The Real McCoy Airport: A Jet Charters’ History of Two Orlando Airport Codes

Discover the fascinating and tragic history of the man behind the former McCoy Airport

Do you know why the airport code for Orlando International Airport is MCO?

Next in our series on the stories behind the namesakes of our airports, we travel back to the days of when Orlando International was named unofficially McCoy airport, and officially McCoy Air Force Base after pilot Col. Michael Norman Wright McCoy, who was commander of the 321st Bombardment Wing in the mid-1950s.

Orlando’s original air force base

The original airfield was built 3 miles southeast of Orlando in 1942, at what is now Orlando Executive Airport (ORL) (and the home base of Stratos Jet Charters), as a Second World War training base. Later renamed Pinecastle Army Airfield, it was used to test the unpowered glided experimental aircraft, the Bell X-I from B-29 aircraft after the war and then became a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base for B-47 Stratojets and KC-97 Stratofreighters during the Korean War.

Tragedy strikes

In 1957, a B-47 Stratojet was flying northwest of downtown Orlando when it suffered wing failure during a practice run for the SAC’s annual Bombing and Navigation Competition at Pinecastle. The plane crashed, killing its pilot, who was none other than Col. McCoy.

A popular figure in Florida, he was given a state burial at Arlington National, which included a flyover by a fleet of B-47s.

Crisis averted

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, McCoy Air Force Base was used as an operating base for fighter bombers, including the F-100 Super Sabre and and the F-105 Thunderchief. It also served as the main base for U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft, used for intelligence gathering.

Tragedy struck again when one of the U-2s was shot down by the Soviets over Banes, Cuba, killing its pilot Maj. Rudolf Anderson. According to an article in, his death is said to have brought the missile crisis to a tipping off point, “one that actually pulled the two sides back from a potential nuclear war that could have killed millions.”

After the Wars: The McCoy Airport 

McCoy AFB served as a deployment and training base for the 306 Strategic Wing (formerly the 306 Bombardment Wing), who conducted bombing raids in support of the U.S. and its allied ground forces during the Vietnam War.

The base was closed at the end of the war in 1975 and later sold, for the sum of $1, to the City of Orlando.

Turned over to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, sections of McCoy AFB are now used for both the Orlando International Airport as well as Orlando Executive Airport. Today, both airports annually serve more than 44 million passengers, who travel by both commercial and private jet charters to get to major tourist destinations such as Disneyworld as well as to do business in Central Florida.

For more information on Stratos Jet Charters’ home base, read: In the Spotlight: Orlando Executive Airport.

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