Columnists

July 23, 2006

Remembering Flushing Airport

On approach to Runway 18 at FLU
On approach to Runway 18 at FLU. (Photo by Alan Gross)
Flushing Airport is my Mecca. Currently, the 75-acre property lies dormant with its runways underwater and this former aviation facility’s future remains uncertain. Most of the New York City-owned property is now protected wetlands with about 30 acres of developable land. If I have my way, blimps will once again rise from the property.

The abandoned hangars and office building that have decayed and partially burned down are all that is left of Flushing Airport. I was aware of the airport at a very young age. I would look out my living room window and watch the small planes land and takeoff for hours at a time. In the early 1950’s, my father occasionally drove me over to the airport’s viewing area so I could see the action up close. I actually remember that there were two runways back then. One runway was eventually closed due to safety concerns. I still remember and miss the smell of the airport’s asphalt wafting over my neighborhood.

I must have been around 8 or 9 when Anthony “Speed” Hanzlick asked my father if I would like to go for a ride in his plane. Speed operated the airport and his wife, Mrs. H., worked in the office. My first flight was very exciting and we flew over New York harbor giving me a view of the Statue of Liberty that I would remember to this very day. What a surprise!

Flushing Airport Approach Plate

Flushing Airport Approach Plate

Flushing Airport’s history goes back to 1927. It was close to Manhattan and pilots would fly into New York City and land at the College Point property. It was one of the busiest municipal aviation facilities in New York City. It was eventually overshadowed in the mid-30’s by North Beach Airport, which became LaGuardia Airport in 1939. During the 1939-40 World’s Fair at nearby Flushing Meadows, Flushing Airport was the gateway to this magnificent Queens event.

The airport, which had a 3,000-foot north/south runway, also served as a base for the Skytypers and I recall the early morning takeoffs of the World War II planes as they left for their various advertising missions. I looked forward to hearing the engines runup and then roar as the five planes took off one right after the other down the runway. It was like a private airshow!

Initially there were two operators utilizing the airport, Speed’s Flying Service and Edward’s Flying Service. Eventually, Edwards left and created another airfield in Bayport, New York. During World War II, the airport served as a Civil Air Patrol base and patrol units flew missions out of College Point. There was also an aviation school on the property. In the early 1950’s, apartment buildings lined the east end of the airport and began to limit its operations.

I got to know Flushing Airport a lot better in 1964 when two Goodyear blimps moored at the north end and I became a constant visitor to the airport. Speed knew that I had a genuine interest in aviation and introduced my parents and me to the staff of Goodyear’s airship operations. This meeting changed my life and my undying interest in lighter-than-air was born.

Two Goodyear blimps moored at FLU

Goodyear ships Columbia and Mayflower moored at FLU.

The Mayflower and Columbia (the names of the Goodyear blimps) returned to Flushing Airport in 1965. They were the only blimps operating anywhere in the world and they were practically in my back yard! A blimp returned to the airport every year after that through 1976 when Flushing Airport’s future became uncertain and the blimps started to moor at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.

During the late 1970’s, Speed, Mrs. H., and the airport mechanic Johnny turned over the airport’s operations to Sunrise Aviation and the condition of the airport’s runway started to deteriorate and flood more often. Also, the proximity to an expanding LaGuardia Airport, only a mile or so to the west, sealed the fate of Flushing Airport and it was closed by 1984. However, the Flushing Exclusion, an air corridor overhead that allows small planes, helicopters, and blimps to fly to Manhattan from points north and east, still exists.

The airport had a good run and its presence inspired many north Queens youth to find a career in aviation. I have met pilots, FAA personnel, A&P mechanics and others who started out at Flushing Airport or just watched and were inspired by the planes (such as Cessnas, Aeroncas, Pipers, and Stinsons), helicopters, blimps, and seaplanes takeoff and land throughout the years.

I even recall a special event that was very exciting. The aircraft from the movie “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” were brought to the Queens airport and put on display for a few days. To see these old biplanes up close was very exciting and I gained an appreciation for early aviation history.

Photo by Jay Beck

Photo by Jay Beck

In the early 1980’s, Dan Aykroyd and Eric Idle came to the airport and shot a comedy sketch for Saturday Night Live using the runway. Around the same time, Marcia Strassman of “Welcome Back, Kotter” fame also shot a scene for the movie “Soup for One.” Celebrities would also appear at the airport during the summer to catch a flight out to the Hamptons on Long Island.

