As pilots now of a “certain” age, we look back on airports that were part of our lives. This is the second post in a series of three. There’s nowhere like Van Sant Airfield in Pennsylvania’s historic Bucks County. Fifty miles north and decades away from big-city Philadelphia, Van Sant salves my soul with old airplanes, grass runways, classy surroundings and Colonial history. Today’s realities haven’t over-flown Van Sant, however.
Things got quieter in recent years. Van Sant family heirs decided to sell. In 2003, the county stepped in with $3 million to preserve 9N1 as the Bucks County Aeronautical Park. Air operations were saved, while development-threatened land was spared. Neighbors (both the noise- and the growth-sensitive), Van Sant heirs and fliers alike were satisfied.
Jay Hahola has now taken over management with his Vintage Aero Sports. Most recently, he ran the well-known glider operation at Somerset Airport in northern New Jersey. Now, Van Sant’s interesting rental and instruction fleet must be rebuilt.
Once, you could take dual in a Stearman, Great Lakes or L-19, ride in a glider or Gypsy Moth, or start training in a Citabria or Cub. Currently, there’s just a glider and Cub while the Haholas look for a Champ and perhaps a Stinson or Cessna 170. A Stearman could be back on the line this summer.
In the restoration shop, though, EAA award-winner George Taylor has more work than he can handle. Reassuringly, George says of the Haholas, “Times were tough and the fleet was slim when (much admired CFI) Azhar Husain took over from the Smela family, too. Give ‘em time.”
Van Sant is emblematic of many airports: lots to offer and more marketing to do. We in aviation don’t often grasp all the opportunities. I hope the Haholas do.
Van Sant deserves it. It will restore your love of flying – even if you’re now just driving to airports. And spouses won’t be bored. The entire county is charming. Nearby is the classic Black Bass Hotel (c. 1760) with dining on the river and newly restored suites rivaling the best.
Peek into the hangars. Find a Travel Air or similar classic. Rent the Cub and re-live aviation’s golden days. Chase the New Hope steam train and smugly wave at tourists. Flying offers a bigger life — worth almost anything for those in the know. Others? We’ve got to tell ‘em. The Haholas will start with an airport event including a rock band and free glider rides for kids.
As GA shrinks, I think true believers will “retreat to the reservation.” By that, I mean the rare, best places where we can still gather and celebrate flying. That place for you may be Oshkosh once a year or Sun ‘n Fun each April. I hope it’s a local airport that’s still doing it for you and I’ll bring you my take on more special Fields of Dreams from time to time.
Next: An airport succeeds, but loses it soul.
Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
Story and photos © Drew Steketee 2010 All Rights Reserved