Charles Lindbergh, and the death of an airfield

By: shortfinals

Oct 05 2011

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Category: aircraft, Aviation, military, Museums, New York, United States, warbird

4 Comments


It all started with a small item in the ‘Times of Trenton’ (see link), announcing the foundation of a new aviation museum. Normally, as someone who has worked in several such museums, I would be delighted to hear of this development. However, the more one looked into this story, the more one became uneasy (if you were an aviation professional, that is).

There is an old saying, ‘Buy land, they’re not making any more of it’, which is sound advice. In today’s swelling ‘exurbs’, the pressure on communities to find new pieces of land for schools, parks and other facilities is inexorable. Not only that, but as a municipality, you also find yourself competing against private developers. The communities of Hopewell and Lawrence, and the Boroughs of Hopewell and Pennington, have together acquired the former airfield of Twin Pine, a pleasant grass field in New Jersey. Twin Pine was a bustling place in the 1950s, but I fear that it was never home to ’35,000 aircraft’ as the article states; FAA records for 2006 (Form 5010) give a total of around 12,000 GA movements for that year. A branch of the Experimental Aircraft Association – a worthy body, which encourages private flying in all forms – was based at Twin Pine; now, suddenly, Branch No. 176 finds itself without a field to fly from.

The airfield has an historic past. It was said to be the haunt of no less a person than Colonel Charles Augustus Lindbergh – the ‘Lucky Lindy’ who became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, taking 33 hours to fly from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York to Le Bourget, Paris, France. Prior to this, he had been one of the hundreds of ‘barnstormers’, flying from town to town across America in the immediate post-World War One era, offering ‘joyrides’ and performing aerial stunts. Their usual mount of choice was the ubiquitous Curtiss JN-4 ‘Jenny’, powered by the 90 hp Curtiss OX-5 engine, which was the standard United States Army trainer during the later part of WW1. Thousands of these JN-4s had flooded the second-hand market after the war, and were cheap and cheerful to run. The photograph above shows Lindbergh in his own garishly-marked machine, carrying the legend, ‘Daredevil Lindberg’!

After his record-breaking flight, Colonel and Mrs Lindbergh had a house built near Hopewell and it was here that the family tragedy played out. Their infant son, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jnr., was kidnapped, and subsequently found dead. The couple were grief-stricken; later, Colonel Lindberg would fly out over the waters of the Atlantic, to cast his son’s ashes into the ocean. It is thought, by some, that he could have flown from what became nearby Twin Pine field. According to the former owner of the field, Bill Weasner, there might well be a pair of wheels from the Lindbergh JN-4 in the red-painted hangar which is to be the home of the new museum (although he owned more than one aircraft, and the original JN-4 is now restored and in a museum). If so, they should form a centre-piece of the display of photographs, memorabilia and aircraft parts with which it is intended to fill the space – there looks to be a 1965 Mooney M-20C Mk 21, N2550W, the former owner’s Varga Kachina, N8274J, and several other incomplete airframes behind the hangar. Aircraft which were seen over the years at Twin Pine included Mooney M-18L Mite (N384A), Republic Seabee (N624K) and Spartan 7W (NC345E).

How did this airfield become home to three athletic fields, you say? According to an article on Aero-News.net, it was simple. The airfield’s valuation for tax purposes went from $500,000 to $2 million, overnight. Asking someone to pay $36,000 tax (up from $17,000) – on a small enterprise will kill it stone dead. The owner put the airfield up for sale, and the communities got their athletic fields, with a sop to the aviation fraternity in the form of a plan for an ‘aviation museum’; according to Committeewoman Vanessa Sandom, “It wouldn’t take much money,” she said. “There’s some work that has to be done on the building but hopefully we’ll find donors, people who want to preserve the old hangar.” So, there could be a museum, maybe…………….

Another comment on the article, made in the Times, by Mr. Moses Lonn – ‘A half mile of road goes exactly one half mile. A half mile of runway goes everywhere.’

I would urge you all to fight, as hard as you can, for your favourite aviation cause – and there are many to choose from. Aviation – and General Aviation, in particular - is under great pressure (financial issues, security measures, legislation) from all sides, and it is up to all of us to ensure that it survives. Twin Pine is gone, but we have to ensure that General Aviation lives.

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2011/10/hopewell_to_construct_aviation.html

http://www.princetonol.com/groups/eaa176/

http://www.aero-news.net/index.cfm?do=main.textpost&id=9723268e-d33b-4947-8eba-db773d570719

Public Domain (No copyright restrictions): San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives

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4 comments on “Charles Lindbergh, and the death of an airfield”

    • Thanks so much for the links, Frank! It is very scary, the way that towns now regard grass airfields as ‘fair game’ for their needs. As one of the commentators stated, ‘it’s theft’. All we can do is keep exposing this ‘anti-aviation’ attitude.

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  1. Time marches on and too often good things are cast aside. The town gets its playing fields but loses its some of its history and character, in a way that cannot be replaced. I have the impression it is the short sighted business-think solution that it so common these days.

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  2. [...] was not repeated for Twin Pine Field in New Jersey. Ross Sharp of Shortfinals’s Blog covered this story quite [...]

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