2012-07-12 / Columns
Up, up and away!
My father-in-law was a mechanic for Pan Am from 1961 until the airline went out of business in 1991. As a child, Joe— my husband and comic book enthusiast — was fascinated by his dad’s occupation: repairing planes and the physical scale of that undertaking. Joe has told me that plane maintenance is obviously different from fixing a car, since it’s fixing something the size of a car. I like to think Joe imagined his father in the role of a superhero, wrestling with massive plane engines while armed with colossal wrenches and mallets in order to restore order on the tarmac and render aircraft safe for the people ofAmerica. (Yes, his nerdiness has rubbed off on me.)
Perhaps this connection is what triggered Joe’s enthusiasm for planes and flying. Back when we were still dating, my husband went skydiving a few times and on many occasions expressed interest in flying a plane. So one year, I surprised him with a birthday gift certificate entitling him to a one-hour flying lesson in a Cessna single-prop plane at Westchester Airport. His face lit up like the Bat Signal on a dark night (no pun intended), and I vividly remember his mile-wide smile before departing on that flight.
Recently, a friend of ours mentioned a small-craft airport called Sky Manor (www.skymanorairport.com) in Pittstown, N.J., where visitors could dine adjacent to the runway. I was immediately intrigued by this concept. You may be wondering what makes this idea so original, since anyone traveling via amajor airport terminal can observe aircraft arrive and depart from a gate or distantly ascend on a busy runway. But Sky Manor offered something quite different.
Up close and personal
Their website was vague, and I just had to see this place for myself. So, my sons and I took Joe there for Father’s Day brunch a few weeks ago. About an hour from New York City and Philadelphia, Sky Manor is a rural, private airport that started in the 1940s as a grass strip and has since evolved into a 2,900-foot-long paved runway.
Sky Manor Airport Restaurant, with panoramic windows and some outdoor seating, was situated about 100 feet from the runway. The extensive menu included breakfast and fastfood items, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of a country kitchen.
Summer hours are Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (with a dinner buffet 5-9 p.m.), and Saturdays and Sundays 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (with a Sunday breakfast buffet from opening until noon). The restaurant is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
But it’s what happens after the meal that you won’t forget. There are benches and a vast stretch of grass to sprawl out on and watch all sorts of small craft — from historic Navy biplanes to helicopters — take off and land. We were inches from the runway. My children chased the landing planes, ducked under passing wings and shielded each other from the wind in thewake of a helicopter descent. It was a phenomenal experience. We sat there completely entertained for hours.
If you want an even closer look at these aircraft, pre-book a scenic airplane or helicopter flight through Sky Beckons (www.learntoflynj.com), or a hot-air balloon ride with BalloonsAloft (www.njballoon.com) or Alexandria Ballooning (www.njballooning.com), all of which operate out of Sky Manor.
There aremany otherways to have a flighty experience nearby. Here is a sampling.
July 14-15: The GeneseoAir Show, held at the 1941 HistoricalAircraft Group Museum in Geneseo, N.Y., will feature World War II re-enactors, military flyovers and demos, aerobatic acts and antique cars. Performances run 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. both days. Admission is $20 per person at the gate; kids under 12 and parking are free. Guests can take a rare 30- minute ride in the Red Tail P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airman war bird for $1,500 (to reserve, call 585-704-5266). Visit the Internet website at http://1941hag.org/Geneseo-Airshow/ index.html.
July 27-29: View mass ascensions of more than 100 hot-air balloons at dawn and sunset, ride in a balloon or get a taste of this activity in a tethered balloon at the QuikCheck New Jersey Festival of Ballooning at Solberg Airport in Readington. There are also headliner concerts, amusement rides, fireworks Friday night and a balloon glow Saturday night. For admission fees, visit www.balloonfestival.com.
Aug. 17: Atlantic
City’s Thunder Over the Boardwalk is a free annual spectacle featuring aerobatic stunts, formation flying, fly-bys and solo routines by both military and civilian pilots. Last year the air show attracted close to 800,000 spectators. It can be viewed between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. from every location along the boardwalk and beach. Premium ($30) and VIP ($50) public seating on the beach, including food and beverage, are available by joining the Flight Line Club. Visit www.atlanticcitynj.com/acairshow. aspx.
Through Oct. 14: The Old Rhinebeck Aerodome in New York’s Dutchess County presents two-hour air shows, using Pioneer, WWI and barnstorming-era planes, at 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. Rides in a 1929 biplane begin at 10 a.m. for $75. The museum and grounds are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It has four hangars packed with antique airplanes and cars. Weekend admission is $20 for adults, $15 for ages 13-17, $5 for kids 6 to 12, and free for age 5 and under. Visit www.oldrhinebeck.org.
Other options are the Greenwood Lake Air Show in West Milford, Aug. 18-19 (www.greenwoodlakeairshow.com); AirFest at NavalAir Station Wildwood Aviation Museum at Cape May Airport, Aug. 29-31 (www.usnasw.org); Open Cockpit Days at the Aviation Hall of Fame New Jersey in Teterboro, July 28 and Sept. 8 (www.njahof.org); and the Hagerstown Wings and Wheels Expo in Hagerstown, Md., Sept. 22 (www.wingsandwheelsexpo.com/Show_ Information. html).
As you can see, there are many ways to get your flying fix, and the best part of all is you don’t have to be Superman.
To contact Lizz Dinnigan,“friend” her on Facebook under Dinnigan’s Diversions.