Of course, my passion was for the Goodyear blimps and their presence at Flushing Airport was always thrilling, especially when famous visitors came out to College Point for a ride on one of the magnificent flying behemoths. I recall seeing Mayor Robert Wagner, Arthur Godfrey, Mad magazine creator Bill Gaines, and others take flights on the unique aircraft. A few years ago, a former Goodyear pilot (and my first boss!) told me that the Beatles secretly came out to the airport for a blimp ride.

There were reporters around all the time and the Goodyear blimp pilots were always busy answering the same questions over and over again with courtesy and a friendly smile! I tried to help out the public relations staff by distributing brochures and answering questions outside the office, especially on busy weekends. I worked hard to earn my Goodyear blimp rides. I was proud to be a part of the Goodyear team and was able to also obtain rides for friends and neighbors.

Photo of the author at FLU

The author as a young man at FLU

Over the last few years, I was hoping to share the “airship experience” by creating a unique aviation facility on the former Flushing Airport site…a Blimpport! Unfortunately, the real estate market in the College Point Corporate Park has gone wild and New York City officials have disregarded my attempts to submit a Blimpport plan for the property. With airships performing more and more homeland security missions over New York City, having a mooring facility for these flying behemoths at Flushing Airport may not be such a bad idea after all.

In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Economic Development Corporation attempted to sell the property to a group of Korean Wholesalers but the community protested the project, as it would create more traffic problems for an already overburdened infrastructure. The future of Flushing Airport is still up in the air, so to speak. However, I have not given up and if I get my way, lighter-than-air craft will once again return to north Queens.


  • Jeff LaRotonda

    We moved to College Point from Bayside when I was 2 (1962), we lived in the top floor of the apartments on 130th street directly to the west of flushing airport til 1973, the only thing seperating us was the old football and baseball fields where i played for CPAC football (college point athletic club) and the little league. I would watch the aircraft and the Goodyear blimps fly in and out from our window, we would run accross the fields and linden dr to stand along the fence when the old T-6's of the Skytypers would start up. In 1980 I hired on with Eastern Airlines as an A&P, in 1988 after EAL I worked for Northwest Airlines, eventually becoming a maintenance controller from 1991 – 1994, in 2002 my employment in aviation ended when NWA closed the mtc. base in Atlanta GA. . this article was great to read as was the old photos (you can see one of the old ballfields in the pic with the blimp Columbia on approach). Thanks for bringing back some fantastic memories………….

  • Jeff LaRotonda

    We moved to College Point from Bayside when I was 2 (1962), we lived in the top floor of the apartments on 130th street directly to the west of flushing airport til 1973, the only thing seperating us was the old football and baseball fields where i played for CPAC football (college point athletic club) and the little league. I would watch the aircraft and the Goodyear blimps fly in and out from our window, we would run accross the fields and linden dr to stand along the fence when the old T-6's of the Skytypers would start up. In 1980 I hired on with Eastern Airlines as an A&P, in 1988 after EAL I worked for Northwest Airlines, eventually becoming a maintenance controller from 1991 – 1994, in 2002 my employment in aviation ended when NWA closed the mtc. base in Atlanta GA. . this article was great to read as was the old photos (you can see one of the old ballfields in the pic with the blimp Columbia on approach). Thanks for bringing back some fantastic memories………….

  • Joe Amoroso

    I learned to fly at Flushing Airport with Bob Garrity from 'Edwards Flying Service' at the small hut on South part of the Airport close to where the skywriters were and I soloed on a warm June evening in 1956 at the age of 17. Bob Garrity had to go to work at the 'Birdland Show' so he told me to keep doing touch-and-goes as long as it was still daylight. I was so excited about flying solo in the Aeronca 7AC that I didn't realize it was getting dark and Speed chased me in his Jeep right along side my airplane as I landed yelling and screaming that I had to bring the Aeronca to it's parking place.
    I often flew with Bob in his blue WOR Stinson while he was doing his traffic reports and he would usually give me the controls while he had a smoke and a cup of coffee. He was a great guy and a terrific instructor. I often wonder if he is still around.
    My experiences at Flushing Airport directed me to a life of engineering in the aircraft/spacecraft design industry at Grumman.

