(CNN) – It was supposed to be the largest airport in the world, a glamorous intercontinental hub for supersonic aircraft with six runways and high-speed connections to surrounding cities. But today it’s little more than a runway in the middle of nowhere.
The Everglades Jetport, as it was called when the project started in 1968, began its life right at the end of the golden age of air travel, when airplane cabins were filled with the smoke of cigars and the clink of cutlery.
Concorde was close to its first flight while Boeing worked on an even larger and faster supersonic passenger jet, the 2707.
With a high forecast of demand for trips faster than sound, South Florida proved to be an ideal hub location as the dreaded “sonic boom” that made these planes undesirable inland guests could pass harmlessly over the open ocean.
But it shouldn’t be.
Commercial aviation was about to enter a different age, and environmental concerns led to the cancellation of the grand plan for the Everglades Jetport after only one runway was built.
This lonely runway functions as both a training ground and a nostalgic reminder of a dream that never came true.
Today the airport is known as Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport and is operated by the Miami Dade Aviation Department, which manages four other airports in the area, including Miami International – the third largest in the US for international passenger traffic.
It is very different from what the Everglades Jetport – also known as the Big Cypress Swamp Jetport – was supposed to be. “Some people think it’s abandoned, but it’s not,” says Lonny Craven, who manages the airfield for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. “At the moment we are only open from eight in the morning to 5:30 in the evening due to restrictions.”
In the original plan, the jetport should be five times the size of the New York JFK and carry futuristic supersonic aircraft with up to 300 passengers each.
To build it, the Dade County Port Authority bought 39 square miles of uninhabited marshland, 36 miles west of Miami’s business district and just six miles north of Everglades National Park.
“They wanted to put it halfway between Monroe Counties, Dade Counties, Collier Counties, and Palm Beach Counties for easy access,” says Craven.
A planned road and rail corridor 1,000 feet wide would connect the jetport to both the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
However, soon after construction began, environmental concerns emerged.
A 1969 report said the project would “destroy the ecosystem of South Florida and, with it, Everglades National Park.”
The report, supported by local residents and activists, resulted in the Everglades Jetport Pact, which halted all construction in 1970.
“The joke was that they paved the runways on the backs of alligators,” says Craven.
This is a scale model of the Boeing 2027 SST pictured at the Boeing Developmental Center in Seattle in 1969. The 2707 was supposed to be America’s answer to the Concorde.
AFP / Getty Images
Touch and go
In 1971, the Boeing 2707 project was canceled before a prototype was even completed, and the dream of a US-built supersonic passenger plane died with it.
The Concorde, which entered service in 1976, and its Soviet clone, the Tupolev Tu-144, were the only supersonic aircraft to ever populate a niche market.
At this point the whole idea was simply abandoned instead of trying to relocate the jetport.
The Tupolev Tu-144 was in service from 1968 to 1999.
What had been built on the airfield was never opened to passenger traffic, but its only runway – which is 10,499 feet long – became popular with pilots in training who took advantage of the remote location and lack of other structures in the area. “It was used a lot by airlines in the 1970s, 1980s, and probably until the mid-1990s, to get out there and touch and walk,” says Craven.
A “touch and go” occurs when an aircraft lands and takes off before it comes to a complete stop, and it is a common method for pilots to quickly gain practice on these crucial aspects of flying. “With the advent of flight simulators and the high cost of jet fuel, consumption decreased, but we still get military flights, mostly from the US Coast Guard, and small private planes.”
The Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport is what remains of the jetport dream.
Courtesy of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department
The Dade-Collier training and transition airport – whose airport code is the catchy TNT – does not have a terminal, but only an office in a 2,000 square meter trailer.
The construction site is usually manned by four employees who perform maintenance work and also provide security. However, there is no fire fighting or refueling equipment, and proper landing is not permitted outside of an emergency.
“We heard rumors that if the space shuttle had to make an emergency landing, it could go there,” says Craven.
There have been attempts to use the facility without contact. There have been some high-speed car races on the runway as fast cars can reach their top speeds. And there was a plan to organize an air show, but that would have required widening the road to the airfield to accommodate incoming traffic and no new construction is allowed.
Today the area around the airport is part of the Big Cypress National Preserve and home to wildlife such as alligators, deer, herons and bears.
The area that the airport also owns but is an undeveloped swamp is 26,000 acres. It could have been that big. “Miami International Airport is 3,320 acres,” says Craven.
“It should be the airport for tomorrow.”