Charlie Spence, who covers the Washington, D.C. scene for General Aviation News, grew up in a close relationship to Wings Field, as did this reviewer. Wings Field, a short distance from Philadelphia at Ambler, Pa., is where the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) got its start in 1939 and where many a Philadelphia-area pilot learned to fly from 1930 onward.
In his new book, “Wings Field Autobiography,” Spence modestly has given the airport credit for writing the book and, in a sense, it has written its own story. Fortunately, Spence had the vast archives of the Philadelphia newspapers to draw upon, not to mention recollections of many people whose connection to Wings goes back to the beginning. From those excellent resources he found more than 100 wonderful photographs to illustrate the fascinating history of Wings.
Some – and I’m among them – may find the airport-as-story-teller approach a tad too cute, but the story itself is too good to quibble over such things. It brings back floods of memories to me, but I think it will be a nostalgic reminder to anyone whose early flying was done from a small country airport.
Wings Field was a farm in 1929 when Lew Barringer and Abby Wolf, members of the Pylon Club, landed a Waco biplane in one of its inviting meadows. The club wanted an airport of its own and the two men started negotiations with farmer Henri Merriken. Officially, it became an airport – at first called Wings Port – on May 23, 1930. Soon afterward it was home to the Philadelphia Aviation Country Club, which still exists and in whose upstairs room the AOPA was founded.
Over the years, a lot of history has passed through Wings Field. Airplanes and sailplanes, autogiros and helicopters, balloons, commuter planes and small business jets have been there – and a fascinating parade of people: aviation legends such as Charles Lindbergh and Harold Pitcairn, actress Anita Ekberg, pilot-entertainer Arthur Godfrey, astronaut Pete Conrad, and a Who’s Who of socialites, politicians and other notables.
Regardless of whether you’ve ever been to Wings Field, this little book is fascinating reading.
“Wings Field Autobiography,” by Wings Field (with a little help from Charles Spence) is published by Pavilion Press. The 190-page book retails for $24.95. For more information: PavilionPress.com, Amazon.com.
By Thomas F. Norton