Chicago’s Meigs Field: Then and Now
Some of you may know it as the nation's busiest single runway airport. Others may know it as the default starting position for Microsoft's Flight Simulator. Merrill C. Meigs Field Airport, commonly known as Meigs Field, was a general aviation airport on a man-made peninsula in Lake Michigan, just minutes from downtown Chicago. Although it ceases to exist today, the airport has had a history like no other. Meigs Field (KCGX) opened in 1948 and instantly became popular and successful, becoming the United State's busiest single runway airport just 7 years later in 1955. The airport was one of only a handful of mostly General Aviation airports to have an operating control tower. Meigs was situated on Chicago's Northerly Island, a peninsula that was originally built to be a large public park with just trees and green space. Ironically enough, thats exactly what it is today.The airport's single runway was just 3,900 feet long with a single parallel taxiway. A terminal building served as a place for passengers to wait for their flights as well as several offices. Four helipads were situated at the south end of the airport, allowing for both fixed wing and rotary wing operations. The airport's success occurred for a variety of reasons. First off, Meigs' proximity to medical centers and hospitals in downtown Chicago made it a critical arrival point for ill and injured patients, as well as organs to be transplanted. A few Commuter airlines operated flights through Meigs to destinations in the Midwestern and Northeastern United States. Air Illinois operated flights to Springfield, IL on Hawker-Siddeley HS-748's in the 1970's. This was the airport's largest regularly scheduled visitor. Other commercial carriers included Ozark Airlines, Great Lakes Airlines (United Airlines Express), and Britt Airways. To the complete shock of many, Chicago Meigs was suddenly destroyed overnight on March 31, 2003. The mayor of Chicago had ordered private contractors to bulldoze the runways, making them completely unusable. He did this without telling anyone, which meant that over a dozen aircraft were left stranded at the airport. Those aircraft eventually received permission to depart from the single 3000 foot taxiway. The mayor said his reason for demolishing the airport was due to the potential security risks associated with a busy airport so close to a major downtown area. Today the site of the former Meigs Field is exactly what it started out as, a park. All aspects of the airport were completely demolished by the end of 2003 and replaced with grasses and walking & biking paths. The park also has a large amphitheater that hosts concerts and other various events as well as a small beach area. Ironically, plans are in the works to open a Helipad on the island. Please share any of your memories or photos of Meigs Field, either now or when it was a successful airport, with Thirty Thousand's readers. Photos can be sent to KJD0008@Auburn.edu and I will be sure to share them with everyone else right here!