Islip MacArthur Airport

Nestled in the center of the island, Islip MacArthur Airport has long-served local commuters and travelers alike, who prefer this less hectic alternative to its two big brothers to the West. It’s come a long way from its humble beginnings, growing exponentially over the years, but it still retains its small town charm.

Now officially known as Long Island MacArthur Airport, the airstrip located on the south side of Ronkonkoma was originally built in 1942, four months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Back then, it was simply Islip Airport.

Four years after WWII wrapped up, the city built the first passenger terminal. Allegheny Airlines was the first major airline to operate out of MacArthur, offering local commuters passenger service to Washington D.C., Boston and Philedelphia. More airlines followed, including Mohawk Airlines in 1967, and American Airlines, who in 1971, began offering non-stop flights to Chicago O’Hare, making it possible to fly out of MacArthur and travel just about anywhere in the civilized world.

In the 70s, and before the big expansion that would occur in the decade that followed, MacArthur was still considered quaint, with far less congestion than its big brothers. Parking was relatively easy, and without the stringent security measures that would eventually become the norm across the country, one could pull in, find a quick parking spot and be through the terminal and on the plane in a matter of minutes.

Of course, you didn’t need to actually fly to enjoy the airport. Many local families made a regular habit of heading out to the airport on weekends, parking alongside the perimeter, and simply watching the planes come and go for hours on end. Long Island has always enjoyed a rich aviation history, thanks in part to Grumman Aerospace, which employed thousands of local residents throughout the region. Islip MacArthur was a perfect place for them to bring the family and share their love of airplanes with youngsters who sat enthralled by everything from small Cessnas and Pipers to 727 airliners.

Surprisingly, there has only been only one fatal crash at Islip MacArthur Airport over the years, which occurred way back in 1955, when a Douglas DC-6 headed to La Guardia crashed shortly after takeoff. Thankfully, there were no passengers except for the three crew members who all tragically perished in the crash. still, the safety record for the airport is stellar, as is its record for on-time flights.

The airport looks much different now, of course, changed dramatically in the 80s to coincide with the expansion of the LIRR station in Ronkonkoma. If you would like to get a glimpse of the airport back in the day, it was one of the filming locations for the 1970 comedy film starring Jack Lemmon called The Out of Towners.

Were you one of the kids that spent a few weekends watching planes take off and land at Islip MacArthur Airport? Did you happen to work there back in the 70s. I’d love to hear all of your memories of this special place in our comments section below.

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8 Responses

  1. Barry says:

    I saw the movie “The Out-Of-Towners.” The movie is a virtual time machine of 60’s New York City and Long Island. The movie was filmed in the Spring of ’69.

    If you look carefully during the McArthur Airport scenes, you can see the May 16, 1969 issue of Life magazine being sold at the news stand. This issue has a yellow cover and the cover story was entitled “Collision Course in the High Schools.” Probably dealing with the political unrest of the times.

    Also take a look at the opening credits, you can see some shots of the Brookville Reformed Church, in Glen Head, Long Island. The church is still there today.

    I haven’t been able to identify the suburban community where Jack Lemmon’s home is located (seen at the very beginning of the movie). It is most likely somewhere in Long Island.

    • 70sKid says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Barry!

      • DTD says:

        One other Long Island scene is the Roslyn Clock Tower shown during the opening theme. I’m as puzzled about the location of the fictional Kellerman house as Barry is. There’s another movie filmed shortly afterwards that contains an airport scene with the Jack Lemmon’s former Odd Couple/Fortune Cookie co-star Walter Matthau in “A New Leaf” where he’s flying in what looks like a plane for training new pilots. I used to think it was at someplace like Zahn’s Airport or Deer Park Airport, but now I’m wondering if it might’ve been MacArthur. Any way to confirm or deny the location?

  2. Mike says:

    The Twin Oaks, OH home of the Kellermans in the movie is located at the corner of Cardinal Dr. and Finch Dr. in Roslyn.

  3. Paul Lockwood says:

    In 1969, after we moved to Ronkonkoma from Queens, my “big” brother took me and my other (2 years older) brother to the airport for our first ever plane ride. The plane was a small top wing Cessna type? I remember waiting in the round “main terminal/waiting area”. Years later after moving to Virginia I took a Southwest flight from Washington DC to MacArthur and saw that the round waiting area was still there!

  4. BW says:

    “…who prefer this less hectic alternative to its two big brothers to the East.”

    To the West, actually, but I get your point.
    I lived in Holbrook in the 70s and would sneak into the airport through the woods near Lincoln Avenue.

  5. Thomas D. says:

    I remember going there on summer evenings. We would stand at the fence by the terminal and we could feel the prop wash.

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