The history of Everglades Jetports

The sixties of the last century became the heyday of jet passenger aircraft. The capacity and range of scheduled flights increased, and flights on them became cheaper. Traveling long distances from an inaccessible adventure turned into everyday life. Now even a person with a very average income could afford to buy a ticket, sit in a comfortable cabin, wave a silver wing to something and in a few hours be on the other side of the earth. The era of supersonic flights was about to come, which, as expected, would take flights to a fundamentally new level. In 1969, construction began on the world’s largest airport in Florida. From Everglades Jetport’s six runways, the latest Boeing 2707, these American rivals to the Concorde and Tu-144, would transport passengers across seas and continents to Europe, Asia and South America. But instead of the largest transport hub on the planet, a training airfield is now vegetating in the local swamps, where only 4 people work. What happened to this super project and why did it become “jet age swan song”?

supersonic race

The 1960s were a strange decade, when the sharp confrontation of the superpowers, which reached its peak in the crises of Berlin and the Caribbean, was combined with the romance of space racing. In the beginning, the Soviet Union successfully launched a man into space, and in the end, the Americans landed on the moon in an equally triumphant way. An enormous road by today’s standards was measured in just eight years, which gave a powerful impetus to all scientific and technological progress as such.

Similar competition existed in other areas, and jet aircraft were no exception.

The seemingly unattainable goal of overcoming the sound barrier was achieved by mankind before the conquered outer space. The speed of sound was first exceeded by the American test pilot Chuck Yeager on October 14, 1947 on a Bell X-1 experimental aircraft, followed by the rapid development of supersonic aircraft, mainly in the military field.

It was only a matter of time before the development of fighter and bomber planes would be followed by corresponding civilian programs. This time came already in the second half of the 1950s. In 1956, the Supersonic Transport Aircraft Committee was established in the United Kingdom. A little later, the United States and France took up the development of this promising direction. From 1961 to 1962, Britain and France merged, and the result of this joint work was Concorde, which made its first test flight on March 2, 1969.

In this sense, the Soviet Union lagged behind its capitalist European competitors and did not proceed to the practical work of creating the Tu-144 until the summer of 1963.

However, the theoretical basis developed by research organizations and design agencies was sufficient to precede the Franco-British cooperation. The Soviet supersonic Tupolev took to the air two months earlier than Concorde – on December 31, 1968, although the latter received a much shorter flight fate.

In June 1963, President Kennedy announced a program to develop a national supersonic vehicle. The work on a civilian aircraft of this type was carried out simultaneously by three large companies at once: Boeing, Lockheed Martin and North American – but in the end the last two concentrated on a military order, and the flying giant from Everett, Washington, was appointed responsible for this specialization in commercial aviation. , as part of the Boeing 2707 project.

Unlike its overseas competitors, the Boeing 2707 was intended to be a wide-body aircraft, which made it possible to provide it with a much larger capacity.

In the first prototypes, it was planned that the liner could accommodate up to 600 people, but then the appetite approached realistic (up to 300 passengers). However, it was still 3 times more than for analogues. Another important difference in the design of the Boeing 2707 was the variable geometry wing, which made it possible to improve piloting at subsonic speeds, but then, due to the complexity of the project, Boeing engineers were forced to use delta-shaped wings, classic for this type of aircraft.

The largest airport in the world

The supersonic flight, with all its advantages in speed, had a number of disadvantages. One of the main problems that had to be solved was the issue of sound boom. When an aircraft reaches the speed of sound, a shock wave is formed on its leading edges. For a person who, for example, is on the surface of the earth, it looks like an explosion or, as they say in other countries, a loud bang. This wave (or sound barrier) can, under certain circumstances, cause damage to the ground. For example, in 1964, after testing an XB-70 experimental aircraft in the Oklahoma City area of ​​the United States, the owners of houses along the airway bombarded the U.S. Air Force with lawsuits. The passage of that sound barrier in this case was accompanied by many broken windows and other unpleasant consequences.

In this regard, there are certain requirements for flights with such speeds.

The Federal Aviation Administration in the United States strongly recommended that they be carried out over the high seas at an altitude of more than 3 kilometers and at a distance of 25 kilometers from the coast. In the years when the development of civil “supersonic” still seemed cloudless, the main issue was the location of ground infrastructure to service such liners, that is, airports.

During the second half of the 1960s, an ingenious plan matured in the minds of officials working in the aviation administration of the Florida County of Dade. The intensity of passenger transport by air tended to infinity, the supersonic series was about to come. At the same time, in 1980, capacity at Miami International Airport, the state’s largest city and the only capital of Dade County, was expected to reach its limit. At the same time, the population of Florida began to grow by leaps and bounds in the 1960s. The state was quickly turning into an all-American health resort and at the same time a huge “nursing home”. Retirees from cold-tempered American regions began moving there for the perpetual tropical summer and sea air.

