Like so many people, Larry Cutler was fascinated by flight when he was a young boy. And like so many people, that fascination was put on the back burner while life got in the way. But unlike most people, Cutler decided — at the age of 60 — to pursue that fascination. Once he got his private pilot’s license, he then decided to land at all the paved, public airports in his home state.
“I’ve always wanted to fly since I was a kid,” Cutler, now 66, recalls. “I remember during Korea seeing shows on TV — yes, there was actually TV back then — about F-86s and Panther jets.”
Fast forward to 2004, when an associate gave him a gift certificate for an introductory flight. “It was good for a year, and the year was almost up, so I took the flight in September 2005. You might say they had me from hello.”
But like so many of us, even then Cutler found himself grounded when family matters intervened. “My mom passed away about a month after I started my flight lessons, so I took about a six-month hiatus before I went back to flying,” he said.
As he got into the lessons, he ran into a common problem among older students. “Even with an engineering background, I realized that I did not learn technical matters quite as fast as I had earlier, but my instructor, Mauro Matos, was very patient,” he said.
After about 45 hours, which took 14 months, Cutler soloed. He then accelerated his training program. In about six more months, at 115 hours, he earned his ticket. “I was in no rush,” he said.
Cutler is now a member of the 150th Aero Flying Club at Morristown Municipal Airport (MMU). “It is a dollar-efficient way to fly, and our maintenance officer, Ed Gilroy, is top notch,” he said.
Cutler admits he’s not really sure why he chose his personal quest of landing at all 44 paved, public airports in New Jersey.
“I enjoy flying immensely — it has replaced horseback riding, which I no longer do — because, although it requires a great deal of concentration, it has little to do with what I do every day as a divorce lawyer,” he said. “I thought that if I could land at all 44 paved, public airports in New Jersey, while that would be not a terribly difficult feat, it would be one that few have done. It was sort of a personal satisfaction, personal achievement thing,” he continued.
When asked about his most memorable landing, he immediately starts telling the tale of the landing that would complete his quest. It was at Newark Liberty Airport (EWR), a Class B airport.
“I had met Robert Lehman, the superintendent manager of the tower, about a year before when two friends and I were admitted into the tower and allowed to observe. Just before Thanksgiving last year, I called him and told him about my stab at the 44, and said that I wanted to land at EWR early that Sunday morning. While I really did not need ‘permission’ ahead of time, he was delighted and very helpful. “I did, in fact, land there on runway 11 on Thanksgiving weekend,” he continued.
“While I was given no special radio treatment, as I took off on runway 22R, I had a definite feeling that Bob had alerted ATC that I would be landing that day when the tower said, ‘Congrats, you’ve made it.’ It was a kick to see all of those jets lined up to take off just waiting for me in a Cessna 172 to get out of the way.”
He noted that while New Jersey has several airports that have “narrow, short runways that can be a bit tricky,” he didn’t have any scary moments during his quest, “other than the extra bouncy days when you say, ‘what the hell I am doing up here?’”
He also recalls one of the funniest experiences during the quest: “I was flying back one afternoon from Providence (PVD) and was on flight following out of LaGuardia (LGA). The radio chatter was heavy — everybody stepping all over one another — when ATC yelled in the radio, ‘Everyone shut up, I’m talking.’ I then realized that there are two additional requirements to be a controller at LGA: You have to have a thick New York accent and you have to have an abiding New York attitude.”
Cutler made a special point of landing at each of the airports solo. “Once I had landed at all 44 airports, I realized that 25% of those had been with an instructor, so I went back and re-landed at those 11 solo.”
He did take some friends on his flights and his secretary, Claire LeRitz, accompanied him on his last flight to EWR, taking photos to capture the moment.
So what’s next for this pilot?
“Now that I have landed at all 44 solo, maybe next summer I will go for my instrument rating,” he said. “It’s not that I intend to fly all over under IMC, but it will make me a better pilot.”
So far, he has flown as far south as Tangier Island (TGI) in Virginia, and Lake George in upstate New York, and many points in Pennsylvania, New York, Long Island and in between. “My favorite flight is down the Hudson,” he said.
He also is making plans for other aerial adventures. “Other places plan to fly include Martha’s Vineyard (MVY) and Brunswick Executive Airport (BXM) in Maine to visit a friend,” he concludes.