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Detroit City Airport

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Given Detroit’s history as a frontrunner in new technologies and industrial development, it is no surprise that the city was the site of the first efforts to construct metal airships as a distinctly American type of dirigible for both commercial and military uses. Encouraged by the availability of dependable engines; of light, thin alloys; and of more seasoned engineering talent; in 1922 a group of entrepreneurs organized the Detroit Aircraft Development Corporation to modernize the rigid airship and make it all-metal, like the hull of a seagoing vessel. An experimental engineering group was organized and instructed to endeavor to isolate and determine the scientific fundamentals governing the design of an all-metal structure. General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company and other industrial concerns contributed valuable laboratory facilities; the Aluminum Company of America undertook to develop aluminum alloy in thin sheets; aeronautical engineers and metallurgists in Washington were invited to offer criticisms and suggestions. Through laborious and painstaking engineering, they set about the development of a safe and practical Metalclad Airship. Five years later, City Airport was formally dedicated, with the first aircraft landing at the airport in October of 1927.  In 1929, the first hangar was erected and by the 1930’s Detroit’s City Airport was the premiere airport in the Detroit area.

We spoke to Pamela Davis (Detroit native, resident, and grandmother) about her memories from growing up in Detroit, especially of the City Airport.  When she was a kid in the late 50s-early 60s, her father would take her and her siblings to the city airport and they would stand next to the fence and watch the planes land and take off.  She remembers how beautiful and clean the airport was, as well as the entire neighborhood and east side. She described the airport as state of the art and new, so when I told her the airport was built in the 1920’s she was amazed— I guess the city kept up with the airport in its early years.  She said the airport was always busy and vibrant and saw many cars and people come in and out.  She described the neighborhood as divided by the airport’s location and thought the airport was randomly placed there (like it fell from the sky).  She said the airport didn’t really look liked it belong there. Finally she told me that some Polish and Irish people lived on one side of the airport and the Jews on the other.

Click here to see all narratives about Nortown

Click here to see resources for further reading on Nortown

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