Fans of the classic disaster movie "Airport" (1970) know that the movie was shot at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. But did you know the Master Plan for the expansion of "Lincoln International Airport", a fictional Chicago airport, was based on that of Houston Intercontinental Airport? Read all about it below!
THE MEADOWOOD CONTROVERSY
Frequent readers of this site know I am a huge fan of the classic airplane disaster movie "Airport". The name of this blog honors this great movie.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when the airport manager, Mel Bakersfeld, argues with Commissioner Ackerman over closing down the airport to reduce noise over "Meadowood". Meadowood is a wealthy suburb which is suffering under the noise produced by aircraft using the airport's only available runway that night, Runway 22.
In the scene, Bakersfeld, played by the legendary Burt Lancaster, makes the case for a modern and expanded airport, where Meadowood would be re-zoned for industrial use. Here's the scene, with credit to Universal Pictures. Question to self: why do I suddenly feel like a smoke?
AN ALTERNATE TAKE ON THE HOUSTON AIRPORT MASTER PLAN?
As a kid back in the early 1980s, I used to pause the VHS tape at this very scene and copy the Master Plan layout on drawing paper. Later on, as I became familiar with airport layouts around around the world, I realized that the runway layout was very similar to that of Houston Intercontinental Airport.
Houston opened in 1969, the year "Airport" was filmed. Have a look at the screenshot below, specifically the layout map mounted on the wall.
Now, compare that to Houston's 1971 Master Plan in the image below. Full disclosure: I did a bit of improvising here. In the 1971 Master Plan of IAH, the left cross runway (15R/33L) is actually indicated as a taxiway.
For the passenger terminal, the Lincoln plan depicted an octagon-shaped building consisting of passenger terminals and multi-level parking structures. The airport administration building and tower were located at the heart of the complex.
The fictitious terminal boasted two large piers on opposite sides of the main building, with mini piers or fingers protruding out from the main concourse. The plan also featured four circular satellite buildings.
Although the plan had "Hollywood sexy" written all over it, I remember thinking even back then how challenging it would be to process all the vehicular traffic. Also, the complex had zero possibilities to expand or to be adjusted. Having said that, it certainly wasn't the worst airport plan produced in the 1960s!
Like the Lincoln scheme, Houston Intercontinental's real terminal complex was and is aligned in an east-west direction, but that's where the comparison stops. The real Houston had two terminal buildings, with each building having four satellite concourses attached to it, and with room for two more terminals in the Master Plan (see below). And similar to other major airports of the era, Houston featured a spine road connecting the terminals.
However, the original 1962 Houston Master Plan did have a centralized terminal which strongly resembles that of Lincoln. Take a look below!
It's very likely that there have been several iterations of the Houston Intercontinental Airport Master Plan between the 1962 version and the final version, including a version which might be much closer to the plan depicted in the movie.
Together with the crew of Houston's 1940 Air Terminal Museum, we're trying to get to the heart of the matter! We'll keep you posted on our progress.
Did we convince you? Did you see any other similarities that we didn't discuss? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! If you haven't seen "Airport", please go buy the DVD here.
I want to extend a special thank you to Geoff Scripture and Michael Bludworth of the 1940 Air Terminal Museum in Houston for their help in preparing this article. As soon as the world returns to normal, go visit this great museum!
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With a title inspired by the setting of the iconic 70s film "Airport", this blog is the ultimate destination for airport history fans.
Marnix (Max) Groot Founder of AirportHistory.org. Max is an airport development expert and historian.