    • Anonymous

      Dear Joe -
      My Dad flew out of FLU from 1939 through about 1944. He flew an Aeronca Model 50, an Aeronca tandem trainer, and several different Piper J-3′s as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.
      His receipts for gas and flying time from Edwards averaged around two dollars and change! 

      I loved Flushing airport and still cherish its memories. In ’56 I was eight years old, and my Dad would drive us to watch the planes takeoff from the little parking lot next to the “diner”.
      To this day, avgas and hot termac are a heady perfume to me, though the only flying I’ve ever done myself  is on MS Flight Simulator.

      I have a really nice shot of Bob Garrity’s 108 parked next to one of the small wooden buildings
      at Flushing. Never knew who flew it until reading your post here. I also have a shot of an Aeronca Champ on the tarmac, also from 1956. Might it be your aircraft?

      Also, a head on shot of a small biplane with a big radial engine in the run-up area
      behind the south end office-hut. I like to think this was a late outing for one of Andy Stinnis’s original Skywriter Travelairs, which I believe he left with Speed when his company switched to the SNJ/T-6. Any idea what it was? I read somewhere that Speed’s wife Wilhelmina (the voice of Flushing Control) would occasionally run the Travelair around the field for fun.

      Regards, John Givre

    • Alexis

      Bob is my uncle…he married my aunt Lavator “Bonnie” Collins…He was so good to me…What a great man

    • Lynette

      I see something new that I have learned that you are my cousin. :) I am just attempting to figure out which of Lavator Garrity’s siblings is your mother or father. I am guessing that you are Aleada’s child? If so, I have met you twice in my lifetime. How are you?

    • Harry Fenton

      Is Bob still around? I would love to get some history on a plane that he once owned that I now own. His signature are in the logbooks starting about 1950, and then he sold it to Edwards Flying Service. Aeronca 7AC Champ N1063E.

    • Lynette

      My Dear Joe I hate to be the bearer of sad news but I wish to share with you that my cousin Bob is deceased for some time now. Precisely when I do not recall but suffice it to say that I do know that he died prior to your post. Do you have the pic posted somewhere online; that you described with Bob? I do concur with my cousin Alexis because Bob was extremely good to all of us in his family.

    • Harry Fenton

      I own an Aeronca Champ once owned by Bob Garrity- N1063E. Did you fly this one? I’m always looking for old photos of this plane from the 40′s and 50′s. You can see what it looks like today on Facebook, EAA Chapter 22.

  • Joe Amoroso

    I learned to fly at Flushing Airport with Bob Garrity from 'Edwards Flying Service' at the small hut on South part of the Airport close to where the skywriters were and I soloed on a warm June evening in 1956 at the age of 17. Bob Garrity had to go to work at the 'Birdland Show' so he told me to keep doing touch-and-goes as long as it was still daylight. I was so excited about flying solo in the Aeronca 7AC that I didn't realize it was getting dark and Speed chased me in his Jeep right along side my airplane as I landed yelling and screaming that I had to bring the Aeronca to it's parking place.
    I often flew with Bob in his blue WOR Stinson while he was doing his traffic reports and he would usually give me the controls while he had a smoke and a cup of coffee. He was a great guy and a terrific instructor. I often wonder if he is still around.
    My experiences at Flushing Airport directed me to a life of engineering in the aircraft/spacecraft design industry at Grumman.

  • Gary M

    Does anyone remember a Cliff Rice that used to fly and run an FBO at Flushing? Thanks

    • Anonymous

      Yes he flew a blue and white cherokee 140 with a mercedes emblem on the side.

  • richfs

    When I was very young, it might have been during the Korean War, I remember that there was an Army Camp across Linden from Flushing Airport. Does anyone have any information about this or did I dream its presence?

  • http://www.facebook.com/marc.thorner.1 Marc Thorner

    I too learned how to fly at Flushing. My instructor was George Routell. The Aircraft was Piper Cherokee N7597R. I remember Cliff Rice and the gang. I was also a ground crew for one of the blimps (1 of 24) which was mostly playing catch with a Blimp!

  • http://twitter.com/ColinBhimsen Colin Bhimsen

    Miss the old airport!

  • umar