Everglades Jetport – Credit: The AirportHistory.org Collection via Miami Dade Aviation Department
The Everglades Jetport, as it was named when the project launched in 1968, began its life right at the end of the Golden Age of air travel, when plane cabins were covered in smoke from cigars and filled with the loud clinking of silverware.
Boeing was working on a large-than-life supersonic passenger plane, the 2707, while Concorde was preparing for its first flight.
With an increasingly large demand for faster-than-sound travel, South Florida seemed like the perfect spot for a hub. This was because the dreadful “sonic boom” that made these airplanes unwelcome guests inland could occur harmlessly over the open waters.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Commercial aviation was on its way to entering a different stage, and environmental concerns led to the cancellation of the entire plan for the Everglades Jetport after only one runway had been constructed.
Now, the single runway functions as both a training ground and a memory of a dream that never fully materialized.
Today, the airport is named Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport and is run by the Miami Dade Aviation Department, which manages four separate airports in the area, including Miami International. Miami’s airport is known to be the third largest in the U.S. for international passenger traffic.
It is extremely different from what the Everglades Jetport, also known as the Big Cypress Swamp Jetport, was meant to be.
“Some people think it’s abandoned, but it’s not,” says Lonny Craven, who manages the airfield for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department. “Right now, due to restrictions, we only have it open from eight o’clock in the morning till 5:30 at night.”
In its original plan, the Jetport was supposed to be about five times the size of New York’s JFK International Airport and handle airliners that could carry up to 300 passengers each through its futuristic supersonic technology.
To begin construction, the Dade County Port purchased 36 square miles west of the Miami business district, 39 square miles of uninhabited swampland, and six miles north of the Everglades National Park.
“They wanted to put it smack dab in the middle between Monroe County, Dade County, Collier County, and Palm Beach County, for easy access,” says Craven.
The Atlantic Coast and the Gulf of Mexico would both be accessible from the Jetport via a proposed 1,000-foot-wide rail and road corridor.
But soon after building began, environmental issues started to surface.
A 1969 report stated that the project would “destroy the South Florida ecosystem and thus the Everglades National Park.”
Supported by activists and local residents, the report led to the Everglades Jetport Pact, which brought all construction to a halt in 1970.
“The joke was that they were paving the runways on the backs of alligators,” says Craven.
Touch & Go
The Boeing 2707 project was scrapped in 1971 before a prototype was even completed, and with it, the hope of a US-built supersonic passenger aircraft.
The Tupolev Tu-144, a Soviet copy of the Concorde that entered service in 1976, would be the only supersonic airplane ever to fly in what would turn out to be a very specialized market.
At that point, the entire plan was simply dropped rather than attempting to relocate the Jetport.
The portion of the airfield that had been constructed never saw passenger traffic, but its lone runway, which is 10,499 feet long, quickly gained popularity among aspiring pilots who took advantage of the area’s isolation and lack of other buildings. “It was used a lot through the 1970s, the 1980s, and probably into the mid-1990s, by airlines to go out there and do touch and goes,” says Craven.
A “touch and go” occurs when a plane lands and takes off again before coming to a complete stop. It’s a typical method for pilots to swiftly build up experience for these crucial aspects of flying.
“With the advent of flight simulators and the high cost of jet fuel, the usage decreased, but we still get practice military flights, mostly from the US Coast Guard, and small private aircraft.”
There is no terminal at Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport, which has the snappy airport code TNT. Instead, there is an office inside a trailer that is 2,000 square feet in size.
There is no firefighting or refueling equipment on site, and proper landings are not authorized unless there is an emergency. The site is typically staffed by four people who handle maintenance and serve as security.
“We heard rumors that if the Space Shuttle had to make an emergency landing, it could go there,” says Craven.
The facility has been used in attempts to go beyond touch-and-go. Because the runway allows cars to reach their top speeds, it has been the scene of some high-speed racing. The organization of an air show was also planned, but no new construction is allowed, so it would have required enlarging the road leading to the airfield to accommodate incoming traffic.
Alligators, deer, herons, and bears can be seen in the Big Cypress National Preserve, which includes the area around the airport.
The airport also owns 26,000 acres of marshland that hasn’t been developed. It could have been that large. “Miami International Airport is 3,320 acres,” says Craven.
“It was supposed to be the airport for tomorrow.”
Are you interested in Florida’s history? For stories like this and much more: Florida Insider is dedicated to educating, entertaining and informing its readers about everything Florida. Easy to read content at the palm of your hands and covering the stories that matter.
Born and raised in South Florida, Krystal is a recent graduate from the University of Miami with professional writing experience at the collegiate and national news outlet levels. She’s a foodie who loves all things travel, the beach, & visiting new places throughout Florida.