June 3, 2019
On September 17th, 1959, a B-52 carried an X-15 aloft on its maiden flight. With Scott Crossfield at the controls, the first flight of the X-15 exceeded Mach 2. Powered by two rocket engines built by Reaction Motors of Pompton Plains, New Jersey, X-15s would eventually reach Mach 6.72 and climb to over 350,000 feet. An X-15 engine is one of many New Jersey built engines on display in the Aviation Hall of Fame.
The purpose of this blog is to give an introduction to some of the wonderful, lesser known, aviation museums that exist throughout the country. The Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey is exactly the type of museum that will be our focus. It sits in a corner of Teterboro airport in New Jersey, tucked in behind the control tower and is not in a place where someone is going to just drive by. Although it receives funding from State and local sources, it is obviously run on a small budget. And, like many of the museums in this series that have limited funding, it is operated by an experienced and dedicated volunteer staff. Founded in 1972, it is the kind of museum that you can browse in its entirety in just a couple of hours, or you can take your time at each display case and discover any number of aviation facts. You will always learn something new and interesting in a museum like this.
The focus of the museum is the history of aviation in New Jersey, and they have done a nice job of keeping to this theme. The Garden State, for its small size, has an amazing amount of aviation history and famous aviators, and there is a surprising number of astronauts who hail from New Jersey.
Although the museum is on a small lot, there are six aircraft located around the outside, as well as a number of vehicles. They are all in various states of restoration or preservation.
Our guide, Richard, mentioned that this is the only complete Martin 202 in existence. The former TWA and Allegheny Airlines plane is pretty decrepit on the outside, but the Allegheny paint job can still be seen and it just feels like a part of history. I’m sure this plane spent a lot of its life flying in and out of small and challenging airports like Johnstown and Wilkes Barre, Pa as well as major airports such as Boston, Newark and Washington National. The interior is open to visitors and inside the cabin the seats are intact, as is the cockpit. Although a lot of the levers and switches up front are old looking and corroded, all of the gauges have been restored. The panel may not look too great, but the amount of work that went into bringing these gauges back to their original look must have been extensive, and it was really worth it. Museums that go to the extra effort of making aircraft interiors accessible to visitors should be commended. It is not that common, and it helps make the visit much more interesting.
It really wasn’t that long ago that this cockpit was “state of the art” and there are still many pilots flying who cut their teeth in similar cockpits. That won’t be the case in a few years, so it is lucky that we have museums like this to remind us of our aviation heritage, and perhaps appreciate how far the industry has come.
Like most museums of this size, The Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey spans many eras and, again like most, it is not particularly well organized. This is always understandable, and doesn’t really detract from your visit. We toured the museum with a group of school children and our guide did a good job of keeping the teens engaged as well as presenting the subjects in a logical order. There were several docents present as we entered the museum, eager to be of assistance, offering a guided tour or we could just wander.
LOTS OF HISTORY IN A SMALL SPACE
There is quite a comprehensive display about Charles Lindbergh; the connection being that his engine, the Wright J-5 Whirlwind, was built in Paterson New Jersey. The same room has several radial engines on display, including a Wright Cyclone 1820, my personal favorite. The X-15 engine is in this area, also built in New Jersey. The limited space of the museum is well used, with this room also containing a large display honoring astronauts from New Jersey. There are plaques, memorabilia as well as videos playing, all in rather compact area.
Buzz Aldren, the second man on the moon, is from Montclair, NJ (his bio says Glen Ridge, but either way, he is from New Jersey). This is typical of the displays in the museum. It is not particularly artistic or elegant, but it is interesting and full of information.
In keeping with its mission of covering New Jersey aviation, there is a hall of fame room devoted to plaques recognizing the numerous people from New Jersey, some famous, some not well known, who have contributed to the development of aviation. A room like this a fitting way to memorialize a large number of people, who might otherwise be forgotten in time.
Back outside, there is a second airliner open for display. The opportunity to actually go inside a vintage aircraft really adds interest and this museum works hard to provide that experience. The museum’s Convair 880 cockpit, one of the first jet airliners, is still in TWA colors. Built in 1958, N803TW was the second jet to be delivered to TWA and it is probable that this plane was flown by Howard Hughes during its introduction.
The cockpit is in nice original condition and includes the full flight engineers’ panel, another reminder of the days when nothing in the cockpit was automated.
CONVAIR 880 FLIGHT ENGINEER’S PANEL
I spent some time as a “plumber” on a DC-8 panel. It was similar to the 880 and I can assure you that there was a lot to know to operate one of these and properly managing fuel and pressurization systems was quite an art!
The Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey is most certainly worth a visit and I was left with the feeling that I had discovered a lot of interesting material in a rather small space.
PLANNING YOUR VISIT
The museum is open 10AM-4PM Tuesday through Sunday. Adults $9, children $7 and seniors $7. Group rates are available.
If you fly into KTEB, there are a number of FBOs, but the museum is right next to Signature East. If you don’t want to mess with TEB, try Caldwell (Essex County Airport), KCDW, located about 10 miles west of Teterboro. It is a towered airport with two paved runways of 4500 and 3700’. It is a busy airport with RNAV and LOC approaches.
New York City- enough said! Locally, the Meadowlands Sports Complex is close by with a variety of activities, including a ski slope.
MUSEUM WEB SITE
This section will feature a recommended book or two. The books may or may not relate to the specific museum, but I will try to mention very good books that might not be well know. I’ll start with my favorite flying book, one that is well-known: “Fate is the Hunter” by Ernest K. Gann. The book is basically autobiographical, covering Gann’s airline flying in the thirties, WW-II transport flying, and flying with a start-up non-sked after the war. Gann’s writing style describes the beauty and mechanics of flying in way that pilots and non-pilots alike can appreciate and any Gann book is worth a read. By the way, several of Ernest Gann’s books were made into films, but the film titled “Fate is the Hunter” is not from this book.
We visit the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage.
MUSEUMS ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM
This section will contain photos and information about airplanes and aviation artifacts that are in public areas, but not in a museum. Keep your eyes open- they are everywhere! Send in a photo if you find an interesting “museum”- the more unusual the better!
Here’s some examples:
This 1935 Fairchild 24G, originally ordered by the US Bureau of Commerce, hangs in the terminal at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage.
There are many T-33’s on display throughout the country- this one is in front of DeFuniak Springs airport (54J) in the Florida panhandle. A sight like this is common at a military base, but not as common at a municipal airport. The Lockheed Shooting Star is on loan from the Air Force Museum.
This sculpture by was commissioned in 2003 by Kitty Hawk, NC to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Wright Brother’s first flight.
Created by artists Hanna Jubran, Jodi Hollnagel Jubran, and Glenn Eure, it consists of 14 pylons engraved with the 100 most significant events of the first 100 years of flight. It is a wonderful memorial that, unfortunately, sits out of sight behind the Kitty Hawk visitors center
I hope you enjoyed this brief museum tour and I look forward to presenting many more. Please let me know what you like (or don’t like).
Issue 1 Copyright 2019
All photos by the author