DM AIRPORTS LTD, operators of Morristown Airport, is always looking for individuals who may have old photographs or paperwork pertaining to the development and operation of the airport. We would like to make copies of it for the airport’s historical archives. All materials will be returned to their owners. For more information please contact Darren Large at 973-538-6400 ext. 135.
On July 8, 1929, the local Morristown newspaper announced the opening of the new headquarters of the Morristown Airport at the old Niese place on Bernardsville Road. It had previously been located on the Kennedy Farm on Mendham Road. The article stated that the airport would be the home of the Country Aviation Club, which was under the supervision of Clarence Chamberlin, the second man to fly the Atlantic Ocean, and the first to take along a passenger.
In 1932, the Town of Morristown’s Mayor Clyde Potts purchased the Normandy Water works property at the Columbia Meadows. The purchase included 245 acres of land contiguous to the Normandy pumping station and adjacent to Columbia Turnpike. John D. Kay was directed to commence a study on the availability of that land for “airport and landing field purposes.” As a result of his final report to the Board of Aldermen recommending the site be utilized as an airport, steps were taken to secure the land for the eventual development of an airport.
The Columbia Meadows were left from the receding great Lake Passaic, which was, according to geologists, approximately 40 feet above the current Columbia Turnpike, and Park Avenue, which borders the airport. The Lake had been created when the glaciers receded from the area approximately 11,000-16,000 years ago.
Unlike the eastern portion of the state near Newark and Teterboro airports, which are on meadowlands that are just a few feet above sea level, the Columbia Meadows sit approximately 200 ft above sea level, surrounded by mountains which protect the area from wind.
In 1933, approximately 200 men began drainage and grading work on the future site of Morristown Airport. The project was funded under a Civil Works Administration (CWA) grant. Morristown was just one of several airports across the country designated as a federal relief project and as the federal government shifted money around, some of the workers were laid off and others worked without pay. Eventually, the funding ran out, and after only $30,000 had been spent, the work was stopped.
In 1934, the federal government again provided approximately $159,000 in federal funding for the construction of an airport under the Works Progress Administration (WPA) later renamed Work Projects Administration (WPA). Under the funding proposal, the Town of Morristown would be responsible for contributing $12,500 toward the project, of which approximately $10,700 would go toward the development of a hangar on the site. A large part of the work had to be done by machinery so the government leased some of the equipment from Morristown. The WPA funding was used to pay the workers.
As money began to flow into the Morristown Airport project, hundreds of men were again at work clearing and leveling the land. However, this time the goal was not only an airport, but also the “western terminus of the transatlantic dirigible service between Germany and the United States.” At that time, Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey was the arrival point for Zeppelins from Germany. However, the Graf Zeppelin company was looking to relocate the base further inland from the ocean due to the high amount of static electricity that was in the air closer to the coast and the frequency of electrical storms in that area. In an effort to keep the dirigible base in New Jersey, Gill Robb Wilson, Commissioner of Aviation of the State of New Jersey, proposed Morristown as one of 3 cities being considered for a new Dirigible base on the east coast. As work progressed on the site through the remainder of 1934-35, Gill Robb Wilson continued to push for the “lighter than air trans-oceanic commercial terminal,” at Morristown. On October 2, 1936, Wilson along with Dr. Hugo Eckener and others from the Graf Zeppelin Company toured the Morristown Airport Construction site. In a telegram sent to the Town of Morristown following the visit, Wilson stated that the site offered “the desirability of locating within commuting distance of one tenth of the nations population [and] possibility of self sustaining field in a metropolitan area… The area of the Morristown water works and the valley just east of Morristown presents favorable possibilities, the valley is a natural bowl sheltered from surface winds…”
On October 7, 1936, the German Zeppelin Hindenburg flew over the Columbia Meadows at Morristown, but did not land. The airship had taken off from Lakehurst, N.J. with 73 of the most influential civic and business leaders in the United States. It was headed to Manhattan and then to Morristown with the objectives of stirring interest by the business community and putting the giant airship on display over New Jersey to gain community support. Work continued on the site through the remainder of 1936. On January 27, 1937, the Town of Morristown received a letter from the assistant chief of the W.P.A. stating that funding for the airport project had been rescinded. For the second time, the project had been stopped due to lack of funding. Attempts were made to obtain more funding to restart the project through the spring of 1937, but with the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937, all discussions of a Zeppelin base at Morristown were ended.
For the next several years, the Morristown Airport site remained undeveloped, but with the outbreak of World War II, that would soon change.
In October 1940, the Civil Aeronautics Authority offered $385,000 in federal aid to build an airport for national defense. Bids for development of the airport were accepted in February 1941, by February of 1942 construction had started and additional $465,000 in federal aid was added to the project for a total of $850,000. On January 21, 1942, the president of the Morristown Airport Corporation, Edward K. Mills, Jr., submitted a detailed proposal for the award of a contract to conduct an army primary flight training center at the airport. For more than two years, the airport had been conducting a Civilian Pilot Training Program, a program that anticipated the coming war and the need for pilots. The Army’s response to Mills’ letter was that under the present policy, “such factors as weather, climate, and terrain, suitable for elementary flying operations precluded the establishment of such schools as far north as New Jersey.” This policy would be revisited as the United States went on the war offensive.
In the fall of 1943, construction of the airport was completed and on November 11-13, 1943 Morristown Airport was opened for public inspection. Following the public inspection, the airfield was closed off and operated as a military base. During the height of WWII, the airport served as a test site and training facility for Bell Telephone Laboratories and was utilized by army air corps and navy pilots for training.
