The close of May also ended our visit to NYC and FBF. Just like that, we pulled up stakes and left our Park Service friends who manage the deteriorating facilities at Floyd Bennett Field. For us, they are gone but never will be forgotten. We can only hope they feel the same about our brief crossed paths. Andrew King’s birthday gift was a beautiful morning’s flight up the Hudson Exclusion Corridor to the Statue of Liberty and then downstream, headed to Old Bridge Airport. We were fortunate enough to get some fantastic GoPro video of this flight, which Paul Glenshaw is massaging for us. The finished product may have historic interest to viewers, if only because it has been nearly 100 years since the last Curtiss Pusher flew along the Hudson. Many years ago, the sight and sound of an airplane over the River would bring every living being out onto the streets to watch in awe as a tiny dot of sputtering noise slowly and awkwardly drew into view, then disappeared to land at Governors Island. Flight and aeroplanes were rare fascinations back then, in an era before interstates and TV’s and indoor plumbing and two-car garages. We flew the Hudson Corridor twice during this Centennial of Naval Aviation, causing barely a ripple in the ebb and flow of commerce and life along Manhattan’s crowded shores. For the Curtiss Crew who made the NYC visit happen, we knew we were part of a rare event, understanding full well that it was of little consequence. What we gained from being where we were on those May days will always stick with us, though I honestly felt few others saw or cared about our mission.
That is, until I met our “Audience of One”. It was later, over the first June weekend, when we were flying the Curtiss at the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum WWII Air Show in Reading, PA. I was with the Curtiss, on display, sharing the history of Eugene B Ely and the beginning of Naval Aviation in 1911. A gentleman in the crowd stopped me with a cold, FAA-like question: Were you flying over the Hudson River on Wednesday the 25th at 5 pm? I had to respond: “Who wants to know?”, thinking I could dump an FAA problem on Andrew since he wasn’t around! From there his tale unfolded. This middle-aged man works in Manhattan, commuting each day from his Jersey suburb to a parking lot and ferrying across to Manhattan up by the USS Intrepid. He reminded me of Cary Grant or Spencer Tracy from a 1940′s black and white movie, working in the city and trying to live in the time left after the commute. I asked if he was a pilot, and he said he was, long ago, but stopped for the usual reasons – time, money, family and work. Turns out, he was late leaving work, catching the ferry homeward just as the Curtiss flew past USS Intrepid and USS Iwo Jima that Wednesday in May. He was on the railing, watching the green-brown Hudson flow past when he heard the unusual noise of the Curtiss exhaust. Looking up, he recognized the Curtiss for what it was, and knew, according to him, that he was seeing something he may never see again. As a kid and during his flying days, he had studied early flights and built models, and he correctly knew right away that this was a Curtiss Pusher drifting overhead. He watched as we swung over the Intrepid and back down the Hudson, disappearing toward the Statue of Liberty as his ferry boat chugged on to its Jersey pier. For my part, I saw many ferry boats that day, waving at a few of the folks lining their rails. His particular one, I am not sure I remembered, especially since I was working a bit to turn the Curtiss back within the confines of the Hudson right about then. So, we crossed paths, one a lapsed aviator marvelling at the impossible odds of seeing a 1911 Curtiss that day, the other an old and not so bold Navy man, wondering if this whole thing is worth the work and risk, but personally thrilled at the fascinating scenery unfolding along this storied waterfront.
I may never have known we had an audience of one, but this Curtiss proved irresistable. The gentleman got home, looked us up, found we would be at the MAAM Reading, PA air show the first weekend in June and drove out to meet us in person, sharing his story. This little Curtiss Pusher and I both stood prouder that day.
Getting to Reading and this reward would require quite a bit of rough air combat, however. When Andrew landed at Old Bridge on the 27th, our destination that day was to be Millville, NJ and the Centennial of Naval Aviation Tier One air show held there as part of Philadelphia Fleet Week. His flight from FBF took a total of a little over one hour. I had the chase vehicle and rode out 3 hours of traffic, getting from Flatbush to Raceway Park. By then, the winds and thermals had picked up to what proved uncomfortable levels. I left Old Bridge, headed for Cross Keys and a fuel stop, but was so beat up after 20 minutes that I quit at Trenton-Robbinsville. Mike and Larry Posey took us to lunch. The long wait for calmer conditions began. By 5 pm, it was a bit better, but we were chasing daylight for Cross Keys and then Millville. Plowing through an hour of bad air got us to Cross Keys and a fast pit stop, then on to Millville, landing a bit before dusk. Not quite a pinkie, but late enough. After a day of knocking about some unfriendly skies, I was truly over Curtiss flying! The Curtiss Crew was well in place by our arrival and had every detail organized, so the easy transition to the Boeing Hangar, the hotel and rest boosted flagging morale – too tired to let them know how much they were appreciated. Another missed opportunity to thank some very wonderful friends – Steve and Lynn Dawson Roth, Rick and Carol Clarke and Steve and Juliett Lindrooth.
The Millville show was a bit star-crossed, with the Blue Angels cancellation and high winds blowing all weekend. Our Curtiss flying consisted mostly of hanging on, fighting around the pattern in attempts to give the audiences glimpses of pioneer flight. For this crowd of predominantly non-flyers, our pitching and rolling flights had little appeal. We heaved and thrashed about a bit and then landed, a far cry from the promised roar of the Blue Angels or the reality of the tremendous performances from the many civilian aerobatic teams who were there. The Curtiss seemed to rebel at the punishment, too, exacting revenge on my little finger. While recovering from an upset near the tree line, I got it caught in the yoke and ripped the tip open, which caused a rather interesting splattering of blood all over my goggles, coveralls, helmet and the Curtiss. By the time I landed, we looked a mess, but all in all, weren’t wounded enough to talk about.
On Monday morning we escaped Millville in the calm winds of sunrise, headed for Garden City, PA and then the next show at Reading. Monday’s flying would pre-position us for the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s 21st WWII Memorial Week-End Celebration. The Reading show was to be managed by the same group which handled us at Millville. I have to say that Dave Schultz at Millville and Greg Witmer at Reading are both the finest gentlemen in their profession! Their pilot briefings were spot on, they treated us royally, were highly organized and appeared to truly enjoy their work. Hats off to them, and a standing ovation, too!
The Curtiss is now at Golden Age Air Museum in Bethel, PA, awaiting a Saturday barnstorming show. We hope to race a 1910 Hupmobile Speedster, recreating the Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey performances of a century past. We will also have an opportunity to fly with the Museum’s Curtiss Jenny for some once-in-a-lifetime photographs. That story and a recap of the highy successful Reading MAAM show will follow shortly. Stay tuned for more adventures!