What Happened To Chicago’s Meigs Field

Readers of a sure age who use to take pleasure in early variations of Microsoft’s Flight Simulator would know Chicago’s Meigs Subject properly. The airport abutting Chicago’s downtown skyscrapers was a staple of the sport and familiarized hundreds of thousands of individuals with the airport. Me, I crashed into the water extra occasions than I can bear in mind making an attempt to recover from to Halfway.

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A Beechcraft pictured at Meigs Subject in 1973. Picture: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

Chicago’s Meigs Subject was one of many world’s extra iconic airports. Constructed on reclaimed land, the airport was a triumph of engineering and a predecessor to airports elsewhere built where there was once water. That is the story of Meigs Subject and what occurred to it.

Airport named after newspaper baron and aviation fan

You’ll be happy to know Meigs Subject didn’t get named after a politician. As a substitute, Merrill Church Meigs was Chicago based mostly newspaper writer and aviation fan. He argued Chicago wanted an airfield inside ten minutes of the Loop – an eminently wise concept. Mr Meigs acquired his approach when landfill acquired used to construct an airport out on the lake simply reverse downtown Chicago. Meigs Airfield opened in 1948. For a time, it was the busiest single-strip airport in the US.

As a business airport, Meigs boomed within the late 1980s. The runway was only one,189 meters, and an absence of land constrained additional growth. However the airport was common with turboprops bringing in commuters from surrounding states. Smaller jets, resembling McDonnell Douglas DC-9s additionally flew in for a time.

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The outdated terminal constructing at Meigs Subject. Picture: Tobias rad via Wikimedia Commons

One other nifty characteristic of Meigs was the scheduled passenger helicopter airline service over to each Halfway and O’Hare Airports. 12-seat Sikorsky S-58Cs acquired used for a time to switch passengers between the airports.

Over time, 12 completely different airways served Meigs Subject. Effectively into the 1990s, a number of airways had been nonetheless flying in. United Specific was flying in from  Lansing and Springfield. Trans State Airways was additionally flying to Springfield. Blade Helicopters was working common providers out to O’Hare and Halfway, a successor to the sooner Sikorsky flights.

Fifty-five years after opening, it was throughout for Meigs Subject. What occurred?

Why did Meigs Subject shut down?

The Chicago Parks District opened the airport. The Parks District is a neighborhood authorities company that operates alongside the Metropolis of Chicago. The 2 companies normally work collectively intently.

Within the early 1990s, the then Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley, mentioned he needed to shut Meigs and substitute it with a park. A few years later, the Parks District declined to resume the airport lease, and the sphere closed down for six months in late 1996. In early 1997, the airport re-opened.

Hindering Richard Daley had been varied curiosity teams who needed to retain the airport as a helpful piece of infrastructure. They used the courts and laws to maintain the mayor at bay.

Within the early 2000s, a deal acquired performed to maintain the airport open for one more 25 years. In change for expanding O’Hare, Meigs would keep open. However laws wanted to move by means of the US Senate, and it didn’t.

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Meigs Subject after Mayor Daley’s bulldozers gouged big Xs alongside the runway. Picture: Zargnut through Wikimedia Commons

Metropolis had management of the airport

The essential downside for individuals who needed to maintain Meigs Subject open was that the Metropolis of Chicago owned and managed the airport. The airport ran on a lease, however that lease had expired, and the attorneys hadn’t constructed renewal choices and clauses into the lease.

In 2003, Richard Daley made his transfer. He actually wrecked the airport. In a single day, metropolis work crews took bulldozers into the airfield and dug holes within the runway, rendering it unusable. It was unlawful. As a result of the airport had a charted instrument strategy, it was required to offer 30 days discover of closure to the Federal Aviation Authority. The Parks District didn’t. The Metropolis was additionally later discovered to have misappropriated FAA airport enchancment program funds (later repaid). There was additionally the small matter of parked plane now stranded on the airport.yor

Mayor sends bulldozers in at evening to destroy runway

The response was a mix of fury and grudging respect. Fury as a result of due course of acquired ignored, grudging respect as a result of Richard Daley made it occur.

Richard Daley was an attention-grabbing determine. He acquired issues performed, however what he did at Meigs was a turning level for him and his energy base.

“Chicago had made a pact with Daley. The town ignored the corruption, the cronyism, the offers, all that wild spending that might finally deliver town to the verge of economic spoil on the finish of his reign. Chicago shut its eyes to all that,” wrote John Kass within the Chicago Tribune in 2011.

“After Meigs, issues had been completely different between Chicago and Daley.”

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Small plane pakred on the outdated Meigs Subject. Picture: David Wilson via Wikimedia Commons

Meigs will get transformed right into a city park

Regardless of persevering with efforts to get Meigs re-opened, the midnight raid sealed Meig’s destiny. By 2003, the airport and its infrastructure acquired demolished. Richard Daley, now out of workplace, acquired his park, now referred to as Northerly Island. The reclaimed land had prairie grasses, a small beachfront, a lake, and hosted concert events.  But it surely falls far in need of the verdant parklands and wildlife haven Mayor Daley envisaged.

In 2019, the outdated airport website generated US$55,000 for Chicago Metropolis, largely through its use as a live performance venue and thru concessions. When Meigs operated as an airport, it pumped lots of of hundreds of thousands into the Metropolis’s coffers every year.

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From airport to parkland, what the outdated Meigs Subject appears like as we speak. Picture: DwightSchruteDunderMifflin via Wikimedia Commons

The way forward for Meigs Subject

Regardless of it been almost 20 years because the final aircraft touched down at Meigs, there’s nonetheless a push to see the land restored to its former use. No one expects to see United Specific jets contact down once more. As a substitute, its drones, helicopters, and rideshare providers like AspenJet, that would use the sphere sooner or later.

“Now, when there’s a race to supply new varieties of flying transportation referred to as ‘V-TOL’s’ that function like a big drone or small helicopter, already in use in some locations and the explosion of small jet plane journey, together with ‘shared journey’ providers, this airport could possibly be precisely the power {that a} rising fashionable metropolis wants,” Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson informed the AOPA Foundation web site final yr.

Meigs performed a giant position in fashionable aviation

It’s an attention-grabbing concept. Alas, Willie Wilson didn’t win the 2019 mayoral election. The destiny of Meigs Subject appears sealed. Mayor Daley all the time thought the airport elitist. Arguably, the typical Chicagoan would quite parkland than a small airport serving the jet-set crowd. What’s inarguable is the position Meigs Subject performed in aviation.

By way of Microsoft, it turned hundreds of thousands of youngsters into aviation followers and doubtless channeled many into aviation-based careers. Meigs was a profitable prototype for airports constructed on reclaimed land. It was additionally a mannequin for the profitable inner-urban airport we now see at locations like London City.

Lastly, there are worst fates than been was a park. A child may nonetheless stand within the grass and picture what was as soon as there. You couldn’t do this if it had been a shopping center.

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