By Mike Bisceglia
Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 2, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
0n Dec. 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright took off in the first controlled flight from Kitty Hawk, N.C. In 1912, Harry Atwood flew his biplane over the town of Hampton "close enough to inspect the Dearborn Monument. This was the first view of an aeroplane for many people in town."
By 1915, local pilot Chauncey Redding was flying tourist passengers in his biplane and dropping parachutists onto the beach. During Carnival Week in early September of that year, Mr. Redding demonstrated how airplanes could be used in warfare by dropping sacks of flour on a sand fort.
In July 1921, New Hampshire aviator Bob Fogg was performing aerial stunts in his "Bear Cat" over the coastal skies and landing on the beach. Although Mr. Fogg didn't like the term "daredevil" pilot, he was comfortable with being termed an exhibition stunt flyer.
Following World War I, the novelty of flight antics around the beach was sharply curtailed. The fields between High Street and Winnacunnet Road were designated as "the driftway." The land was shared by planes used for sightseeing and by grazing cattle.
Charles Francis Adams, an advocate for building an airport in Hampton, hoped that the area would become an international facility, but use of the field remained strictly a regional enterprise. Use of seaplanes and small "mosquito" type planes, however, remained constant. The "Hampton Airport" remained open until the end of World War II in 1945, when it was closed due to housing development.
The end of the war brought about a renewed sense of vibrancy to the region. Dave Clemmons, Randy McNamara, Henry Dupuis, and Randy Ackerman had the urge to open Hampton to the skies once again. How to do it was the problem. Since acquiring land in Hampton was virtually out of the question, the group set its sights on North Hampton.
"There was no zoning in the town at the time, but residents still had to be sold on the idea of any business coming into the area. They hit on the idea of informing the neighbors that they were interested in opening a gladiola farm that would encompass some seventeen parcels of land. Those living in the area were thrilled with the prospect of a "farm," and the group set to work. Taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, they bought the land and built the hangars and main building.
In order to comply with their promise of raising gladiolas, they planted one line of flowers in a window box in the rear of the terminal. The box remains, but over the years the gladiolas have turned into irises.
There are many exciting tales of the dynamic fliers and their planes from that small facility.
Barnstorming, wing walking, low cruises over the town, and a few minor landing mishaps are all part of the colorful history.
The airfield with its grass landing strip and small collection of hangars, bears an uncanny resemblance to airfields in England during the Second World War. In fact, it is recognized by the Experimental Aircraft Association as one of the best in the antique classic division. The only difference between the North Hampton field and those early ones is that the aerodromes overseas were round so that the fragile air-craft could always take off into the wind.
Over the years, the North Hampton field has survived hurricanes and fires. The hangar next to the terminal, destroyed by Hurricane Carol in 1954, has been resurrected as a remarkable restaurant filled with aircraft memorabilia. It is run by the Aversano family and is a definite treat to fliers and non-fliers alike.
Mike Hart, the current owner of the field, is definitely proud of the place. "In an era when airfields of this ilk are fast-disappearing, it is a great place just to have fun." Fun seems to be the main ingredient in the airfield. The place has had everything from weddings, both in the air and on land, to Boy Scout camporees. Hart went on to say that one fellow so loved the place and the Hampton area that he had his ashes sprinkled from a bi-plane along the coast. "It was a rather fitting testimonial to a guy who loved both the surf and the sky."
So, strap on your leather helmet; let your long scarf blow in the breeze; take a trip back into the recent past, and head out to the Hampton Airfield. Bring your camera; it is definitely an experience you won't soon forget.
A special thanks to Mike Hart, owner of the Hampton Airfield.
[Mike Bisceglia is a retired teacher and resident of Hampton.]