A sputtering engine cracks the silence. The aromas of freshly mowed grass gently float up the nostrils, like summer’s perfume. Between two rows of hangars, the prop wash of a Stearman biplane transforms the turf beneath it into a plastered green blur. An Aeronca, surrendering its wings to the wind, leverages itself onto its main wheels as its tail rises above the ground from what is apparently a field-turned-runway, otherwise surrounded by clusters of trees. Waves of smoke from the annual August barbecue visibly triumph over the waves of sound which carry the period music’s message to the multitude of visitors: a tear in time has enabled aviation’s golden age to continue, and all who step through it can experience it. This “tear” is the Bayport Aerodrome Living Aviation Museum.
Its roots, literally, were planted more than a century ago, when James Isaac Davis, a house mover, acquired a 47-acre cornfield, among other area parcels. But its aviation role was not identified until his son, Curtis, saw the land through his own eyes. A World War II Civil Air Patrol pilot, he transformed it into a landing strip because of its close proximity, and thus convenience, to his Blue Point home.
Its conversion from farm field to airfield took place in the early-1940s with little more than brute strength: with the aid of sons Curtis J. and Ernie, along with “sophisticated” machinery in the form of a single, 1939 Chevrolet, tree stumps and other obstructing growth were removed, leaving a strip paved by Mother Nature’s more wheel-conducive grass, from which Curtis Sr. first took off in his Aeronca. The strip’s birth was consummated with the christening, of “Davis Field” on September 30, 1945.
Long Island has long been known as the cradle of aviation history, with many aeronautical firsts occurring here since the Wright Brothers first took to the air in 1903,” according to the Bayport Aerodrome Society’s website. “At one time, there were as many as 120 private and commercial airfields operating all over the island. One by one these airfields were shut down and lost as Long Island prospered, property values soared, and developers sought land to build new communities and industries throughout the 20th century. The Bayport Aerodrome has beaten the odds to survive as a throwback to those grass airfields of aviation’s golden age. It’s a story of how a colorful individual by the name of Curtis Davis, a former Civil Air Patrol pilot, hacked a rustic working airport out of the Long Island Pine Barrens in the years just after WWII that was miraculously saved from the developer’s axe 30 years later by an equally colorful community of passionate vintage aviation buffs led by John G. Rae who formed the Bayport Aerodrome Society. Their combined achievements led to the existence of one of Long Islands best kept aviation secrets.”
The first hangar, perhaps a testament to the new airfield’s longevity, was erected in 1947 later and was not removed until Hurricane Gloria wrenched it from its foundation in 1985. It was replaced by a second structure south of it.
Davis Field Flying School, established by Thomas F. Simmons, became its first tenant in 1948, and was quickly joined by a maintenance facility run by “Red” Robbins.
The field, originally only sprouting weeds, now also served as the foundation of aviation-related buildings. Three hangars rose from the center of it. A pilot’s lounge, flight operations center, and several flying schools occupied the small structure built in 1910, but relocated there in 1947.
Centerpiece of the airport was its only “tower”–a Coast Guard watch tower relocated from Fire Island, which waved its windsock to private pilots controlling Fairchild 24, Boeing PT-17 Stearman, and Vultee BT-13 aircraft like a greeting hand for three decades.
Another three-decade installation was Eveland Aircraft Services, established by Fred Evelan, an aircraft mechanic from rurally similar Zahns Airport in Amityville.
A piece of Long Island’s rich aviation heritage was transferred to the field in 1950 when Hangar 61, a large, wooden structure, was purchased from the now-closed Roosevelt Field and transported, section by section, over the rails to its south end. Subjected to decay, it relented to the destructive hands of Hurricane Bell 26 years later.
Ownership was passed to nurturing hands in 1953, when George Edwards, a flying school owner at Flushing Airport, purchased the land parcel, although it was transitionally known as “Davis/Edwards Field” until it adopted the official, and shortened, “Edwards” designation, whose raison d’être continued to be defined by its flying schools, aircraft maintenance shops, and private flying activity.
Mono- and biplanes, of both conventional and tailwheel configurations, continued to alight there, including Waco EGC-8s, Stinson SRJs. Waco UPF-7s, Fleet Model 2s and 16Bs, Ryan PT-22s, Fairchild PT-26 Cornells, Curtiss Fledgling N2Cs, and ERCO Ercoupes.
When George Edwards retired in the early-1970s, the field’s ownership forcibly changed, but not before its very existence was threatened.
Targeted by developers as a site for a 138-unit housing complex, the airfield was thrown a lifeline by John G. Rae, a retired general contractor and Bayport resident, in 1975, when he formed the Bayport Aerodrome Society, using local, state, and federal funds, coupled with support from the Antique Airplane Club of Greater New York, the Long Island Early Fliers, the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association, and Islip Town’s Commissioner of Aviation and Transportation, to acquire it.
