A Walk in the Airpark
Rest and renewal in a long-standing pilot community.
- By Del Wilber
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
(Page 3 of 6)
In recent years, housing prices have crept up and a new generation of pilots has moved in—wealthier ones who still work and can afford to have two homes: one near their workplace and the other a weekend getaway on a grass strip.
Mike Ashford, who spends most of his time at a home in Annapolis near his 100-employee restaurant, bought Morris’ place in 2006. Vince Massimini, 61, bought his place in 2000 after spotting a for-sale sign while making a proverbial $100 hamburger run to the Kentmorr restaurant with his wife, Pat. They split time between Kentmorr and a condo near Washington, D.C.
Two years ago, Paul Howey, 56, and his wife, Christiane, 55, bought the old Martin place and are rebuilding its rotted hangar. The owner of a tech company in Columbia, Maryland, Howey spends most of his days at his home in Ellicott City, a suburb of Baltimore.
The demographic changes have created two distinct groups in the neighborhood and they rarely mingle. Longtime residents look askance at their newer neighbors, who aren’t around all that much. “It would be nice if they were here year-round,” says Peg Cannon, Jim’s widow. And the weekend pilots would like to see some new blood in the neighborhood to get more airplanes flying.
“It’s a very nice place to live,” says Massimini, a former Marine Corps pilot who is a senior engineer specializing in civil aviation for Mitre Corporation and also a docent at the National Air and Space Museum. “But many of the residents are running past the age where they can fly anymore.” Airport manager and former USAir pilot Jack McCarthy is spending most of his time tinkering with a single-engine Pietenpol and building a World-War I-era SPAD fighter from scratch. Mel Barche is recovering from cancer treatment, which has prevented him from taking up his homebuilt Baby Ace, a high-wing, open-cockpit taildragger that he had lusted after since his 20s and finally finished building in 2007. After the death of her husband, Peg Cannon has kept her squeaky-clean hangar filled with cars but no airplanes. And Joel Levin, who splits much of his time between homes in Maine and Florida, doesn’t even have an airplane.
Newcomers Ashford and Massimini fly their single-engine airplanes around the Eastern Shore on weekends in search of good food. From time to time, Guest, on his own recreational flight, will run into them at a restaurant, but he admits to having flown a mere 47 hours in the last year.
For the most part, the active pilots have lives elsewhere. “The new guys like me and Mike Ashford can afford [a second home]. But living there full-time and commuting to our jobs, that is just not workable. Virtually all the newer residents are part-timing. Would I prefer that everyone have an airplane that they fly on the strip? Yes. That would be fun.”
On a quiet afternoon in late June, Anne and Joe Fichera linger over coffee. Their dinner table faces sliding glass doors that overlook the airstrip.