Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
Hawaii, Hawaii island
© 2001, © 2012 by Paul Freeman. Revised 6/16/12.
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Original Kona Airport (revised 6/16/12) - Morse Field (revised 1/1/10)
Morse Field, South Point, HI
18.92 North / 155.68 West (Island of Hawaii, Southeast of Honolulu, HI)
A circa 1940 photo of Boeing P-26 Peashooter fighters at Morse Field.
This airfield was located at the southernmost point on the island of Hawaii.
The Morse Field property was also called Ka Lae Military Reservation.
The date of establishment of Morse Field has not been determined.
War Department Orders #8, dated 8/19/33, designated the airfield as Morse Field in honor of 2nd Lt. G.E. Morse.
It had a runway & one small barracks.
A 1940 photo of a beautiful Curtiss A-12 Shrike at Morse Field.
A circa 1940 photo of a Grumman OA-9s & a Boeing P-26 Peashooter fighter at Morse Field.
In 1941, the Civil Aeronautics Adminstration began work to improve Morse Field
due to its location 200 miles closer to Christmas Island than Honolulu,
which allowed range-limited aircraft to refuel at South Point before continuing on to the next island destination.
Construction increased the number of buildings to 5, built nine 50,000 gallon fuel tanks, a water line, access roads,
and extended the runway to 6,000'.
A 1941 photo of a B-18 bomber from Hickam Field being rigged for towing at Morse Field.
A 1941 photo of P-36 fighters from Wheeler Field taxiing to the gas pit to refuel at Morse Field
The small roof covered the gas system segregation.
An August 26, 1941 aerial view of Morse Field, showing an open grass landing area.
David Walks-As-Bear reported, “From interviews I did with locals in the area,
there were at least 2 USAAC fighters stationed at the strip when Pearl Harbor was attacked 12/7/41.
From the descriptions, I assume them to have been P-39s or P-40s.”
The work on runways at Morse Field was suspended shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack on 12/7/41
and all adjacent landing areas demolished & the strip destroyed as a precautionary measure against enemy use.
Blocking of landing areas on the island occupied large amounts of time & manpower
due to the extensive areas involved & the comparatively smooth surfaces surrounding the field, which could be used as landing fields.
Gun emplacements were also added around the field.
By 12/28/41, gasoline storage facilities were complete, a water line installed, and mobilization buildings were more than half finished.
These projects were all that were deemed appropriate for continuance at the time.
After World War II the Morse Field property was declared surplus
and on 1/16/48, a right of entry from the U.S. Army to the Territory of Hawaii was approved.
A September 13, 1951 aerial view looking east at Morse Field, showing the single east/west runway.
Morse Field, as depicted on the 1951 USGS topo map.
It was not until 8/30/52 that the property was finally restored to the Territory of Hawaii by Executive Order.
Cost of maintenance was such that conditions became increasingly worse
until, in July 1953, the field was condemned as unsafe & was closed.
In the meantime, a new Federal Aid Highway project had been completed into Hilo,
which caused the entire community to look to the Hilo Airport for their transportation needs.
As a result, traffic into the field came to a standstill.
The nearest settlement to the airport, Naalehu, was 16 miles by road
and it was estimated that the population in the vicinity of Morse Field was only about 174 persons.
Estimates for proper rehabilitation ran as high as $54,837.
On 10/22/54, the Director of Aeronautics addressed a letter to the Civil Aeronautics Administration Regional Administrator,
requesting abandonment of the airport.
Reasons given were:
"Surplus to the Needs of the Community Because:
1. The continued increase in frequency of schedules into Hilo Airport made it gradually more desirable to travel & ship from Hilo.
2. On 3/10/53, Federal Aid Highway Project # F18(5) unit 1, was completed,
offering an excellent highway direct to Hilo, which caused the entire community to look to the Hilo Airport for their transportation needs.
Uneconomical to Rehabilitate & Operate Because:
1. It serves such a small number of people.
2. Not strategically located to best serve these people.
3. Extreme weather conditions make it expensive to maintain.
4. Impractical even as an emergency field because of its isolated location, lack of communications and transportation.
Unsafe for further Operation Because:
An airstrip subjected to these extreme conditions over a long period of time must be maintained continuously
and this proved impossible because its limited use, even in the peak year of 1951, precluded an elaborate maintenance program."
An April 21, 1955 aerial view of the “South Cape Airport (Morse Field)”.