Already the owner and operator of nearby Long Island MacArthur Airport, the Town of Islip, submitting the $21,562 final balance in 1978, purchased its second aviation property and subsequently drafted a master plan for it.
Because of their proximity to the new north/south runway, the airfield’s hangars and observation tower were removed; the Curtis J. Hangar was relocated to the west side; the south, I. W. Bianchi hangar replaced the Davis Field building ravaged by Hurricane Gloria; and the grass runway was refurbished.
Officially dedicated “Bayport Aerodrome” on July 13, 1980, the facility, three miles southeast of Long Island MacArthur, sports a single, 150-foot-wide by 2,740-foot-long grass/turf runway (18-36) and some 45 single-engine aircraft, averaging 28 daily movements, of which 98-percent are local. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 22, 2008, it proudly proclaims its grass field preservation role with a plaque, which reads: “Bayport Aerodrome. Only L. I. public airport w/ grass runways. National historic status 2008. Davis Field 1910-52. Then Edwards 1953-77. Islip Town 1978. Historic landmark preservation cite.”
Constructed on the northeast end of the field between 1984 and 1989, the Bayport Aerodrome Living Aviation Museum is a 24-hangar complex of privately-owned antique and experimental aircraft whose mission is to preserve and present early 20th-century aviation at a representative turf airfield, and its Bayport Aerodrome Society founder maintains a small museum, conducts complimentary tours between June and September, and facilitates flight experiences. It also hosts the annual Good Neighbor picnic, held on the first Sunday in August since 1994, and the Antique Airplane Club of Greater New York’s Fly-In.
The museum itself features a model aircraft collection, instrumentation, engines, and a replica of a Bleriot XI.
Displays focus on the first transatlantic flight with Navy-Curtiss NC-4 amphibian aircraft in 1919 and concurrent aerial navigation methods.
More than a half-dozen engines include a six-cylinder, inverted, direct-drive, inline, air-cooled Model 6-440C manufactured by the Fairchild Ranger Engine Company in Farmingdale; a liquid-cooled Allison V-1710 used by the Bell Air Cobra P-39; a six-cylinder, 250-hp de Havilland Gipsy Queen; a five-cylinder, 210-hp Kinner MOD-1354; an inverted V-12 Ranger Model SGV-770 employed by the Curtiss Seagull: and a nine-cylinder Wright J-5.
Another display showcases early instruments and radios.
The motley, but pristine aircraft collection is operational.
A Brooklyn-indigenous design, for instance, is represented by the Brunner-Winkle Bird, a three-seat taxi/barnstorming biplane produced between 1928 and 1931.
The Model A, its original production version, featured a welded steel tube truss fuselage with both metal and fabric skins, spruce and plywood wings, and a Curtiss OX-5 engine. It first took to the skies in September of 1928, and subsequent variants differed by powerplant, such as the Kinner K-5 of the Model B and the Wright J-5 of the Model C.
Charles Lindbergh taught his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to fly in the type.
The tailwheel Cessna 140 of 1946 was restored by two airline captains between 1992 and 1993 and gleams in the sun with its polished aluminum skins. Based at Bayport Aerodrome since 2002, it features a 100-hp Continental O-200a engine.
Powered by an inverted, four-cylinder, 142-hp Rolls Royce Gipsy Major 10mk 10-1-1 engine, the British Auster AOP-MK6, also hailing from the same year, was built in Rearsby, England, as a trainer for Royal Canadian Air Force pilots, but the aircraft was also used for military artillery spotting and general purpose liaison duties.
One of only three remaining in the world, and the only still-flying example, the 2,210-pound two-seater, with a 36-foot wingspan, cruises at 80 knots and touches down at half that speed.
The Reyerstahl D-3, another rare Bayport Aerodrome airplane, emanates from the Royal Design Bureau of the Grand Duchy of Vulgaria in 1933. Production, succeeding prototype development, was assigned to the Reyerstahl Factory in Bittersberg.
Powered by a modern, 115-hp Lycoming O-235 piston engine, the otherwise historically-accurate replica represents the last biplane fighter, equipped with a single,.30-caliber machine gun, to serve with the Royal Vulgarian Flying Corps. Surmounting the sky’s invisible steps at a sprightly, 1,500-fpm climb rate, the R-S D-3 had a 110-mph cruise speed and 250-mile range.
Golden Age designs are represented by Piper J-3 cubs and Aeronca IIAC Chiefs.
