A Walk in the Airpark

Rest and renewal in a long-standing pilot community.

Roger Guest strolls the lawns, where airplanes (Cub, foreground; Citabria, background) rather than cars rule. (Caroline Sheen)
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“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.

In the 1950s, as the head of a general aviation business at Hyde Field in Clinton, Maryland, and working as a mechanic, Joe Fichera got a call from a customer. The fabric covering a wing had torn in flight, and the man had to make an emergency landing on Kent Island. Fichera flew his 1934 Kinner Sportster to Kentmorr, fixed the client’s airplane, and fell in love with the place. A nice field. Good food. A beach. But he couldn’t afford the house and lot prices back then. Over the years, he visited the place with his wife and friends. In the early 1970s, the Ficheras bought a $6,000 plot next to the runway, and in 1983 Joe installed a Nantacoke factory-built one-story ranch and later added a hangar and a workshop. He retired in 1984 as an aircraft restoration specialist with the National Air and Space Museum, though, like Massimini, he now volunteers there. Fichera restores aircraft that eventually go on display.

“If you own an airplane, it’s just the ideal place to live,” says Anne Fichera. “You don’t have to drive to the airport to get your plane—you are right here with it. If you want to go flying, you get in your airplane and go flying.”

The Ficheras’ hangar is filled with airplane photographs, posters, and decals, and that morning, Joe had whiled away some time there, working on his 1930 Brunner Winkle Bird biplane. He bought the Bird in 1946 for $600. In the early 1930s, Charles Lindbergh owned the airplane and used

it to teach his wife, Anne Morrow, to fly. Fichera flew the Bird, restoring it after it was damaged in a wind storm. In 1953, the engine quit on takeoff; Fichera set the airplane down in a plowed field, where it flipped onto its back. The airplane hasn’t flown since. But Fichera has been tinkering with it nearly every day for 20 years, repairing the fabric, the wings, the landing gear, and the instruments. Neighbors call the airplane a work of art. Fichera says it has taken so long to fix “because I was too busy fixing other peoples’ planes.”

Still, he won’t be able to fly it himself. Due to glaucoma, Fichera cannot keep his pilot’s license current. He hopes one of his neighbors or friends will take it up and he can fly as a passenger. “It’s frustrating,” he says. “But even if I can’t fly it, I still want to see it fly.”

Anne hears something that could be an airplane. She hustles outside, jumps into a golf cart, and races down the runway as one Cessna 150 after another comes in to land. (All the residents seem to have golf carts. They had a golf cart obstacle  contest and race during one of the community’s recent  picnics.) The Cessnas are with Keystone Flight, a Pennsylvania-based club for general aviation pilots. They park their eight aircraft in a row, and the leader, Mike Marra, leads the platoon to Kentmorr Restaurant, where they dine on crabs, crab soup, and crab cakes. They take pictures of everything. One pilot tries to talk a waitress into giving him a live crab as a souvenir.

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