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History takes off at legendary airport

Bennett Field
Bennett Field
December 13, 1997
Web posted at: 11:04 p.m. EST (0404 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Aviation is still alive at the legendary Floyd Bennett Field as veterans lovingly restore vintage aircraft.

The restoration was the idea of the man who persuaded the National Park Service to save the 60-year-old hangars and old planes. The field closed in 1972 and became part of the Gateway National Recreation Area.

Arnie Migliacci, a World War II veteran, said the volunteers got involved "to let the future generation know what was here at Floyd Bennett, and about the aircraft that was stationed here."

Volunteers are restoring a C-47, one of the most sturdy World War II-era cargo aircraft, an H-3 Coast Guard helicopter, and an amphibious PBY Catalina, similar to those used during World War II for anti-submarine and escort duty.

The airfield, which opened in 1931, is named after the polar pilot who died trying to help stranded airmen. Bennett and Adm. Richard E. Byrd made history in 1926 by being the first men to fly over the North Pole.

Volunteers young and old donate their time

Gateway historian John Gallagher said the field was the first municipal airport in New York City, where Wiley Post took off to set his round-the-world flying record in 1933, and Howard Hughes departed to break that record in 1938. Other famous pilots to originate flights from the field include Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Doolittle and Jacqueline Cochran.

It was also the place where Douglas Corrigan earned the nickname "Wrong-Way Corrigan" for flying east to Ireland instead of west to California.

Field saw action in wartime

In 1941, a Naval Air Station was formed at the field, and it stayed busy during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The recreation area was established in 1972 as part of the nation's first urban park, which extends from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to the New York boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

The volunteers range from students to senior citizens like Emil Tucciarone.

Tucciarone said kids love seeing and touching the old planes.

"I feel the same way," he said.

Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist contributed to this report.


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