Corrections or additions?
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Stacy Haines Road, Lumberton Township, Medford, 609-267-4488 (Toll
free: 866-556-0101). Open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to
are available on Saturdays. Www.airvictorymuseum.org.
(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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