Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

The Wayne County Airport, known today as the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, or commonly as “Detroit Metro,” opened on September 4, 1930 at the corner of Middlebelt Road and Wick Road in Romulus, Michigan. It was owned by Wayne County and used to send United States airmail.

In 1940, during World War II, the U.S. Army assumed control of the airport and used it as a staging base to transport military aircraft to Europe. Bombers and other aircraft were built in factories across the country including Seattle, Buffalo, Columbus, and the Ford’s Willow Run near Ypsilanti. The aircraft were then ferried to the Wayne County Airport by pilots, including the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).  From Wayne County, they were flown to Montreal and then Great Britain. While the U.S. Army controlled the airport, it was called the Romulus Army Air Field.

In 1944, as World War II was coming to an end, the U.S. Army announced plans to release control of the airport. Upon Wayne County’s renewed control in 1947, the airport was renamed the Detroit-Wayne Major Airport. The county also expanded the airport to four square miles, quadruple its original size. This decision was made because the changes the Army Corps of Engineers made, including new hangars, runways and other facilities, were not efficient for passenger flights. Passenger planes were larger than military aircraft and required longer runways. 

In 1956, the Detroit-Wayne Major Airport became one of the first to receive long-range radar through a $246 million Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) program. The equipment allowed aircraft to be detected from 200 miles away, which maximized safety and minimized delays. In this same year, Pan Am became the first airline to fly internationally from the Detroit-Wayne Major Airport.

As passenger flights became more common, the Detroit-Wayne Major Airport built new terminals to accommodate the demand. Terminal 1 (later renamed the L.C. Smith Terminal) opened in 1958. Around the time Terminal 1 opened, the airport was renamed the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. In 1966, expansions to the airport continued with the construction of Terminal 2 (later renamed the J.M. Davey Terminal). The Michael Berry International Terminal was built in 1974.  

In 2002, airport construction continued with the addition of the McNamara Terminal. A few years later, in 2005, the airport demolished the J.M. Davey Terminal to make room for a new North Terminal, which would be able to accommodate the increasing traffic volume. The Smith and Berry Terminals were retired when North Terminal opened, leaving McNamara and North Terminal as the only two operating terminals.

Today, the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport is one of the largest and busiest airports in the United States. It is 4,850 acres in size and services more than 32 million passengers annually. The airport generates $10.2 billion in annual economic impact and supports more than 86,000 jobs in Michigan. It is a hub for Delta Airlines and bears the IATA code DTW. 



Detroit Metropolitan Airport postcard, c.1960 – 2012.046.856

Aerial view of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, 1961 – 2013.049.277

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