Historic Essex County Airport has a lofty past

The general aviation airport in Essex County, New Jersey, is, at the age of 80, “a place of stories as varied as the 283 aircraft … parked off its two runways,” wrote Philip Read in the June 21 Essex Star-Ledger. The facility, operated since 1975 by the Essex County Improvement Authority, also is “home to three flight schools and the sense of adventure that comes with flying,” he wrote.

The airport, at one time a dairy farm, traces its beginning to September 1929, when the airfield was opened. It did not have an official grand opening, or the accompanying air show, until Oct. 26, 1930, said Alex Davidson, a 62-year-old pilot who made his first solo flight at the airport in 1964.

Several years ago, Davidson, grandson of a one-time aviation editor at the old Newark Star-Eagle, embarked on a journey to discover the airport’s early history, something he found lacking in libraries. Before long, he solved the mystery of one of the field’s early names, Marvin Airport. “Nobody knew who Marvin was,” he said.

He unearthed an April 20, 1929, newspaper clipping headlined “Airport for Montclair assured by newly formed Essex aviation group.” The president of that group, Essex Airport Inc., was Walter Marvin, who lived in Montclair and traveled widely to promote the creation of airports.

He also came upon a connection to Charles Lindbergh. “Lindbergh looked to buy a house overlooking the airport,” he said. The airport had strong ties to the Curtiss-Wright Corp., too, evidence of which remains today in the strip’s CDW designation.

The airport gained notoriety on July 16, 1999, when John F. Kennedy Jr., who kept his Piper Saratoga at the airstrip, crashed into the ocean en route to Martha’s Vineyard and perished. Last year, the airport made headlines in another way: A couple who had just landed a small Cessna 172 was stopped in their rented car, leading to the seizure of $4.7 million-worth of cocaine and heroin. These days, airport workers told Read, Morgan Freeman, the Oscar-winning actor whose many roles included the dignified chauffeur in “Driving Miss Daisy,” flies in at the controls of a Cessna Citation 8-seater.

There are still some relics around, Read learned. One is a post-war British Pembroke, left at the end of the long-closed Runway 14 in the early 1980s amid hopes that it could be converted into a firefighter. Now, Thomas Gomez, the airport’s general manager, said it might wind up at an aviation museum if its wings are removed and taken on a flatbed.
“It’s definitely not going to fly,” he said.

To read the full story: http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/historic_essex_county_airport_1.html

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