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This article by Caroline Calogero was prepared for the June 4, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dreams of Taking Flight

Some kids only want trucks. Others collect Barbies,

plastic action figures, or every kit that Lego has ever made. Then

there are those who love anything that flies. Hint: these ones are

readily distinguished by the red towel tucked into the back of their

collars. These kids and their grownup counterparts — even those

who have shed the cape as part of their everyday attire — should

visit New Jersey’s Air Victory Museum.

Located at the South Jersey Regional Airport in Lumberton Township,

the museum is a quirky collection of aircraft, pieces of aircraft,

and information about aircraft housed in half a hangar. Part exhibition

hall, part garage, it has a jet engine hanging in midair from a trestle,

piles of spare parts, a library of 4,000 books, two flight simulators,

including an antique Link Trainer from World War II, and planes in

various stages of restoration.

Did I mention the museum is loaded with planes? Among them are a McDonnell

Douglas A-4 Skyhawk II painted in Blue Angel colors, a Lockheed F-104G

Starfighter designed during the late 1950s to intercept Soviet intruders,

and a Vietnam-era McDonnell Douglas F-4A Phantom II fighter bomber

capable of streaking through the air at 28,000 feet per minute and

described as the most successful combat plane since World War II.

Our first family visit was on a picture perfect day

with a stiff breeze blowing when I could almost imagine Lindbergh

landing the Spirit of St. Louis on the far runway. All that was needed

to complete the fantasy was a pilot striding by dressed in a bomber

jacket and leather helmet.

That day the museum was hosting a model aircraft fair and as part

of the festivities, free airplane rides were offered to children ages

8 through 17.

We packed up the gang including my 14-year-old son (who has voluntarily

chosen reading material describing a turbojet’s thrust), my three

daughters ages 6, 8, and 12, and my 6-year-old nephew.

Although we have raised no Superman wannabes in my house, the prospect

of a zipping through the wild blue yonder in a small craft erased

the reluctance of even my 12 and 14-year-olds to take yet another

family outing.

The best part of the museum for many youngsters is not housed inside

its hangar but rather sits right along side it where two retired military

aircraft rest in peace. Their humongous looming presence, perfectly

in keeping with the airfield setting, just invites passersby to have

a closer look and climb around inside.

The RH-53 Sea Stallion is a huge helicopter built by Sikorsky and

on loan from the Marines. Currently set up as a rescue ship with litters

for the wounded lining the interior, it could also be configured to

transport troops or cargo.

Two jeeps, 20,000 pounds of military stuff, or 45 fully outfitted

soldiers can fit inside it. The sheer size of this machine and learning

that it could cruise at 173 mph for five hours gave just a hint of

its former power.

This particular helicopter was built in 1973, served onboard the carrier

the USS Okinawa and last flew in August of 1997. This same type of

helicopter was used in the disastrous attempt to rescue United States

citizens held hostage in Iran in 1979.

Steve Wisnewski, the museum’s crew chief for the Sea Stallion, was

on duty at our visit. Eager to share his knowledge, he explained the

rotor blades measure 72 feet in diameter but its tail could be folded

back to allow the copter to fit on the deck of a carrier ship. He

was also quick to admit that the Stallion is in need of a good coat

of battleship gray paint and that the museum is looking for donors

to support the job.

Near the entrance to the museum sits the Grumman E2B Hawkeye, a spy

plane relic from the Cold War. Delivered to the Navy in 1962 and retired

in 1986, this 57.5 feet long radar detection plane could simultaneously

track 600 objects within a 250-mile radius.

At least a zillion dials, knobs, switches, and gauges decorated the

radar control panels located towards the rear of the plane’s interior.

The three seats for the crewman whose work it was to run the this

equipment were currently occupied by a succession of children readjusting

most of the settings.

The little kids loved this plane. Eddie likened it to the inside of

a submarine. Accordingly, it was not a space for those with overly

ample frames or anyone uncomfortable squeezing through small spaces.