The former, powered by a 65-hp, four-cylinder Continental A65-8 piston engine, offered tandem seating and 710-pound empty and 1,220-pound maximum weights.
The latter, also hatched in 1946, shares the same powerplant and 1,250-pound maximum take off weight, attaining between 85- and 95-mph speeds. The equally-ubiquitous trainer, whose superiority over the Piper offering will always be debated, features a steel tube and tail, wooden spars, and aluminum wing ribs, and provides the student with the bottom basics: a manual pull starter and hand-propping technology.
Another primary trainer, intended for military pilots and designed in Canada, is represented by the Fleet 16D (Finch I), built by Fleet Aircraft Limited in 1940. The rugged, two-place, 2,000-pound biplane, with a 28-foot span, was powered by a five-cylinder, 160-hp Kinner B-5-2 engine and offered a 1,000-fpm climb rate, cruising at 95 mph and operating at a service ceiling of 15,200 feet. It was employed by the Royal Canadian Air Force until 1947.
Another classic aircraft represented at the Bayport Aerodrome, but originating even further afield, is the de Havilland Tiger Moth, itself based upon the earlier DH.60 Gipsy Moth.
Designed round a 350-pound engine, the DH.60 incorporated dual seats and controls, a three-hour flight duration, an 80-mph cruise speed, a low wing loading to foster short-field operations, docile handling characteristics, maintenance simplicity, and low acquisition costs. It was also to establish new grades of plywood, fabric, forgings, and castings.
Registered G-EBKT and first flying on February 22, 1925, it became the first in a series of light airplanes, sparking the de Havilland Company’s own explosive growth. It was followed by the DH.71 Tiger Moth, the first two of which, powered by Cirrus 2 engines, were manufactured in secrecy for the 1927 King’s Cup Race.
The DH.82 Tiger Moth arose from the Royal Air Force’s need for a primary trainer, but several modifications were stipulated, including the forward repositioning of the upper wing and fold-down doors on either side of the cockpit to facilitate in-flight pilot bailouts with standard parachute packs; upper- and lower-wing sweepback to maintain the center of lift; a strengthened structure; and a revised exhaust system.
First flying on October 26, 1931, the DH.82 featured differential aileron control-that is, the ailerons of the wing on the outside turn offered little deflection, while those of the wing on the inside of it traveled to a significantly greater angle in order to counteract adverse yaw.
The Royal Air Force placed an initial order for 35 aircraft, designated Tiger Moth Is, and followed this with 50 DH.82As (Tiger Moth IIs) powered by 130-hp Gipsy Major I engines. The DH.82C, a Canadian version powered by a 145-hp Gipsy Major IC, replaced the standard tailskid with a wheel and introduced an enclosed cockpit accessed by a sliding canopy to increase pilot protection from the country’s characteristically cold climate.
The type, serving as the training platform for most of the pilots who had fought in the Battle of Britain, saw service with the Royal Air Force, as well as with the Commonwealth countries of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and enjoyed a production run of some 7,000 during World War II alone.
The docile biplane stalled at 40 mph and climbed at 58.
From even further afield is the Russian Yakovlev Yak-18, appearing strangely out-of-place at the local Long Island grass field, but representing one of its greatest treasures.
Like the Tiger Moth, the Yak-18 “Max,” an expression of fighter aircraft designer Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev, was also slated for training purposes. Intended as a UT-2 replacement, the low-wing, single-seat aircraft, powered by a five-cylinder, 160-hp Shvetsov M-11FR radial piston, served as its prototype. It was less than successful.
The succeeding, dual-seat Yak-18A production version, with a metal frame, fabric skins, a 27.5-foot overall length, and 34-foot, 9.5-inch wingspan, introduced the more powerful, 260-hp, nine-cylinder Ivchenko AI-14R engine aerodynamically covered with an NACA cowling. First flying in 1957, it offered a 2,900-pound maximum gross weight and was able to attain 163-mh speeds and 16,600-foot service ceilings. It had a 440-mile range.
Equipped with bomb racks, it was instrumental in Korea, where it destroyed a 5.5-million gallon fuel dump near Inchon, and also served as the training platform for Yuri Gagarin, the world’s first person to enter space.
The Yak-18U and later versions introduced tricycle undercarriages.
Instrumental in the grass field’s existence and continued purpose is the Bayport Aerodrome Society. Formed in 1972, it “is composed of aviation professionals, recreational pilots, and people interested in preserving aviation history.” One of its major, public-invited events is its now-annual Celebration of Vintage Transportation, which features “vintage motorcycles, automobiles, and airplanes,” along with live music, a barbecue, and biplane rides.
Bayport Aerodrome certainly offers the visitor a return to Long Island’s grass field roots-literally.