Van Sant Airport: Tribute to Aviation


Courtesy of Linda Van Sant Wegscheider :: John Van Sant


Updated: 8/24/2005

This story was written by Citizen Journalist Marjorie Dorfman. We encourage you to click the Tip Jar to support this writer's work.
"To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love soaring, the sky is home."- Tee-shirt design from the Second Club Class World Championships, Musbach, Germany.

by Marjorie Dorfman

Happy News Citizen Journalist

Along the lush and remote Cafferty Road in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, on property that was originally two adjoining farms, lies a living tribute to the history of aviation. Here one is thrust into a time that is no more, where one can almost hear the lively strains of Glenn Miller's music and feel the tension of the free world united in its front against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. The planes are antique, most of them tail draggers from the early 1940s, bearing significant names like Stearman, Cessna, and Bird Dog.

The Stearman (also known as the PT-17) was the first American military plane, and 99 percent of all flyers in World War II were trained on one of them. They were nicknamed "washing machines" by the military because cadets were constantly being washed out of training in them. The J-2 Cub, a classic airplane with a 40-horsepower engine dating back to the 1930s, stands proudly along side the Bird Dog (L-19) that was used by American troops in Vietnam. The oldest model is the Travel Aire, a speed-wing, open cockpit bi-plane that has a Wright Whirlwind Engine, the same type that transported Charles Lindbergh on his memorable trans-Atlantic flight.

American aviation may have been born on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in December, 1903 with the first successful heavier than air flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright, but others have followed with their own dreams and aspirations. One such man was John Van Sant, the son of a Bensalem farmer who was born in 1912. He began his love affair with flying as a teenager in Bucks County. One of his early instructors and personal friends, Bill Engle, later became a test pilot. Another instructor, Art Scholl, did all of the flying for the movie, "Johnathan Livingston Seagull." Still another colleague, Rod Jocelyn, was a national aerobatics champion.

In 1944 Van Sant bought the Silver Star Airport and re-named the 80-acre site, The Old Star Airport. As the owner, this aviation pioneer operated the Van Sant Flying Service, which performed crop dusting and maintained a flight school for returning World War II veterans. The earliest air mail flights in Bucks County originated at Old Star Airport, which was later sold and became the most popular Oxford Valley Mall off Route 1 in Middletown Township near Langhorne Borough. In the years following the end of World War II, he bought government surplus airplane parts (Cessna and Bird Dog) and became the owner and founder of the Van Sant Airport.

Van Sant also owned Doylestown Airport from 1957-1960. At first it was operated privately, but became, as it is today, a commercial airport. He served as an advisor to the American aerobatic teams competing in Spain and Russia in 1968. The contests were privately funded by flyers with their own planes, not like their European counterparts. He died of cancer in 1981 at the too young age of 67, but savored every moment of his life as an innovater and pioneer in the field of aviation. His legacy lives on at 516 Cafferty Road in Erwinna, Pennsylvania for all the world to see.

The Van Sant family sold the airport to the county in 2003, and it was designated a historical landmark. It boasts of being among the top ten sod airfields in the United States. It is also the only airport where you can be checked out and actually fly a Stearman (2 wing open cockpit). In other places, you can rent and ride in one, but cannot have the privilege of actually flying it yourself. The airport is leased to Sport Aviation Inc, which was established in 1995. Managed by Azhar Husain, its goal is to promote a unique atmosphere and provide a significant glimpse into the golden era of aviation. Here, the instructors love to teach and fly and have been doing both for more years than they would feel comfortable admitting.

According to Husain: "There are no young teachers here who yearn to be pilots and are learning on the job, so to speak. All instructors are highly seasoned in their craft, and would rather be flying than doing anything else in the world. We do what we love and we love what we do."

"Restorations at the airport are always a labor of love and the work is intensive." Most, according to Husain, "are performed under the watchful eye of Mr. George Taylor, a true mechanic's mechanic. This specialization is almost a dying art, as A & P schools (Airframe and Power with Inspection Authorization) don't even teach the restoration of wooden fabric anymore. A single wing repair on an antique plane could take as long as eight months". No one's in a hurry here, where time in its own peculiar way, has stood still.

Pilots from all around the world are offered a myriad of services, including Stearman and Great Lakes training, aerobatics instruction in a powered aircraft and a glider, tail-wheel check-out and rentals, glider instruction and rental, primary flight training in Cessna 150s and the maintenance and restoration of classic and wood fabric aircraft. Some completed restorations include: Stearman, Tiger Moth, Pitts Special, Stinson, Champ, J-3 Club, Waco and Meyers OTW. Maintenance is lovingly performed by A&P mechanics.

Many visitors to the airport prefer not to fly, content with their own specific, intimate encounter with the past. According to Husain, a 96 year old woman who, after watching her family loop and roll around in the sky complained that "no one asked her if she wanted to go along!"

The excitement is contagious and Sport Aviation promotes a unique family atmosphere. On summer weekends people can come and spend the day, nibbling on hamburgers and hot dogs while enjoying a glimpse into a time that is no more. The spirit of John Van Sant no doubt looks down with pride at the airport that was his dream and sole creation.

For more information on this unique little corner of the world, visit the web site at www.vansantairport.com.


This story was produced by a Happynews Citizen Journalist.

For more information on contributing to Happynews, click here.

This story was produced by Happynews Citizen Journalist Marjorie Dorfman. none

For more information on contributing to Happynews, click here.

Print This Article | E-Mail This Article | Mark This Article UNhappy

Home InternationalNationalHeroesHealthOpinion & EditorialsScience & TechnologyEnvironmentArts & EntertainmentSportsBusiness/Money$1000 Are You Optimistic About the Future Contest Essays HappyLiving
Columns Craig HarrisPollay's MomentumWonderQuest
Contact Us About Us Report Happy News
Happy Newsletter
Sign up to get our top happy headlines e-mailed to you daily by entering your e-mail address below:


"The Happynews glass is always at least half-full, and sometimes it bubbles right over."
"Happynews.com forsakes war and famine, terror and man's inhumanity to man 24/7."
"As far as anyone can tell, it's the first international and national daily news organization dedicated exclusively to upbeat stories."

Unhappy News
MSNBC CNN ABCNews FOX News BBC News
Terms of Use & Disclaimer | Contact Us | © 2007 HappyNews.com