Most of us consider airports an unglamorous, necessary evil. Between the inevitable delays, grumpy travelers, long lines, and lost baggage, we can barely summon the energy to appreciate our surroundings, let alone how they were conceived.
Like us, past generations have envisioned a future of efficient, aesthetically-pleasing airports, and our 137-year archive certainly yields a few fantastical gems.
Just three decades ago, wave-powered landing fields, rotating airports atop skyscrapers and football arenas within terminals were all posed to revolutionize travel, or at least to get people to their destinations on time.
Even today’s most renowned facilities, like the Hong Kong International Airport, have nothing on the past imaginings of visionaries and architects. Click through our gallery for a retrospective look at the oddest (and most extravagant) concepts of futuristic airports. Only time can tell whether any of these features will be realized—maybe then, we’d enjoy flying a little bit more.
Experimental Cotton Runways: January 1939
As an experiment, airplane runways made of woven cotton were laid down on Reilly Field, Alabama, to determine their effectiveness as the underlying base of tar. We’re guessing that didn’t work out so well. Read the full story in “Airport Tests Cotton Runways”
Skyscraper Airport: November 1939
Can you imagine an airport with a built-in baseball stadium? Nicholas DeSantis, a New York commercial artist, could. The “aerotropolis,” as imagined in midtown Manhattan, requires a 200-story building and would have allowed commuters to fly to work in their private planes. Read the full story in “Skyscraper Airport for City of Tomorrow”
Floating Airport: February 1934
The “seadrome,” proposed by inventor Edward R. Armstrong, was designed to connect America and Europe with a series of artificial islands. Armstrong imagined that seadromes would function as refueling stations and provide overnight accommodations for travelers. Read the full story in “Uncle Sam Asked To Build Floating Ocean Airports”
Wave Power: May 1937
Apparently, floating airports were all the rage in the 1930’s. In this model, wave-operated outrigger floats power the station’s lights and machinery. Read the full story in “Floating Ocean Airport Gets Power From Waves”
Airport Ferry of the Future: September 1959
Today’s airport shuttles have nothing on these cushy mobile lounges, designed to wheel passengers back and forth from terminals to waiting planes. Read the full story in “Airport Ferry”
Rotary Airport: January 1937
Inventors imagined that rotary airports mounted atop office buildings would not only save space, but that they would allow planes to take off and land in gusts of wind. Read the full story in “Roof-Top Airport Turns with the Wind”
FLAIR, the Floating Airport: August 1970
“Nobody wants an airport for a neighbor!” Floating airports made a brief comeback in the 1970’s, when New York City became concerned about air traffic and fumes. Read the full story in “Flair — The ‘Way-Out’ Floating Airport”
Circular Runways: June 1966
In this design for a circular airport, endless banked runways give pilots unlimited room for landing and taking off. Navy pilots who tried landing in early prototypes initially reported that the experience felt “like flying into a hole.” Read the full story in “Coming: Airports Shaped Like Wheels?”
Air Taxis: October 2002
Don’t you hate how problems at one major airport clog up air traffic at all the other major airports? Engineers envision transitioning from large airports and commercial airlines to small business jets and small, unstaffed airports run by computers. Read the full story in “Taxi! Taxi!”
Airpark: March 1945
While on the cusp of America’s “Air Age,” and before noise pollution became an issue, we proposed that airports could serve as both a transportation station and a recreational facility. Read the full story in “You Can’t Fly Without Airfields”