The Forgotten Airport Of Northern Queens

BY JOE MARVILLI
Staff Writer

Although Flushing Airport closed 30 years ago, the question of what to do with the surrounding territory is still up for debate.

Although Flushing Airport closed 30 years ago, the question of what to do with the surrounding territory is still up for debate.

When you ask someone about airports in Queens today, you will likely hear them talk about LaGuardia or JFK Airports. However, those two were not always the only such facilities in Queens. It was only 30 years ago that Flushing Airport closed.

The area that used to be Flushing Airport has been a contentious territory since the airfield was decommissioned. Now, the land that separates Flushing from College Point has returned to wetlands, with the airport receding into history. Although the area’s future still needs to be determined, its past remains in the memories of many Queens residents.

According to a NYCAviation.com article by Alan Gross, Flushing Airport’s origin goes back to 1927. Originally known as Speed’s Airport, it was one of the busiest municipal aviation facilities in New York City for many years.

Its dominance, however, was short-lived. In 1939, North Beach Airport opened nearby in East Elmhurst. Renamed as LaGuardia Airport in 1953, the facility deeply affected Flushing Airport’s profits, a problem that would continue until its closure.

Still, before it closed, Flushing Airport played a significant role in Queens history. It served as the gateway to the 1939 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The airport also contributed to the war effort during World War II, acting as a Civil Air Patrol base and a location where patrol units flew missions out of College Point.

Flushing Airport was also a base for the Skytypers Air Show Team, an aerobatic team of six SNJ-2 World War II-era planes that appear at airshows around the United States.

Although Flushing Airport’s operations were further limited in the early 1950s by the construction of apartment buildings on the east end of its territory, it got a new lease on life as a launch station for blimps.

Things took a turn for the worse though in the early 1970s, when the airport’s operations turned over to Sunrise Aviation. During this time, the runway started to deteriorate and flood more often. The latter had been a long-standing problem due to the wetlands the airport was built on and near.

In 1977, disaster struck when a Piper Twin Comanche crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone on board. This incident, combined with frequent flooding and the further expansion of LaGuardia Airport a mile away, caused Flushing Airport to close in 1984.

The area has mainly returned to the wetlands it was before the airport existed. As of today, the area that used to be the airport remains closed to the public.

Many projects have been proposed throughout the years for Flushing Airport. One of the most controversial came last year from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He suggested that the remains of Flushing Airport be turned into new parkland, as a replacement for the acres that would be lost by the construction of a soccer stadium in FMCP. This plan was strongly criticized by civic leaders and elected officials, due to how far and inaccessible the additional parkland would be for residents living near the park. When Major League Soccer abandoned FMCP as a site, this plan for the site died with it.

For now, the remnants of Flushing Airport remain, located near the Whitestone Expressway, the USPS Queens Processing and Distribution Center and the New York Times printing facility. While the territory surrounding Flushing Airport is thriving, the question of what will go there is still up in the air.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, jmarvilli@queenstribune.com, or @JoeMarvilli.