History of Aviation

The history of Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) and its rapid growth is as exciting and vibrant as the rich history of Jacksonville and its surrounding communities. We believe that planning for the future requires understanding our past. A look at where we come from will provide you with important insights into our Airport System of today and where we're headed in the future.

30 Years in Aviation | 1912 | 1922 | 1923 | 1927 | 1931 | 40s | 50s |1965 | 1968 | 1982 | 1984 | 1989 | 1990 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001

30 Years in Aviation
In the beginning, pilots used the hard-packed sand of Jacksonville's beaches for runways. They were plenty long, but too far from downtown to be convenient. In those days, there were no scheduled airline flights and the railroad was king in Jacksonville. By 1923, local pilots began using a small grassy strip called Paxon Field, on the city's western outskirts (site of present-day Paxon High School). At the same time it was realized that a true airport was needed, one that could support large air mail and passenger aircraft. A thoroughly modern Jacksonville Municipal Airport was built in 1926 adjacent to the City Prison Farm on North Main Street.
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History might have forgotten Robert Fowler's transcontinental flight, because he was not the first to attempt the dangerous feat. However he was the first to fly west to east and choose Jacksonville as his destination. Despite breakdowns, it took his 30 hp Wright Model B airplane 115 days to fly here from Pasadena, California. The photo to the right shows Fowler landing at Montcrief Park Race Track on February 8, 1912.

Lt. James H. Doolittle started a record-breaking transcontinental flight from Jacksonville Beach at 10:03 p.m. on September 4, 1922. He made one stop for fuel in San Antonio, Texas, and landed in San Diego, California, 21 hours and 18 minutes later. Doolittle went on to become a Lt. General after he led the daring 1942 raid on Tokyo, Japan.
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A local pilot named Laurie Yonge offered airplane rides from the beaches. Rates were $5 for short hops, $10 for long rides, and $25 for aerobatics. His transport pilot license was the first issued in Florida, and his National Aeronautics Association card was signed by Orville Wright. It was Yonge, flying in the "Spirit of Jacksonville," who dropped an invitation from the air to the deck of a ship returning Charles Lindbergh and his "Spirit of St. Louis." In 1929, Yonge set the world's lightplane endurance record in a 90 hp. Curtiss Robin. He flew continuously for 25 hours and 10 minutes, a record that stood until 1939. No other aviator has brought such fame and success to Jacksonville both as a visionary pioneer and instructor pilot.

Charles Lindbergh visits Jacksonville. On October 11, 1927, Lindbergh flew here in the "Spirit of St. Louis" to help dedicate the new municipal airport and to help promote Jacksonville's fledgling aviation industry. At a time when aviation was still considered by many to be a novelty, he assured city leaders that air passenger service would span the nation.
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Though limited passenger service existed before, on January 1, 1931, Eastern Air Transport (later Eastern Airlines) began regular service. A small one-story wooden terminal building (600 square feet) opened that day. Pictured is a Curtiss Kingbird, a seven-passenger aircraft that could fly at 115 mph with a full load. There was room for one pilot but no stewardess! A flight to New York still took two days and depending on the weather could take longer than a railroad trip. Once aircraft were large enough, airlines introduced stewardesses to their flights. In these early days, stewardesses were required to be registered nurses and remain single. Turnover became so high at one point that one airline hired only men in an effort to retain trained cabin crews! (By the way, the men were allowed to marry.)

By 1939, war was being waged in Europe, Asia and Africa. The United States prepared for its eventual involvement by building new bases and airfields in the Jacksonville area. Laurie Yonge was given a government contract to train men and women to fly, and more than 1,000 pilots earned their wings under his supervision.

