Restoration of a true artifact from the Golden Age of Aviation.
The Roaring 20’s. Dashing men in their amazing aircraft soaring through the sky. Perhaps taking you away on the adventure of a lifetime. When we think of the Golden Age, thoughts of the China Clipper and Pan AM’s first flying boats whisking people away to far off lands for some interesting journey appear as time recedes from the shores of memory. The stutter of a radial engine as it comes to life belching smoke and flame fill the your mind as men in leather flying helmets in open cockpits race into the the air down grassy runways. It is a bygone era that from times perspective, is colors with a rosy tint of nostalgia.
The Golden Age of Aviation is generally considered to be book-ended by the end of World War I (1919) and the beginning of World War II (1939). It was a time when civil aviation, supercharged by many daring and dramatic record-breaking feats, became popularized. The catalyst that made this possible was in part cheap surplus military aircraft made available after the First World War. In addition many records were being set including trans-atlantic and round-the-world flights. This craze, fueled by lucrative prize-money offered in competitive air racing created the perfect storm for aviation to thrive. Many people associate this period coincided with “barnstorming”. Barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment in the 1920s. Stunt pilots would perform tricks with airplanes, either individually or in groups. The term was also applied to pilots who flew throughout the country selling airplane rides.
The Golden Age also produced some of the most skilled pilots who would be instrumental in the success of the US Army Air Corp and Naval Aviators during World War II on all sides of the conflict.1929 was not a great year. This year marked the end of the Roaring Twenties after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 ushered in a worldwide Great Depression. Meanwhile in Stratford, Connecticut the aviation business was thriving. On July 5th 1929 the Bridgeport Airport was dedicated and open for business. Across Main Street, a Russian immigrant opened a major manufacturing business building seaplanes. That man was Igor I. Sikorsky. The Curtiss Flying School was started by Glenn Curtiss to compete against the Wright Flying School of the Wright brothers. By 1929, the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce took over licensing of aviation schools. Curtiss schools were registered and required to give two weeks of ground school instruction to new pilots. In 1928/29 2 hangars were erected. One utilizing a straight roller sliding door system and the other, much larger used a track system that allowed the doors to stack inside against the sides. The bigger hangar was wrapped with glass creating almost a “Cathedral of Aviation” In the mid 30’s the hangar was leased to the Bridgeport Flight Service. In 1938 all hell broke loose when a category 5 Hurricane slammed New England.
The New England Hurricane of 1938 was the first major hurricane to strike New England since 1869. It made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane on Long Island on September 21. The hurricane was deadly and it is estimated to have killed between 700- 800 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at US$306 million ($4.7 billion in 2012). As late as the early 50’s , damaged trees and buildings were still seen in the affected areas.
It remains the most powerful, costliest and deadliest hurricane in recent New England history, although Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may change that. Eastern Connecticut was in the eastern side of the hurricane. Long Island acted as a buffer against large ocean surges, but the waters of Long Island Sound rose to unimaginable heights. Small shoreline towns to the east of New Haven were nearly destroyed from the water and winds. To this day, the 1938 hurricane holds the record for the worst natural disaster in Connecticut’s 350-year history. Bridgeport Municipal Airport saw extensive water damage from the storm. The Curtiss hangar lost its west wall. It was later replaced with a cinder block lean to hangar area, big enough to house a Cub and an office with storage. In the late 30’s flying was coming into it’s own and the Hangar was featured in a newspaper column “Inside the Hanger” in the Stratford Messenger. Many of the guys Haunting the Hangar became famous, at least locally. During World War 2 the general aviation business was more or less shuttered. Pilots were working for the War effort and numerous J3 Cubs were stacked tail up, nose down in the hangar.
In 1972 the blue metal building was added on. December 31st 1998, Bridgeport Flight Service was locked out of their fuel farm by the airport over issues with rent & maintenance. From that point forward it quickly became an eyesore with everyone calling for its demolition.
Enter our part of the story. The Connecticut Air & Space Center will be restoring this gem of aviation history to function as an annex and to to display the Sikorsky Memorial Corsair and Whitehead #21 Flyer as well as many other artifacts.
Help Preserver the Curtiss Hangar!
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We would like to thank Two Roads Brewing Company in Stratford, Connecticut for their continued support of this project and efforts to raise funds through events to help us realize this dream.
Recent coverage in Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine
AOPA Covered the story in 2013, Great video interview!
CT Post story from January 2013. Good Story!