All this was accompanied by active housing construction.

Along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico, and even in the depths of Florida’s territory, more and more new cities appeared with tens, hundreds of thousands and then millions of inhabitants. Given all these inputs, the decision to create a new airport seemed very logical. And the longer, the more and more the appetite of local authorities grew – from the local level to the national scale.

In terms of geography, Florida really looked like a suitable place to organize a supersonic transportation hub. For Americans, it is conveniently located between the Asia-Pacific region, South America and Europe. At the same time, the narrow Florida “appendix” is surrounded by water on almost every side, which was a fundamental moment for the Boeing 2707 project. When taking off in almost any direction, this liner would immediately be over the sea, the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea, where it is calm and no disturbance would overcome the noise barrier, rise to the level and fly calmly to its destination.

Dade County was looking for a place for a promising airport and turned its attention to the Big Cypress Swamp area.

Firstly, it was relatively close (80 kilometers) from Miami, in the central part of South Florida, and secondly, both coasts were located at approximately equal distances, and from the Gulf of Mexico at that time there was an active new development, which would complement the potential passenger flows from the urban area of ​​Florida’s largest city. The only embarrassing circumstance was the swamp’s proximity to the famous Everglades National Park, but still the chosen territory was not within its boundaries. In 1966, the Dade County authorities gradually began to purchase land at the chosen site and eventually assembled a 100-square-mile plot of land.

The famous finale of the shock construction

Construction of the new airport began solemnly on September 18, 1968. It was assumed that in the future, the Everglades Jetport will have six lanes at the same time, and the object itself will be 5 times larger than New York’s JF Kennedy Airport. It was intended to be connected to both coasts of the state with transport corridors along which it was planned to build highways and a monorail railway. In addition, it was assumed that a suitable service infrastructure with hotels, shopping centers and office buildings would emerge around that noisy airport.

But almost at the same time as the start of construction, opposition to it also emerged. First of all, government officials and environmental officials were concerned about the impact of such a massive project on the Everglades National Park, one of the most important American wildlife centers, whose border was only 10 kilometers from the airport. During the proceedings, it turned out that no study of the consequences of the construction was carried out per se, and then Everglades Jetport’s work on the environment, which was also a blatant violation of the rules before the end of the 1960s.

Eventually, in the summer of 1969, such a study was commissioned by the US Department of the Interior. Dr. Luna Leopold, a respected Florida hydrologist who worked for the National Geological Survey, was given the responsibility. The so-called Jetport report that he prepared turned out to be a verdict for the project. In his essay, Leopold drew the following conclusion:

“The development of the proposed airport and associated facilities will drain land and develop agriculture, industry, housing, transportation and services in the Big Cypress Swamp, inexorably destroying the southern Florida ecosystem and thus the Everglades National Park.”

While dumps were buzzing back and forth around the construction site and the concrete work was in full swing, it suddenly turned out that in this very swamp bought by the authorities in Dade County, there are water sources that feed the Everglades, rare Florida cougars live, the same cypresses grow, after which the swamp got its name, and in general the territory is a natural habitat for one of the tribes of the local Indians.

In 1970, construction was stopped in agreement with the federal authorities. Ecologists won a convincing and unconditional victory. By this time, the construction of a 3-kilometer-long track had been completed. For a time, officials were looking for a new location for the supersonic “jet port,” but eventually abandoned the idea altogether. This was largely affected by the closure of the Boeing 2707 program in 1971. In view of rising costs for lunar exploration and the Vietnam War, funding was also considered “superpersonal” inappropriate. By this time, 115 orders had been received for the crashed aircraft.

In the future, it turned out that supersonic passenger transport is unprofitable, if not completely unprofitable, and the disadvantages of such liners outweigh their advantages.

The authorities in Dade County have carried out an extensive renovation of Miami International Airport, which resulted in it becoming clear that its capacity to serve the city and the region is quite adequate. Well, the failed largest airport in the world remained lost in the alligator-infected swamps with a runway. Initially, US airlines used it to train their pilots, but with the development of suitable simulators, this feature was no longer needed. Now there are rare take-offs and landings of private flights (and only during the day), car races are arranged here, there is no possibility of refueling and firefighting, and the entire staff is almost always limited to four employees sitting in a car shed.

Unfortunately, the romantic story of the world’s largest supersonic airport has become a victim of life’s prose and a rare example of the victory of people who protect nature over those who intrude on it.

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