The Massey Aerodrome and Museum (MD1), tucked away in the northeast corner of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is a hidden treasure — but you don’t need a treasure map to find it. A sectional chart or a decent road map will do.
The actual aerodrome is a grass airfield that started as the dream of four friends who “had four different reasons for wanting to do it,” one of them — Jim Douglas — said recently. Making it a living museum gave Douglas, John Williamson, Jim Sypherd and Bill Malpass an umbrella sheltering those four different reasons.
Their idea of a museum is a living example of an old-time turf-runway airport, its hangars at any given time full of beautifully-restored aircraft, airplanes undergoing restoration or maintenance, and “the look, smell and feel of a bygone time,” as Douglas phrased it.
The 3,000-foot grass runway is typical of those at thousands of small-town airports of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, so many of which have vanished under urban sprawl in recent years. A second, 1,100-foot crosswind runway is “pending,” according to Douglas.
Particularly on weekends, the hangars and ramps are full of volunteers “doing the things important to a museum.” Right now one of those things is getting a rather derelict-looking DC-3 put back together after decades in the open and a truck trip from New Castle County Airport in Delaware, where it lured customers to a now-defunct restaurant.
Actually an ex-United Air Lines DC-3, it was painted to look like a military C-47 for its restaurant job, but museum volunteers plan to restore it to cosmetic — but stationary — perfection, painting it to look as it did when delivered to United as part of its Mainliner fleet in 1937. They also hope to get at least one engine running, so visitors can hear what a 1,200 horsepower, 14-cylinder Pratt & Whitney radial sounds like, according to John Williamson, who is leading the restoration effort. Williamson is looking for authentic, but not necessarily functional, instruments “so when kids sit in the cockpit and move the wheel and rudder pedals they can see and feel how an airplane is controlled.”
Contributions and volunteer services are playing a major role in the DC-3’s restoration, Douglas said gratefully. New fabric for the control surfaces has been donated by Ceconite chief John Goldenbaum and is being applied by Tony Markell, a resident of nearby Marydel. Aircraft Recovery Services chief Scott Anglin transported the airplane from its old home in Delaware to Massey.
“It wasn’t long ago that this place was just a dream,” Douglas mused. “Now it’s a success. I can’t get over how many people have stopped by.”
If success is measured by attendance at the Christmas fly-in last December, it means some 400 people and more than 150 airplanes showing up on a blustery day heralding winter. The annual event has become one of the biggest, and certainly among the most popular, fly-ins on the East Coast.
The next scheduled event is the Chili Fiesta, set for April 28. It, too, attracts a large contingent of interesting flying machines, not to mention interesting people, most of whom bring a favorite chili concoction or an hors d’oeuvre that will complement someone else’s chili. There are a lot of jokes about the effects of altitude on digestion and certain advantages of open cockpits.
A group of re-enactors plans to set up camp at Massey Aerodrome for the last three days of September, honoring the liaison planes and pilots of World War II. They hope to stage a “conflict” between German and American forces similar to one that took place in the Libyan dessert, when Gen. Patton’s Third Army was battling Field Marshall Rommel’s Panzers. They plan to bring together a flock of typical L-planes such as the Aeronca L-3, Piper L-4 and Stinson L-5, and perhaps some even rarer birds. Like all events at Massey, the reenactment will be open to the public.
The Massey Air Museum opened officially in 2002, although the aerodrome and its runway had opened a year earlier. Until a few months ago and the arrival of the DC-3, which stands at the aerodrome’s entrance and is visible from miles away across the flat Eastern Shore countryside, casual passersby might have assumed that the undistinguished hangars were just farm buildings, but that is not the case. While the property was and is a farm, it was home to a large crop-dusting operation from 1976 to 1986, and that’s when the hangars were built. In fact, a DC-3 was based on the field in those days, its 1,000-gallon spray tank making it the biggest ag plane in the region. A large photograph of it, handsome in blue and silver livery despite its utilitarian purpose, decorates the museum office.
Currently, 20 aircraft are based at Massey, including a Bell 47G helicopter — think of M*A*S*H — and a handful of ultralights. A gleaming maroon Stinson Reliant V-77 is among them and another Reliant awaits restoration. A Stearman PT-17 restoration has just been completed and was being readied for weighing when we visited at mid-February. There are classics such as a J-3 Cub, Cessna 150 and Bucker Jungmann, not to mention more utilitarian Pipers, a variety of homebuilts and a couple of gorgeous sailplanes. The full list can be seen at the museum’s website (MasseyAero.org).
Most of the collection is in regular use by owners, so Douglas advises calling ahead to be sure of seeing a specific airplane.
A major project, currently getting under way, is construction of a replica terminal once typical of older small airports. When finished, it will measure 50 by 60 feet and many of the museum’s large collection of artifacts will be used as decoration, Douglas said. Construction is due to start this summer.