A New York Tour of Mind – Flushing Airport – Part I
There are times, when I feel the pull of nostalgia, the urge to visit the haunts of my childhood. Those places are mostly gone, existing only in my imperfect memory. Of most vivid memory was Flushing Airport in Queens NY, where I spent many a wonderful childhood hour, dreaming a pilot’s dream.
Rustling back and forth in the stiff, cold February wind the reeds, briars, rushes and frozen wetland ponds glow red in the late afternoon sun that offers no warmth. Nature, ever present and relentless was well into the process of reclaiming the last solid vestiges of the pitted concrete runways that had once been the central arteries of New York’s busiest airport. Peering through the chain link fence, I can barely discern the shapes. The hangers that was once alive with the business of flying sat sullenly, unattended, rusting hulks waiting for the developer’s wrecking ball. In a few short years all this would be obliterated.
Perhaps there are other people alive with a memory of old Flushing Airport in Whitestone, Queens. Perhaps someone who recalls the red emergency vehicle, the hanger with the blue wings on the façade, the aroma of aviation gas, the buzz of the Pipers and Cessna’s taking off and landing. Speed Hanzlick’s airport, for a fractional second of time in my young life this was hallowed ground.
It’s a long stretch of the imagination to picture a thriving airport. In the late ‘20’s it was, before LaGuardia eclipsed it. Now, it takes the wings of memory to see beyond this crazy jigsaw pile of rotting wood and shattered glass lying on the floor. To imagine, a runway, a maintenance shed alive with mechanics working. Here, a plate-glass window stood facing into the main hanger where several planes could be sheltered or serviced. This was my playground.
As an ten year old boy, sitting in the pilot seat of the Cessna 172 parked in the corner of that very hanger I could see my Uncle
Moe and Speed Hanzlick smoking, talking, laughing and drinking coffee. Speed was the owner of Flushing Airport; my own memories are faded and I can’t see his face but I do remember him wearing a leather flight jacket and smoking with my uncle. I do remember that he didn’t like people in his office and it was a big privilege to be inside. My uncle told me that he was a pilot instructor for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. They had been friends for years.
My Uncle’s bedroom window in the Mitchell Gardens housing development over-looked the airport. He and I would stand at the window watching and identifying the planes taking off and landing. He had a big Blaupunct radio that allowed us listen to air to ground communications.
Sitting in the Cessna 172, I had other business; I was going through the pre-flight checklist, ignition, master switch, gas, beacon, landing lights, preparing for takeoff. I had no destination other than the sky. As I sat in the plane, pretending, a door slammed, snatching me from my aero-fantasy. My heart started to pound, I could see my uncle and Speed coming towards the plane. Hanzlick came up to the left side door, poked his head in, and said in a voice that resonates in my head ‘til this day
“Do you want to go up?”
Did I want to go up? I lived for flying!
I am deeply grateful to Mr. Timothy Vogel, whose wonderful images evoke and capture what I am trying to put into words. I have never met Tim, but stumbled upon his photographs while I researched images to compliment this post. May your generosity be returned a thousand fold.