War comes to Jacksonville The U.S. Navy and U.S. Army Air Corps built six airfields for year-round training of USN and USAAF pilots. After the war, two airfields, Craig (CRG) and Herlong (HEG), were given to the City of Jacksonville for general aviation use.
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Originally named Jacksonville Municipal Airport Number One, the facility was renamed after Thomas Cole Imeson (1880-1948, pictured), city councilman and later longtime commissioner in charge of airports and highways. Imeson’s visionary work led to the creation of Jacksonville Municipal Airport, as well as improvements to its runways, hangars and terminal buildings. This facility served as the city's main airport for 42 years.

After World War Two, airlines struggled to compete with the railroads, and production of new civilian passenger aircraft took time to catch up with demand. Larger four-engine transports made travel faster and more comfortable. They could carry more lucrative airmail and cargo, too. Gradually, air travel became more affordable to more people.

By the late 1950s, Imeson Airport was too small to meet the needs of new jet-powered aircraft. The faster, heavier jets required longer, paved runways. More air carriers wanted to serve Jacksonville, and airlines like Eastern, Delta, National, and Southern needed more room as annual passenger figures soared into the hundreds of thousands. Taxpayers approve a $9 million dollar bond issue to fund JAX. Once again, Jacksonville needed a new airport with room to grow. At a time when supersonic travel was on the horizon, plans were set for Jacksonville International Airport (JAX).
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Just as construction for the new Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) was ending, management of the city's airports was given to the Jacksonville Port Authority. The decision was part of an overall consolidation of Jacksonville's government. Created in 1963 by the Florida Legislature, JPA quickly transformed the city's decrepit docklands into successful modern seaports. When responsibility for JAX, Craig (CRG) and Herlong (HEG) Airports was handed over in 1968, the stage was set for even greater growth.

New Airport The new JAX airport featured plenty of parking, modern jetways and concourses and two main runways.

Two Million Passengers JAX reached the two million passenger mark. Once again, growth spurred planning for terminal enhancements and runway extensions to handle next-generation jets like the Boeing 767.

Air Cargo grows at JAX. Soon FedEx, Airborne, UPS and other carriers move over 5,000,000 tons annually.

Another first for Jacksonville: The British and French designed Concorde SST stopped at JAX. By now, Delta, American, Northwest, Continental, TWA, US Air (now US Airways) and a host of feeder system airlines called on JAX daily.
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New $100 million terminal opened. Construction included the addition of 12 new airline gates and a new two-level roadway system and multi-level parking garage. Annually, 2,752,029 passengers traveled through JAX and air cargo carriers had moved almost 70 million pounds.

JAX is the fastest growing airport in Florida. JAX handles more than 100 departures and 100 arrivals daily, 16 airlines, and surpasses 4.5 million passengers annually. Jaxport celebrates thirty years in managing Jacksonville's airport system (JAX, Craig (CRG) and Herlong (HEG) airports). JAX begins airport Ambassador Program.

Additional facility and runway capacity added to Jacksonville Airport System. More than 6,000 acres of aviation related facilities and four runways are added when Cecil Field (VQQ) military base is transferred to JAA. JAX handles more than 105 arrivals and 105 departures daily, handled over 147 million pounds of air cargo, serves over 30 non-stop markets, and breaks five million passengers annually. JAX adds new 1,300 space economy parking lot and added customer service features. New mission set by Executive Director, John D. Clark, III - "We may not be the biggest......but we will be the best airport in the world".
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"We're Spreading Our Wings For The Future" - Watch Us Grow! JAX embarks on new Airport Terminal Expansion Program that includes three elements:

1. Parking
2. Expansion - Stage I (Landside/ticketing & baggage areas)
3. Expansion - Stage II (Airside/concessions & gates).

New 2,400 space garage parking construction begins in February - tripling current garage parking capacity. JAX adds 7 direct flights to New York, New York.

In May, 2001 the Florida State Legislature approved the restructuring of the Jacksonville Port Authority (JPA) into two separate entities (City J-Bill-1104); the Jacksonville Airport and Seaport Authorities effective October 1, 2001. The new Jacksonville Airport and Seaport Authorities will operate as local, public and independent authorities of Duval County.
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