Long Island may not be the birthplace of aviation but it is certainly the birthplace of international air travel.
On the morning of May 20, 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field airport and pointed his airplane towards Paris, making a successful transatlantic flight. Flying for 33 1/2 hours and covering approximately 3,600 miles, Lindbergh was the first person to fly nonstop from the United States to France. His feat opened up future international air travel between the U.S. and Europe, and now millions of people enjoy the same transatlantic air service Lindbergh did: cramped, hungry, and tired.
Roosevelt Field also hosted Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post, the latter using the airport to start an around-the-world flight in 1931. Roosevelt Field was located about 10 miles from JFK Airports’ present location and unfortunately closed in 1951 to be replaced with a shopping mall, businesses, and a college. For aviation buffs, The Cradle of Aviation Museum is located not too far from where Lindbergh started his flight, with a few old hangars still standing, and is worth visiting if in the Long Island or New York City area.
A Brief History
Roosevelt Field has gone through history with many names and with many forms of ownership. The airport was located 2.3 miles east-southeast of Mineola, Long Island, New York.
Originally called the Hempstead Plains Aerodrome, or sometimes Hempstead Plains field or the Garden City Aerodrome, it was a training field (Hazelhurst Field) for the Air Service, United States Army during World War I.
The Hempstead Plains Aerodrome originally encompassed 900 to 1,000 acres (405 ha) east of and abutting Clinton Road, south of and adjacent to Old Country Road, and west of Merrick Avenue. A bluff 15 feet in elevation divided the plain into two large fields. The U.S. Army Signal Corps established the Signal Corps Aviation Station, Mineola, on the west field in July 1916 as a pilot training school for members of the National Guard.
When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, the entire field was taken over and renamed Hazelhurst Field after Leighton Wilson Hazelhurst, Jr. Hazelhurst was a native of Georgia and was a graduate of the United States Military Academy. He reported for aeronautical duty at the Signal Corps Aviation School, Augusta, Georgia, on March 2, 1912. On June 11, 1912, while making a flight at College Park, Maryland, the plane crashed to the ground, and both the pilot and Lt. Hazelhurst were killed.
An adjacent tract of land south of the Hempstead branch line of the Long Island Rail Road was acquired for expansion, becoming Camp Mills along Clinton Road and Hazelhurst Aviation Field No. 2 to the east, part of the massive Air Service Aviation Concentration Center.
On the morning of 5 July 1919, the British R34 (airship) landed after crossing the Atlantic as the first aircraft in an east-west direction. It later returned to Britain being the first aircraft to complete an Atlantic crossing in both directions.
In 1919, it was renamed in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Quentin, who was killed in air combat during World War I.
After the armistice, the Air Service authorized several companies to operate from the fields but maintained control until July 1, 1920, when the government sold its buildings and improvements and relinquished control of the property.
Once in civilian hands, the owners sold portions along the southern edge of the field and split the remainder of the property into two separate areas. Curtiss Field, a 300-acre airport on the original site of Hazelhurst Field, occupied half of the western portion along Clinton Road. Roosevelt Field occupied the remainder, consisting of seven hangars and a large parking ramp adjacent to Curtiss Field.
Both fields were bought in 1929 by Roosevelt Field, Inc. The western field, called “Unit 2”, and the runway atop the bluff, called “Unit 1”, were connected by a broad earthen taxi ramp and the consolidated property was named Roosevelt Field. Unit 1 was sold in 1936 and became the Roosevelt Raceway, while Unit 2 continued to operate as an aviation center under the name Roosevelt Field. At its peak in the 1930s, it was America’s busiest civilian airfield.
World War II
Roosevelt Field was commissioned as Naval Air Facility Mineola in 1943. Its mission was to serve as a modification & delivery center for newly manufactured aircraft, primarily those purchased by the British. In 2 1/2 years, Roosevelt delivered 6,662 aircraft.
The 1944 U.S. Army/Navy Directory of Airfields described “NAF, Roosevelt” as having a 3,000 ft hard-surfaced runway and indicated that both Army & Navy operations were conducted at the field.
During World War II the Dade Brothers factory, adjacent to Roosevelt Field, which had been a home builder, was contracted by the Army to produce wooden wings & tails for CG-4 troop gliders. At its height during WW2, the airfield consisted of a total of 3 asphalt runways (the largest was 3,000 ft long), parking ramps, 6 large hangars along the northeast ramp, and numerous smaller hangars & other buildings.
After the war, Roosevelt Field reverted to operation as a commercial airport until it was acquired by real estate developers in 1950. The field closed on May 31, 1951.
The eastern field first became an industrial park but is now predominantly retail shopping, including the Mall at The Source on the site of the former runway, and townhouses, while the site of the original flying field in 1911–1916 has become a shopping mall.
Pingback: Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Thursday, May 6, 2021 – A FLIGHT FROM BROOKLYN, ONLY FOR A FEW YEARS
Pingback: Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Friday, May 7, 2021 – THE CONTINUING HISTORY OF THE SITE OF LA GUARDIA
Pingback: Roosevelt Island Historical Society » Thursday, May 13, 2021 – AN ARTIST OF VARIED STYLES