While JFK has always been famous for its themed terminals and record-breaking passenger traffic, Air Cargo has always been a big part of JFK’s history. In fact, as an Airport Modeler, I recently built a 1:400 scale diorama of the North Corner of “Cargo City” as it appeared in the seventies.
I was surprised at how many dedicated buildings, airlines, and aircraft were focused on cargo support at JFK. Searching for these rare aircraft models and displaying them at the cargo terminals and hangars used in the seventies was great fun.
Introducing Cargo-only jets became very popular with the advent of the 707 and DC-8. Airlines who operated these jets with passengers for several years converted some to all cargo aircraft and extended their life span for several more years. The seats and galleys were removed, and side loading doors and container tracks were added. The most famous cargo aircraft was, and is the Boeing 747. The 747 was originally designed to be a freighter aircraft, hence the upper deck and capability for nose-in loading.
The North Cargo Area was just as busy and colorful as the terminal area, although a bit more chaotic. Several air carriers come to mind, including Seaboard World Airlines, Lufthansa Cargo, Flying Tigers Line, TMA of Lebanon, British Airways Cargo, Northwest Cargo, and Japan Airlines Cargo. Brand new Boeing 747 Freighters were purchased (Lufthansa being the first in 1972), and it was common to find large numbers of these behemoths loading and unloading hundreds of container pallets in the north corner of JFK’s Cargo City. In addition to cargo, three prominent hangars supported maintenance for several U.S. and foreign carriers.
JFK has been the premier cargo hub for everything from racehorses to race cars, computers to oranges, millions of fresh-cut flowers from Columbia, and tons of mozzarella cheese from Italy. It also was the site of the famous Lufthansa Cargo heist, where thieves made off with $6M in cash and jewelry!
Sadly, many of these buildings, cargo carriers, and aircraft are long gone. However, if you ever wondered what it was like, these images in miniature scale serve as a reminder of the rich cargo history of JFK International Airport.