Vintage wings and wheels
Pilot Bob Fritts and grandson Joshua, who is also a pilot, stand beside one of the vintage planes they fly.

IB/Chalifoux

Vintage wings and wheels

Story By: RICK CHALIFOUX
5/26/2016


ISLIP TOWN—On Sunday, more than 2,500 people gathered the Bayport Aerodrome Society’s “Celebration of Vintage Transportation” event, featuring a wide range of vintage planes—a number of which took off from the grass runway—an antique and vintage bike show, an antique and vintage car show, live music, food and vendors, and even a raffle for a free biplane ride. Despite some morning rain, its organizers and attendees powered through and decided not to postpone the festivities.  Their perseverance ultimately paid off, especially when the sun came out later in the afternoon.

The event was developed and sponsored by the Bayport Aerodrome Society in collaboration with the Big Sandbar Chapter of the Air Movement and Control Association (AMCA), and the Vanderbilt Region of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA). Overall, Aerodrome Society activities director Jim Mularabelis considered the day a great success.

“We were very happy with the show,” said Mularabelis, who has been a member since 1975. “It was a wonderful time, and we’re getting ready for the next one.”

While the local unit of the Civil Air Patrol helped with crowd control, local Boy Scouts pitched in with running the raffles.

“We have a very nice working relationship with the community,” said Mularabelis. “We have a wonderful relationship with the Bayport Civic Association. They really enjoy helping us support this field, and we’d like to keep it open to allow people to come and enjoy themselves.”

Mularabelis noted that the aerodrome is open to the public every Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. He explained what gives the site its innate charm and appeal.

“When you walk through those gates, you’re going back in time,” he said. “It’s a living museum and a wonderful place.

The Bayport Aerodrome—formerly known as Davis Field—is the last remaining public grass airfield on Long Island. It is not used for commercial aviation and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District since 2008. Owned by the Town of Islip, it is a unique “living museum” with a variety of antique aircraft flying on the field. Its collection includes biplanes, Champs, Cubs and other vintage planes.

The Bayport Aerodrome Society, which was formed in 1972, is a nonprofit organization composed of about 600 members, including aviation professionals, mechanics, recreational pilots, as well as others from all walks of life (teachers, police officers, doctors, etc.) simply interested in aviation and its historical preservation in the years to come. While a membership is required to acquire hangar space, no prior aircraft or pilot experience is required to join and volunteer.

“It’s a nice collection of people with the same interest and a lot of fun,” said Mularabelis, who noted that members are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the facility and surrounding grounds. “We have a crew that keeps everything in nice condition. We’re trying to have more of these kinds of activities and events to help promote the place and keep it going.”

One of the members present on Sunday was 90-year-old pilot Bob Fritts, a longtime pilot and proud owner of a 1943 Stearman B75-N1, which he has maintained in excellent flying condition. Fritts explained the history and drive behind his love of flying.

“It’s been a passion of mine since I was a kid,” said Fritts, who was accompanied by his grandson, Joshua—also a pilot and member of the Aerodrome Society.

Fritts’s dream growing up was to become a U.S. Navy fighter pilot. However, when he applied in 1944 during World War II, he was told that he was colorblind and would be unable to fly in either the Army or Navy. He remained determined, however, and the news did not stop him from working on an aircraft carrier in Japan.

When Fritts’s children were in high school, he decided to learn to fly on his own, recreationally. Decades later, he said he still gets the same rush while in the air.

“When I’m a pilot and I’m in command, it’s a euphoric feeling,” said Fritts, whose beloved wife Lillian was also a pilot. After she passed away, he erected a nearby garden space within view from his hangar dedicated to her memory.

Fritts’s deep-rooted knowledge and interest in planes and extensive flight experience led to his involvement with the Aerodrome Society, where he has been a member for 35 years. He stated how his lifestyle has helped keep him so active, sharp and healthy at his age.

“Working on my plane keeps my hands and my mind busy,” said Fritts. “I also wake up at 6 a.m. every day and work out at the gym three days a week. You don’t get to be 90 by being a couch potato.”

For more information about the Bayport Aerodrome Society, visiting hours, how to join/volunteer, and upcoming events, call 868-3838, email BayportAerodromeSociety@gmail.com, or visit www.bayportaerodromesociety.org.