2005-04-07 / View From the Middle

Floyd Bennett Field: Much More Than Just A Playground View From The MiddleBy Charles Rogers

I have to admit, with this penchant for flying and things aeronautic that I’ve had practically forever, I have always paid special attention to our neighbor Floyd Bennett Field. The tremendously significant, historic air strip a short distance to our west, after all, is one of the gems of aviation lore, having been at the forefront when flying was not necessarily in its infancy, but when it was, like a bird breaking from its nest, just getting its wings (if you’ll pardon the attempted simile).

You don’t have to be a romantic — but it helps — to visualize the pioneers of the industry getting their air legs at Floyd Bennett. Nor do you have to stretch your memory as you think about how recent it was when the field was a Naval Air Station and those F9F jets would do their arcs and tumbles and chase each other approaching and exceeding Mach I — in formation — over Canarsie! Yes, over our neighborhoods! That was only in the ’60s, if you’ll recall, just before it closed as a landing field for fixed-wing aircraft.

Oh, yes, if you go to the end of Flatbush Avenue, just this side of the Marine Parkway Bridge and then turn left, there it is, with its hangars, some rather decrepit looking, wreaking of history. Your thoughts have to go to visions of Howard Hughes testing a double-motor AT6 and Wiley Post sporting a goggled cap and a long, white scarf as he boarded his double-winged Steariman. And Amelia Earhart, who flew from there many times and later disappeared after taking off from a California air strip. And let us not forget Floyd Bennett himself, who chauffered Admiral Byrd to the North Pole and South Pole.

Another not to be forgotten, of course, was the courageous, indefatigable Charles Lindbergh and the equally courageous, but rather aimless, Wrong Way Corrigan, who took off from Floyd Bennett on a solo flight to California and wound up in Ireland (Hey, that’s not so bad, either).

Floyd Bennett has been closed for decades as an airfield, except for NYPD helicopters that land near the hangars and an occasional World War II vintage aircraft in an air show, or, rather, historic display. Not too long ago the hangars housed a few other historic planes that were being worked on by volunteers who, like me, have a particular love for flight and its history.

I remember there was a beautiful, gull-winged World War II Corsair in one of the hangars, and in another a Coast Guard amphibious aircraft known as the “90-mile-an-hour wonder” because it could fly slowly over people in distress in water, land near them and conduct a rescue.

Last night there was an “open house”-type meeting at Floyd Bennett held by the National Park Service, since the field belongs to the federal Gate-way National Recreation Area, to discuss pros and cons about making more of a pleasure site out of the field, including converting a hangar into an ice-hockey arena. I understand some of the historic value of the field will be retained, but there will be new entrances and changes to make it more “people friendly.” There is another meeting scheduled for tonight at Fort Tilden in Queens.

Personally — and it is obviously pretty personal to me — I can’t say I mind them doing a little more converting of the general area of the field for other activities. Boy and Girl Scout troops can still do their hiking, etc. and youth groups can camp, or whatever, and they can even have some concessions — as long as they retain a place where Floyd Bennett Field, as a special place of history, is not lost in a quest for just hedonism or greed.

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