Jet vs. airport terminal

The new terminal building of Ottawa’s international airport was supposed to open in 1959. After one pass by a US air force jet the day before the opening ceremony, it could not open until 1960.

Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and pilot
USAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In August of 1959, Ottawa’s international airport (then known as the Uplands Airport, now called the Macdonald-Cartier International Airport) was putting the finishing touches on some improvements. Business was booming, and they had just put in new runways and a new terminal building to keep up with increased demand. This new terminal was very much in keeping with airport aesthetics of the time: high ceilings, exposed beams, vast walls of glass.

Ottawa International Airport terminal building
P199, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The terminal was all ready to go. Airport officials had planned a lavish opening ceremony. Unfortunately for those poor Canadians, they invited the United States Air Force along for the party.

The day before the ceremony, at the request of the airport personnel, a USAF pilot did a practice fly-by in his Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. This Cold War supersonic jet was light, fast, and not particularly manoeuverable. The production model was only a couple of years old, and so this was a good chance to show it off. The pilot took off, swung around, flew over the terminal, broke the sound barrier… and broke the terminal.

The shock wave from the jet’s sonic boom, that close to the building, was devastating. It smashed every glass window in the front of the terminal. Bits of the interior (like door frames and structural beams) warped. The crisp fresh new building was a wreck.

They had to cancel the ceremony, of course, and spend the next eight months fixing all the damage from that one sonic boom. All told, it cost half a million dollars to fix. History is silent on who paid for the repairs. I suspect that the Canadians had to eat that expense.

[Thanks to Uberfacts.]

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