All the exhibits are supported by reams of data, including descriptive

information and history, available for public perusal in binders nearby.

But the informative signage, usually part of professionally curated

shows, is in short supply. Asking questions of the staff helped fill

in the gaps.

Charles Searock, a retired Air Force lieutenant general and current

president, explains, "This is not an `era’ museum. It’s an aviation

education museum to take the mystique out of science."

The museum, which has occupied its hangar for the past three years,

has been in the works since 1993. It is staffed entirely by volunteers,

about half of whom have a military background. Many of the rest have

been involved in commercial aviation as mechanics or ground staff.

But just looking over the planes wasn’t enough for my brood. We came

to fly.

The older kids went up on their own with just the pilot

in a Cessna 170B, nicknamed a "tail dragger," for the way

its back end hangs down during flight. Anthony had a midair revelation

regarding the accuracy of architectural models claiming, "you

think models of neighborhoods look so fake until you get up in the

airplane." A greater concern for the other passengers was his

temptation to assist the pilot at the controls since his sisters graciously

conceded the copilot’s seat to him.

I flew on the last flight of the day with Barbara Para, a certified

flight instructor based out of Hammonton airport. Although initially

grousing about having to take up yet another group, my obvious nervousness

helped Barbara relax and she turned on the charm to make the trip

special for me and my two six-year-old companions, my daughter and

nephew.

Caroline, Eddie, and I walked over the wing of the Piper Cherokee

and climbed aboard. Para explained she had initially taken up flying

to conquer her fear of heights. This course of therapy seems to have

been only partially successful. Although Para has cruised her aircraft

at 12,000 feet, she is still unable to climb a ladder.

Once in the air, Para pointed out Philadelphia, looming like a gray

Oz in the distance, an incoming cold front, and the palatial home

of Vernon W. Hill II, chairman and president of Commerce Bank. We

had an unprecedented view of the steadily encroaching development

of southern New Jersey.

Flying at 120 mph, the little Piper’s fearsome noise and vibrations

reminded me of driving in a truck without any shocks over a very rough

country road.

But the kids were thrilled. Showing a daredevil spirit, Eddie described

the ride as "a lot better than a regular airplane because

it’s bumpier and because it tips over," his way of characterizing

our banked turns. Caroline enjoyed the scenery, noting that the world

below looked as if it were covered in a generous sprinkling of broccoli tops.

The museum offers its next family flight day on Saturday, July 12.

The Young Eagles Program offers free flights for children age 7 to

17; those over 17 pay "pennies per pound," with a maximum

charge of $15. Plan to arrive between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Also on July

12, helicopter rides are offered by an outfit at a nearby hangar for

$25.

We got lucky in the souvenir department. The younger kids each bought

a simple plastic whirligig for 25 cents that they took home and played

with for the rest of the afternoon, launching them into the back yard

and chasing them down. Eddie took his to school the next day for show

and tell.

The drive from the Princeton area takes a bit more than an hour and

a large part of the journey is a painless Interstate ride south. Refreshments

or lunch are offered next to the museum at the airport’s cafe. Food

is also available at the bevy of fast food joints just off the turnpike

exit in Mount Holly.

Visiting the Air Victory Museum is a congenial way to spend an afternoon

with the kids, particularly for those whose passions draw them skyward.

— Caroline Calogero

Air Victory Museum, South Jersey Regional Airport, 68

Stacy Haines Road, Lumberton Township, Medford, 609-267-4488 (Toll

free: 866-556-0101). Open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to

4 p.m.

Admission $4; $2 children ages 4 to 13; $3 seniors. Guided tours

are available on Saturdays. Www.airvictorymuseum.org.

Directions from the north: Take I-295 South to Exit 43A

(Rancocas Woods). Proceed to traffic light and turn right onto Centerton

Road. Proceed to four-way stop sign: turn left on Stacy Haines Road.


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