Fly on in! Massey Aerodrome to host ‘open hangar’ event for 16th consecutive year

Last year, the Massey Aerodrome’s open hangar and fly-in event drew in a record high of 175 planes. This was in part due to the ideal weather. (Submitted photo)

Last year, the Massey Aerodrome’s open hangar and fly-in event drew in a record high of 175 planes. This was in part due to the ideal weather. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — Since 2001, the Massey Aerodrome, just over the border in Massey, Maryland, has been hosting an open hangar and fly-in event.

The pot-luck style tradition draws aviation enthusiasts and pilots from over a 100-mile radius to fly or drive in for the day, eat together, hobnob and gawk at planes.

“We’ve held the event every year since the purchase of the farm property,” said William Dougherty, one of the aerodrome’s new partners. “Being in December, it’s sort of a Christmas Party.

“But the first year it was held because everyone really just wanted to show off all the hard work they put into turning a farm into an airport in less than a year.”

This year’s fly-in event is Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. It’s open to aerodrome members who are told to bring hors d’oeuvres while the airport supplies a main course and hot cider.

The event is always drive or fly and rain or shine, but pilots are advised to keep an eye out for older, “no-radio” aircraft.

Weather isn’t always perfect for the event. In 2002, the second year of hosting the event, nine inches of snow fell just prior. However, the airfield still rolled and packed down the runway and five planes flew in despite conditions. The event, clearly, is rain or shine. (Submitted photo)

Weather isn’t always perfect for the event. In 2002, the second year of hosting the event, nine inches of snow fell just prior. However, the airfield still rolled and packed down the runway and five planes flew in despite conditions. The event, clearly, is rain or shine. (Submitted photo)

Functioning as an airport and air museum, the Massey Aerodrome bills itself as an institution dedicated to preserving the history of America’s small-town grassroots aviation for public enjoyment and education.

Sixteen years ago, founding partner Jim Douglass persuaded three of his pilot neighbors on the Sassafras River in Kentmore Park to buy a farm for the purpose of creating a real public-use airport with a grass runway, Mr. Dougherty said.

Of the four partners, Jim Douglass and John Williamson lived full-time in Kentmore Park while Jim Sypherd and Bill Malpass had summer homes there. The farm they purchased had a house, workshop and two grain storage barns suitable for conversion into hangers.

Mr. Douglass, with considerable effort, obtained all the permits and FAA authorizations to allow the airport to function.

“It took serious excavation to grade the runways, but within a year planes were landing,” said Mr. Dougherty. “The four partners poured themselves into cleaning out decades of accumulated farm junk and mess.”

The barn walls were opened up and reinforced to accommodate 50-foot hangar doors, he said.

“Fly-in events attracted visitors accustomed to asphalt-only airports to discover the benefits of a smooth grass runway,” said Mr. Dougherty. “Everyone was surprised that these four individuals were able to create a new airport just out of farm fields, and all as a hobby, no less.”

For the very first fly-in, the partners invited all their neighbors to see the progress they’d made with the airfield. They also asked them to bring a dish to pass.

The first fly-in went well and brought in 15 planes, which landed on the dirt runways, and more than 100 people showed up to admire the airfield.
In the second year the event didn’t go as well because nine inches of snow fell prior to the event.

“December weather is usually chancy for flying small planes anyway, but we’ve mostly had very good luck,” said Mr. Dougherty. “We ended up rolling the snow to pack it down on the runway and still had 5 planes fly in.”

Over the course of its history the event has continued to grow. Last year, in ideal weather, it played host to a record high of 175 planes.

The Massey Aerodrome itself has transformed over the years, too. The partners salvaged and relocated a DC-3 airliner, a life-size replica Corsair, an airport beacon tower and a windmill. As word of the airport spread, it received numerous gifts that made it possible to open the museum, which is full of displays, donated books, brochures and manuals. Leadership eventually shifted on the airfield as well.

“Sadly, two of the partners died, Jim Sypherd in 2011 and Jim Douglass in 2013,” said Mr. Dougherty. “The fourth partner became inactive. John Williamson, the last original partner, was accustomed to working on projects at the airport seven days a week, but with no one to help, what had been a hobby was becoming a burden.”

Recognizing the need for help, a group of five “regulars,” Mr. Dougherty among them, pooled resources and bought the three outstanding shares. In the new arrangement, Mr. Williamson remained as airport manager and retained his “lead” position.

“We are still committed to Massey’s tradition of grassroots aviation, which includes a love of gliders,” said Mr. Dougherty. “In addition to gliders owned by the partners, the Massey Air Museum has completely restored and is flying two gliders of it’s own.”

To learn more about the event, the Massey Aerodrome’s services and museum or becoming a member, visit masseyaero.org.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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