Once again I have the chance – precious – to tell you about fragments of an unusual New York, very far from the usual tourist paths and for this reason maybe more authentic and charming.
I want to tell you about a history made of passion, love and devotion.
A history dealing with old aircrafts, first flights across the ocean, leavings to the front and wars. But also a history dealing with flight records, travels around the world and great aviators that in a remote era were able and had the courage to go beyond the limits known setting records and influencing with their deeds entire generations.
A history that often rans into the Movies and some among its most famous directors, giving over time unforgettable movies with no equals.
Are you ready to come back with me to the early 1900s?
We go to the utmost point of Brooklyn – where usually nobody arrives – to relive the charm and the magic of the Floyd Bennett Field, the first New York City’s airport. Built in 1931 thanks to the help of one of the beloved and unforgotten New Yorker mayors, Fiorello Henry La Guardia.
Dante is an almost 90 years old kind Italian man who arrived to America (he tells me about it with a lot of emotion) in the remote 1933 on board the Rex Liner. Mario is a Spanish marine who survived two years Vietnam War. And then there are Ben, Bill and even more.
All retired American aviators, members of the HARP, the Historical Aircraft Restoration Project which works on behalf of the National Park Service.
Volunteers reuniting daily in the old Hangar B to fix pales, relics and old flight glories and that commit themselves with their job and through guided tours which aim to keep the historic memory of the Floyd Bennett Field: once it was a very famous place, one of the first and most important American airports of the 1900s, unfortunately today unfairly forgotten.
Mario, who accompanies me during the visit, confesses to me – sincerely surprised by my arrival – that I am the first writer (I tried to explain to him a bit about me and my job – and yet at the end he kept defining me as a writer) who set foot in since long time, very long time.
He tells me – moved like he physically took part into every single event quoted – about the stories and the important moments of the Floyd Bennett Field: he talks in details to me about the aircrafts in the hangar, those ones which were took away and the more or less famous characters that used them taking off or landing from this airport over time.
From here aviators of the calibre of Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart (the first female aviator who crossed the Atlantic alone) and Howard Hughes (it’s impossible not to remember his arrival here in 1938, among a joyful crowd, after have set the record of his travel around the world in 3 days, 19 hours and 17 minutes) flew and broke records.
It’s exactly from the Floyd Bennett Field that the first passengers-flights from the East Coast to the world left.
As well the Cargos for the refuelling in the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean during the Second World War; those ones taking all sorts of aids to a Berlin just split in two parts by the Soviet “Wall” (one of them is still working, located just at the exit of the Hangar B).
And those ones carrying soldiers and armaments towards Vietnam, from the late 1950s until the early 1970s.
In these hangars faded by time scenes of unforgettable movies were shot – I’d swear to have found out the location of the Casablanca’s finale. On these strips covered by grass by now, downright relics of the movies’ history are passed, like for example the Stearman biplane used for the King Kong movie.
Incredible aircrafts peed out from remote eras, each of them with its own story to tell and its good part of emotions to give.
Visit the Hangar B is like to relive with open eyes an old black and white dream.
Like being suddenly a protagonist of a movie in the 1940s, in an unusual New York, unique, even more charming and vintage: among aviators, airscrew aircrafts, workshops in a state of unrest and ocean windswept strips.
It’s not easy to arrive to the Floyd Bennett Field and then reach the Hangar B area, above all if you haven’t got a car.
Unfortunately it doesn’t exist direct links by subway and to arrive there by taxi could be definitely expensive.
My tip is to contact in advance the HARP through its Facebook page and get an appointment for a guided tour leaving your contact and asking for theirs so you can call them in case there are some problems in arriving to the Hangar.
If you have rented a car, the exact address is 50, Aviator Road, Brooklyn.
If you move on foot from Manhattan, you can use the 2 and 5 subway lines and get off at the Flatbush Ave Brooklyn College.
From here take the Q35 bus (always ask to the driver if it is the bus to the Floyd Bennett Field) so get off at the entrance of the park and go on foot (15 minutes about) towards the last hangar on the right bottom. If you have troubles, contact the HARP: some kind volunteer will go and pick you by his car.
Free admittance and guided tour.
However, it’s advisable to make a donation and share, if possible, the experience on the social networks to promote the website and the guided tours allowing the volunteers to be able to keep the historical/cultural heritage of the Hangar B and of the aircrafts inside it.