Middlebury — Like most folks, Vermonters’ enthusiasm for flight grew alongside the field of commercial and private aviation.
Municipal and private airfields sprouted up in many urban and rural areas in New England during the 1920s and 1930s, but by the post war era—primarily due to the lower cost of private ground transportation (automobiles) plus the ever rising costs of learning to fly and owning, maintaining a complex personal aircraft—many private airfields dwindled away; so too did the smaller quasi-commercial airfields in semi-urban places. Ironically, this shrinking trend continues into the 21st century.
But young aviation professionals such as airport operators Chris Bietzel of the state airport in Rutland and Brian Pinsonault in Middleury hope to change all that; they have plans to do more community and school activities and introduce young people—and their families—to airport resources.
“General aviation has taken a nose dive in recent years,” said Bietzel, “but that can be turned around with more involvement by pilots and the public.”
Today in Vermont, a variety of public funding sources keep Vermont airfields operating. But the field of personal aviation is still perceived as a rich person’s hobby despite the Federal Aviation Administration’s less-than-stellar results at reducing the cost of learning to fly—this through a new, niche licensing-program called the Light Sport Aircraft Certificate.
But some LSAs have ended up costing as much to purchase as traditional private aircraft, certainly not the intention of the program when it started here in 2004.
“Please don’t let money stop your dreams of flight. If you’re passionate about flying,” Bietzel noted, ” you will learn to fly. You don’t have to cram all your instruction into just a few months. As you spread out the learning, you also spread out the expense.”
On Wednesday, July 31, at 7 p.m., the 82nd anniversary of the opening of the first Middlebury airfield, the Sheldon Museum will present “Pilots’ Night”, a brief history of flight in Vermont focusing on Addison County and Middlebury.
The evening includes a talk by Susan Peden entitled “Addison County Takes Flight.”
Peden’s illustrated talk will feature several of the first airfields in Vermont as well as brief looks at the first daring pilots.
The Quesnel family operated Middlebury’s fledgling airfield at the approximate location of the intersection of U.S. Route 7 and Middle Road, just south of the A&W Drive In. In fact, one of the old airport buildings still stands but with today’s highway bisecting the old airfield site in half.
Photographs of the first Middlebury Airport, the Bristol Airport, and various aerial views of Addison County (1935-1940) by George Lathrop from the collection of the Sheldon Museum, and Jim Peden (978-1979) will be displayed
Local pilots are invited to attend and tell their stories of aviation in Vermont.
The Sheldon Museum is located at 1 Park St. in downtown Middlebury across from the Ilsley Public Library.
For more information, call 802-388-2117 or visit www.HenrySheldonMuseum.org.