THE CRADLE OF AVIATION LIVES ON
Warren D. Jorgensen
Emil “Ace” Feroldi and Hank Anholzer were infants when Charles Lindberg bought and flew is 1918 Curtiss JN4 “Jenny” in his short-lived barnstorming career. They were in elementary school when he went on to greater things in 1927. In 1973, they began restoring that old Jenny, creating what would become the nucleus of the sixty-three planes and spacecraft now on display at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York.
And it all began in George Dade’s basement. Dade, a self-made millionaire, found the old Jenny in a barn in Coggins, Iowa, transported it to his home in Glen Head, (NY) and set about recruiting volunteers to restore it.
Hank and Ace were among the first to lay their hands on it, and one night a week for four years, they painstakingly brought the old bird back to its former self, exposing a strut in which Lindbergh had carved his initials.
“It was in really sad shape”, says Hank, “A real basket case” Hank rebuilt the fuselage while Ace spliced and rigged all the cables and lines, by hand.
“I guess because it was my first, but I really loved that plane”, says Ace, sitting in the museum hangar recently while volunteers on his team rebuild an OX-5 engine, the same one that powered the Jenny and many other aircraft of that era. “Dade put in the milling machines, the lathes, everything we needed to build a plane. Where else would I get such a big erector set to play with?”
Both men grew up in and with the aviation history that is so rich in this area that was in fact the birthplace of much of American aviation development. The Hempstead Plain in the Golden Years of Aviation between 1918 and 1939 lent itself to flying airplanes; it was wide, flat, long sparsely populated and next to the ocean. It was where those daring young men in their flying machines came to “break those surly bonds of earth” in what were little more than linen-covered wood frames held together with glue and screws, controlled with wires and lines, powered by engines that would power a mid-sized motorcycle of today.
Glenn Curtiss brought his planes from his home base in Hammondsport, NY to fly here and to go on to greater fame and fortune. Dr. Hammond Walden on the other hand built and flew his Walden 3 here in 1909, built and flew three more and gave up the idea after several crashes.
The aircraft industry boomed here, and between them, Ace and Hank spent over eighty years with Pan American which shared the spotlight with Grumman and Republic, Curtiss, Sperry and Fairchild, between them produced over 45,000 aircraft during WWII. The exploits of their P-47’s, Hell Cats, Wild Cats are writ large in aviation lore and WWII history. The crowning achievement was perhaps the building of the Apollo Lunar Modules by Grumman that first put men on the moon.
In 1976, the Jenny was part of President Jimmy Carter’s inaugural parade, moving to the fledgling museum that was not yet a museum in hangars in the old Mitchell Field Air Force base. The Jenny was joined by the sister ship to the “Spirit of St. Louis”, a P-47 Thunderbolt and a Grumman Tiger, one of the first of the jet fighters. “I worked on every one of them, a little bit here, a little bit there” says Hank.
“They were a bunch of dusty old men working on dusty old planes in dusty old hangars” says museum VP of External Relations Bill Gwynn of those early days. Today, the museum is truly world class, with sixty three restored planes and spacecraft, from the 1909 Bleriot 11 (a sister ship to the first plane to cross the English Channel) to LEM 13, the Lunar Module that stayed home when the Apollo program was terminated.
“We have a diverse collection spanning one hundred years here”, says Curator Joshua Stoff of the growing collection so meticulously created and restored by the cadre of 250 volunteers who have donated over six hundred thousand hours and untold years of experience and expertise to what can only be considered a world-class museum. “We are every bit as good as what you’ll find in the Smithsonian”
“These guys are doing it because they love it”, says Gwynn of Ace and Hank . “They are the super stars in that area. It is not only inspiring, it is contagious”