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Tarmac – A common but inaccurate term often referring to the paved areas of airports where aircraft park. Usually referring to the airport ramp or “apron” near the terminals, hangars or FBO’s. The vast majority of aircraft operating areas are however constructed of concrete, not “tarmac”.

In July 26, 1904, Hooley, E. Purnell received  U.S. Patent 765,975 for the “Apparatus for the preparation of tar macadam” which involves involved mechanically mixing tar and aggregate (crushed stone or gravel) prior to lay-down, and then compacting the mixture with a steam roller. The tar was modified with the addition of small amounts of Portland cement, resin and pitch.

As petroleum production increased in the mid 20th century, the by-product of refining process, asphalt became available in huge quantities and largely supplanted the use of tar due to its reduced temperature sensitivity. The Macadam construction process also became quickly obsolete due to its high manual labor requirement.

Tarmac was used extensively to construct runways during World War II but no modern major airports are using the material.The term “Tarmac” may  have been further popularized when it became part of the news lexicon following live coverage of the Entebbe hijacking in 1976, where “Tarmac” was frequently used by the on-scene BBC reporter in describing the hijack scene.

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