In August of 1945, the Army returned the airport to, now worth $1,500,000, to the Town of Morristown to be utilized as a public use facility. While mainly used for small general aviation aircraft at the time, the Army also needed to use the airport as a depot for the 200 to 300 surplus aircraft that would be sold to the airlines and civilian companies. In 1946, Macrombie Airways Inc. and William H. Dutton Company contracted with the Town Morristown to put two Quonset hut hangars on the airport, and the Civil Air Patrol (C.A.P) erected buildings for use in training their pilots located on the facility. By January 1947, four flight schools, four aircraft dealers and an Airframe & Power plant shop were operating at Morristown Airport. The town also had proposed the development of 50 T-hangars which were built a few months later.
In 1949, increased traffic at the facility necessitated the purchase of a retired wooden control tower from the New York Port Authority. The 40 ft tower had been utilized at Teterboro Airport before it was relocated to Morristown. Installation was completed in the spring of 1950. Radio equipment for the tower was donated by the Morris Radio Club which was comprised of engineers from Bell Laboratories in Whippany, NJ. The tower would also become an integral part of the Ground Observer Corps (G.O.C.) which operated out of it through most of the 1950’s.
In early 1951, the Continental Can Company decided to relocate their Aviation Division from Roosevelt Field of Long Island, which was scheduled to close at the end of 1951. They erected a large hangar at Morristown Airport at a cost of approximately $225,000 and operated one of the first Corporate Flight Departments in the country. B-42 and C-47 aircraft left over from the war were converted into VIP transports and operated by the Continental Can Company to transport Company executives.
As Morristown Airport began to grow, it attracted many aviation firms in Morris County. At the time, these firms made Morris County a leader in research and development of aviation technology. In 1956, the airport held its second annual Air Fair drawing an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 persons with 1,300 vehicles. A series of jet fighters and a Navy blimp flew over the airport. Smaller static displays of airplanes and equipment adorned the airport grounds.
In 1958, Blanchard Securities Inc., contracted with the Town of Morristown to build a second large hangar at the airport, which was subleased to the Keyes Fibre Company. This was the first of several major hangar developments that were proposed and contracted through the end of the 1950’s included the Cessna Aircraft Company eastern region sales and maintenance base, completed in 1958.
The 1960’s again saw continued growth and construction of new hangars at the airport. In October 1961, the construction of a state of the art Air Traffic Control Tower and new Airport Operations building were completed. The projects were funded through the Federal Aeronautics Authority with a percentage being contributed by the Town of Morristown.
By July 1966, Morristown Airport was called the “VIP Stop.” Ranking 98th in the country in the number of airport movements i.e. landings and takeoffs, it was classed with glamour airports such as San Juan International, Las Vegas, and West Palm Beach. Over a 10-year period, movements had increased from less than 75,000 to 143,129. As Morristown continued to grow, it also began to face one of its greatest challenges as the area began to change from mostly rural open country when the airport was built, to a heavily developed residential area that continues to become ever more densely populated. The change brought neighbors whose demands for peace and quiet had to be balanced against the airport’s clients’ needs and its own need to grow to survive.
With the increase of jet traffic into and out of Morristown Airport, it eventually became necessary to lengthen Runway 5/23 from 4,000 ft. to 5,999 ft. In 1969, the Town of Morristown accepted a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to lengthen the runway, install new lighting and install an Instrument Landing System (ILS). By the early 1970, work was underway extending the runway, construction crews began excavating an area adjacent to runway 13 and moving over 1.7 million tons of mud, sand and earth to the approach of runway 23 in preparation for the extension, installation of the new instrument landing system (ILS) and other improvements had also begun.
In the fall of 1971, the newly expanded Runway 5/23 was dedicated and reopened for use. The runway expansion would be the beginning of many improvements made at the airport over the next 2 decades, included taxiway reconfigurations and new corporate hangars.
By 2002, there were several hundred aircraft based at Morristown Airport including jets, helicopters, turboprops, and others. Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11, it became the second busiest in the state that year due to the temporary closure of Teterboro airport. Today it is the third busiest airport in New Jersey; surpassed only by Newark-Liberty International Airport, and Teterboro. Over the last 35 years, the number of flights (arriving and departing) has averaged around 228,000 per year. Prior to the economic downturn in 2009, lowest total operations count in 35 years was in 1972 (181,936 flights) and the highest total was in 1980 (282,463). In 2009, it had 130,635 flights and was the eleventh busiest general aviation airport in the country.
Morristown Airport is classified as a General Aviation Reliever Airport. Reliever airports are designated by the FAA to relieve congestion at commercial service airports (usually around a major urban area) and to provide General Aviation access.
As a General Aviation Reliever Airport, MMU accepts private, corporate, air taxi, air ambulance, training, or military aircraft. The majority of New Jersey’s business fleet is located at Teterboro and Morristown Airports. Morristown Airport houses 12 corporate hangars, 11 individual aircraft hangars, four flight schools, one aircraft maintenance facility, and two full-service fixed base operators (FBO). In 1995, there were 416 aircraft based at MMU. This dropped to 325 in 2000 and 243 in 2009.
In addition to being a major transportation asset, MMU is also a major economic asset to Morris County. It supplies an estimated $187 million dollars to the community through total spending/output. Thirty-one companies base 59 aircraft at the airport. Several of these are Fortune 500 companies with headquarters based in Morris County.
Morristown Airport, which started with 280 acres in 1929, now covers 638 acres. It serves private and corporate aircraft in Morristown and Morris County.
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If you have any questions or comments regarding the newsletter or items of airport interest including notable events (promotions, awards, service anniversaries, marriages, births, deaths, milestone anniversaries, etc.) please contact Corey Hanlon at: [email protected].