Thursday, August 24, 2017

Historic Aircraft Restoration Project/Hangar B Ranger Tour Paddle (Floyd Bennett Field)

We've been making an effort at the Sebago Canoe Club to add more trips suitable for anyone here as the summer is winding down. Last Spring, we lost our wonderful commodore emeritus and sea kayak chair Tony Pignatello to cancer, and we're feeling his absence deeply at the club - he was such an amazingly warm and welcoming person and he did so much to make sure that new members felt like they'd found the place they'd been looking for all along. He was a great trip leader and always watched out for the less experienced paddlers, he had this beautifully calm style of keeping his groups in good order and making sure everybody was doing OK, being very clear about where our next break would be and then making sure everybody got a chance to rest when we got there. One common mistake in trip leading is to hold the front of the group until the folks at the back catch up, and then start paddling again when they do, when it's the poor folks at the back who might really want to have a break for a minute - Tony never did that to people, you knew everything was going to be OK when you were on one of his trips, and you also knew that there was a good chance that you would all end up drinking some of his box wine and talking story afterwards (the post I linked his name to was just classic Tony, just how things were when he was there). He was a marvelous leader and we miss him very much.

Without him serving as a one-man welcoming committee for the club (well, not really one-man, his lovely wife Fran was part of the team, she's also an amazing person), the rest of us are trying to step up a little more to make sure that our newer and/or less experienced members are made welcome, and I was delighted to come up with an offering last weekend that was interesting and unusual while also being doable for just about anyone. The paddle was a short one, just about three miles each way, mostly along the shoreline, and the destination was Hangar B at neighboring Floyd Bennett Field, part of the National Park Service's Gateway Recreation Area.

I'd actually been plotting this trip for a long time. Hangar B houses a great program called the Historic Aircraft Restoration Project (H.A.R.P.), a dedicated group of volunteers who restore and maintain old planes and helicopters and also build full-sized models (non-flying) for the collection. I found out about it when I went out paddling back in 2008 with a few friends from Sebago; I can't remember who had the idea to stop at Hangar B but my jaw dropped when we walked in there. I'd been back a couple of times and I'd long had it in mind that it would be really neat to see if I could line up a tour of the place and the planes by someone knowledgeable.

That idea got put on the back burner for a while when the hangar had to be closed for a while for roof repairs, but when I heard they'd re-opened, I started thinking about it again. The head ranger at Floyd Bennett Field is a paddler himself, he's a really good guy and a good friend of Sebago's; earlier this summer I fortuitously ran into him out on the water and ran this idea past him. Well, it turns out that there didn't need to be any "lining up" done for a tour - there's a guided ranger tour every Sunday during the summer. Starts at 2, lasts about 2 hours; currents last Sunday were perfect, so I figured out the schedule and announced it on the Google group and ended up with a group of 17 up for it!

It ended up being a really good tour; our tour guide, Ranger Lincoln, was incredibly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing what he knew about the aircraft and the facility. He took us around the various aircraft in chronological order, telling about each aircraft and then tying it in with what would have been going on at Floyd Bennett Field at that time. I'd thoroughly enjoyed just walking around and seeing the planes and reading the information provided on my earlier visits, but the ranger's approach gave so much more depth and historical perspective. As a special bonus, on the ranger tour, you get to board the Coast Guard rescue helicopter they have in the collection, you learn some interesting stuff about the development of the helicopter as a rescue craft, and the ranger demonstrates how the winch operator actually runs the show during the lowering and lifting phase of a rescue. As I said to my friends, I sincerely hope that's the closest view any of us ever get of how a Coast Guard rescue works (and I got some "Amen to that" responses). Really interesting to see, though!

I enjoyed the visit very much, and it seemed others did too. It's a really good introduction to one aspect of the area's history, and I think I'm going to make this a regular thing, once a summer at least.

Sound interesting? You don't need a boat to get there, here's the information on the NPS website.

And here are some pictures, of course. Fun place for picture taking. As usual, click on any picture for a slideshow view. Enjoy!


Rebecca Olkowski said...

That looks like a fascinating tour. Thanks for all the info about it. That must be fun being part of a paddle club. I love it1

Alana said...

My Dad grew up in Brooklyn; I remember him telling me about Floyd Bennett field growing up. I have family in Marine Park and never realized how close I was to the field when we would travel through Brooklyn on the Belt Parkway. I never knew there were tours during the summer, either. Unfortunately, the next time I will (maybe) be in New York City is for Thanksgiving. I need to put this on my "travel to New York City" list.

LauraEhlers said...

Wow! This is going on my list to do when I get another chance to visit NYC!!
(Sorry to head about your friend. But it seems his spirit lives on. And that is just the best.)

bonnie said...

Thanks! It was a really good and informative day. Alana, sorry they don't do the tours all year, but definitely worth catching if you're ever here in the summertime.

Tony would've loved this, he was a history buff. He would sometimes organize hikes for us in the wintertime, and one really neat one that he did right in Brooklyn was a walk around Green-Wood Cemetery. That may sound like a weird place for a hike but it's actually quite an amazing place, lots of famous people are laid to rest there and the Victorian mortuary architecture is amazing, and the landscaping is lovely. Tony nearly got us kicked out of there once because they don't allow professional tour guides there and he'd done so much research to get ready for this and knew so much that when staff there overheard him they thought he was breaking that rule!