An April 22, 1955 aerial view looking southwest along the Morse Field runway.
The 1962 USGS topo map did not depict an airfield, but rather labeled the site as “Astronomic Station”.
In December 1964, General Bernard A. Schriever of the AFSC
announced that the Air Force would assume control of space tracking & communications from the Navy at South Point on 2/1/65.
Then on 9/30/65, the Station was closed.
South Point AFS was later reopened in support of Project Have Lent,
a sounding rocket probe program to evaluate advanced ballistic reentry system experiments.
The close proximity & aspect angle of South Point to the optical site sensors located on the island of Maui
were the primary reasons for launching the probes from this location.
In 1979, the Station was divided in 2 parcels located about 1.5 miles apart, containing approximately 6 acres each.
One of the sites was the main operations area, while the other areas was used for a boresight tower.
The Station was under the operational control of the Space and Missile Test Center (SAMTEC).
South Point AFS was one of the few Air Force installations in the State of Hawaii that did not fall under the control of the 15th Air Base Wing.
It belonged to the Air Force Systems Command (AFSC), with headquarters at Andrews AFB.
An April 27, 2003 aerial view showed the outline of the Morse Field runway remains very much recognizable.
Original Kona Airport, Kailua, HI
19.64 North / 156.01 West (Island of Hawaii, Southeast of Honolulu, HI)
A February 1950 photo (courtesy of Troy Downey) of Athur Belcher & Glenn Belcher (“apparently a bit of a pioneer in Hawaiian aviation”),
standing in front of one of the original Kona Airport buildings.
This was originally the municipal airport for the town of Kona.
According to Kona resident Laura Dierenfield,
the property was purchased by the State of Hawaii & developed into the Kona Airport in 1948.
The earliest depiction which has been located of the Kailua Kona Airport
was a February 1950 photo (courtesy of Shemethree) of their grandfather & one of his sons, Glenn Belcher
standing in front of a building marked “Kona Airport”.
Kailua Kona Airport, as depicted on the 1951 USGS topo map.
The October 1954 Hawaiian Islands Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
depicted the original Kona Airport as having a 3,800' paved runway.
The October 1954 Hawaiian Islands Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
depicted Kona Airport as having a single 3,800' asphalt Runway 11/29.
The 1954 USGS topo map depicted Kona Airport as having a single paved northwest/southeast runway, with a ramp, several small buildings, and a beacon on the northeast side.
Kona was listed among active airports in the 1962 AOPA Airport Directory,
with a 3,800' paved runway, and the operator listed as "Hawaii Aeronautics Commission".
No airfield at this location was depicted on the 1967 USGS topo map.
Was it overlooked by the mapmakers,
or had the airport already closed by that point?
According to Laura Dierenfield,
the original Kona Airport closed in 1970,
when the larger Kona International Airport was built in Keahole to the north.
Greg Myers recalled, “It was then used for legitimate drag racing for a few years (and bootleg nighttime racing).
I remember attending a race there.
That lasted until the county built the new million-dollar dragstrip near the Hilo Dump in the mid-1970's.
It then became a county park.”
The abandoned Kona Airport became a State/County park in 1976.
The old terminal building is now a large public pavilion for gatherings
and what were possibly the former hangars now serve as facilities for the local DMV.
The runway pavement also still exists.
A local group is trying to further improve the park facilities at the site.
The runway of the original Kona Airport was still depicted on the 1996 USGS topo map,
with the property being labeled the "Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area".
The original Kona Airport is still depicted as an abandoned airfield on recent aeronautical charts.
A recent (pre-2005) USGS aerial photo showed that the runway remained completely intact,
as well as the former airport terminal building & hangars.
Bob Murphy reported in 2004, "It is still used as an airport of sorts...
A local radio-controlled model airplane club uses the field as a runway on Thursday & Sunday mornings."
A 2006 photo by Eric Helms. Eric reported, “The hangar is about 75 yards east of the old terminal building.
'Hawaiian Wings' is still written on the hangar front.”
A 2006 photo by Eric Helms, looking northwest down the former Kona runway.
Eric reported, “This area is now a state park (nice park by the way) open sunrise to sunset.
Yellow X's are painted on either end of the old runway.”
A 2006 photo by Eric Helms of the west side of the former Kona Airport terminal building.
Eric reported, “The state has maintained the building & it may be rented out as a meeting place.”
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