda reminds me of The White House.

  29. I grew up over there and watched FBF go from a sleepy run-down national park to the current busier and better known park that it is. Same with Tilden. I miss the days of being able to drive around all over the old runways only having to dodge the occasional model fliers.

  30. I was there 75-77 and it was known as Naval Air Reserve Detachment, Brooklyn NY. That was the last Military presence except for the Coast Guard next door. I was the Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman and maintained a clinic on the second deck of the Hangar. I only recall 1 Hangar and the Admin. Bldg. We had 21 active Navy members. Carl Lahr was the CO. Many Navy Reserves drilled on the week-end. Ms. Lou Segona was the CO’s Secretary. At that time a group known as Jewish war veterans had a chapel and held services on the same deck with my clinic. some members of the military was Dr. Lowell Levine (reservist), Glen McNelly (Aviation Store Keeper), Ron Germond, PHC Rheam, and too many more to mention. I don’t see much of this period in the various postings about FBF. I would like to hear from those with me. E-mail Ray McConnell,HM1 at:rajan14@xipline.com

  31. I actually flew in a blimp ride from there back in 2003, sponsored by Fujifilm to promote their new telephoto lens. We flew out over Coney Island and around to the harbor and back – it was incredible! I went back with my husband a few years later when we had a car at our disposal and took a bunch of photographs inside Hangar 1. Someone had cut up what looked like a silk parachute into a beautiful lace wing:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/petithiboux/737642177/in/photostream/

    It’s really magical out there. Thanks for sharing it.

  32. Are the runways being used for much of anything these days? Seems like it’d be a great place to host a historic auto racing event, with plenty of course options and no shortage of room for pits, vendors, and spectators.

  33. I wonder if I can get permission to fly in to F/B field with my little Ercoupe?
    It would be a dream come true
    Ed. B

  34. …many years agao my Uncle was in the Navy stationed at FBF…he lived there with his wife my Aunt…I seem to remember the housing, the play ground, also one thing stuck in my mind, a plane crash, it had to be in 60′s…I remember the loud noise the building shake, think I remember my uncle saying it was a jet.

  35. I lived at Flyod Bennet, with my family while my husband was stationed at the Coast Guard air station. While trying to find pictures that might have been taken of the airfield I could not scope out where they would be. That would have been in the late 70′s. We left FBF in 1980 for DC.

  36. In the mid 50s the New York Daily Mirror sponsored the “Mirror Meet” at Floyd Bennett Field for various classes of model planes. I flew in one of them, probably in 1956. I was one of only a very few girls to compete. (Did well in the 2 classes I competed in, mostly because there was so little competition.)

    It’s always sad to see beautiful Art Deco buildings abandoned and falling into ruin.

  37. I was out there yesterday and wandered into Hangar B, where I met Tim Chopp and his compatriots from the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, who are busily at work restoring the giant Boeing C-97 that they flew in there back in 2003. Distressing news: Due to damage from hurricane Sandy (the hangar is now a hardhat-only zone), the hangar may be demolished within the next 18 months. Wonder what will become of the planes? The HARP exhibits look as if they haven’t been touched in many months. Here’s a clip of the C-97′s arrival at Floyd Bennett: http://www.spiritoffreedom.org/.

  38. I remember Floyd Bennett field very well. I lived there for a year and a half in 1954 – 1955 while I was in the US Navy. I was assigned there after graduating from electronics school in Great Lakes, IL. I worked at the “Transmitter Building” at the north end of the field. We maintained all the ground electronics at the base including the transmitters and receivers an the control tower. The transmitter building housed the big transmitters used by the 3rd naval district command in Manhattan used for world wide communications. At the time it was used a a Navy reserve training base and was only busy on weekends. There were very few regular Navy sailors there full time and we were called “station keepers”.

    The Navy shared the field with many other services including the NY Police aviation, Coast Guard, Air National Guard and Marine Corps aviation.

  39. I worked at the administration building in 1989 in the south east basement which included a new double exterior double door and frame, the contractor I worked for had a contract to build a new room for NYNEX for a fibre optic relay switch going to the Rockaway Islands, I got terraibly sick from the march winds blowing thru the abandoned basement. While there I discovered a small closet in the basement which led into a beautiful marble stair passage down into a underground tunnel which led 100 feet out from the rear of the building beneath the runway area, then formed a tee which went left and right another 50 feet, these tunnels ended at a double stair vestibule which went up to the surface, it was all closed up long ago. you could see timbers placed in the surface openings with tar dripping down theu the wood members. I mentioned this to my father who had worked for the GAS as a stationary engineer at FBF in the 1950″s. He told me he was on a work detail to remove the surface entrance’s above and close them up with large timbers and he poured hot pitch to seal them, then concrete above and asphalt. At that time the NPS has a exhibit room in this building with a large old aerial photo of the area which showed 5 hangers and 2 canopyes with redius ends in the middle of the landing area. Floyd had built them to provide the passengers a way to enter and exit the building to the planes in bad weather. The entry to the passage was covered over with plywood painted dark grey, other had cut a man size hole in the partition for access. The park service people had no idea of this until I took them on a flash light tour. History under their feet. Hopefully they restored it for public view.

    • Doug, I work for Verizon, and I am at FBF often,. Many years ago a park ranger took me on a tour of that tunnel you’re referring to. I go down there still from time to time, just to absorb the history. Unfortunately, it’s still all abandoned and dilapidated. The old cigarette advertisement posters have long been taken down.

      I would enjoy taking the administrator of this scouting NY site some day, to show him and have him take photos.

  40. i loved your post.I am 61 and grew up in new mill basin and have been to fbf dozens of times over the years.there is a couple of interesting items you omitted.old runway 19 today is used by parcs(pennsyvania ave remote control )they fly scaled down planes and jets.i was there today in fact on my bike watching a man fly a 1/8 scale of an
    f16 fighter.it should also be mentioned that in the southeast corner there a very nice private beach and fishing hole.

  41. Llynnette Johnes

    It has been very interesting looking at this information on FBF. My dad was stationed there in the early 1940′s with the Coast Guard…. 1941 and 1942. My mother lived in Brooklyn and often talked about Flatbush Ave. This is nice history. It would be cool to know which building he lived in and which hanger he worked out of. Thanks for the info…. LJ

  42. There’s a tunnel between the terminal and the tarmac that was used for passengers in bad weather. I had hope to go inside it during one of the city’s open house events but they changed their mind at the last minute and didn’t let anyone in it. I have heard the walls still have ads from the 40′s.

    • GB, I was in that tunnel recently, and unfortunately, all the ads have been removed, there is no lighting down there, and the government would never let anyone down there in the condition it’s in. But, of you wanna meet me at the field some day, I would be glad to show it to you.

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