Old Gloversville airport once a hotbed of activity

PHOTOGRAPHER:
After all the hoopla, Enna Jettick’s vaunted dirigible never reached Gloversville. Apparently, both their publicity campaign and their dirigible ran out of gas. (Photo submitted)

An October 1928 Morning Herald pictorial spread featured a special event at the newly-opened Gloversville Airport to demonstrate that our early local airfield was large enough to safety land what was then America’s largest commercial airliner.

Picturing a Ford ‘tri-motor’ airplane, the advertisement stated, “Be Sure To See The Texaco No. 1! It is one of the largest passenger airplanes in use. It has THREE Wright ‘Whirlwind’ motors of 200 H.P. each! It has a cruising radius of 900 miles and accommodates ten passengers with baggage. It will be open FREE to the public.”

A week later, on Oct. 26, the Herald announced another airport entertainment, the arrival of a real ‘flying circus.’ “A series of noon aerial exhibitions will be given over Gloversville when the airplanes and pilots of the Gates Flying Circus and Aviation Corporation visit Gloversville Airport for a six day series of free programs to increase interest in aviation. Five free tickets will be dropped each day over different localities, wrapped in the Morning Herald.”

What caused me to research this topic was a recent email from a Rochester man intent on restoring a 1928 WACO airplane he’d purchased. Airplanes, he explained, maintain complete ownership histories, so he knew this old plane was originally owned by the Gloversville Airport Corporation. Contemporary newspaper articles confirm the WACO’s use here for flying lessons.

When was Gloversville’s airfield built? With Johnstown’s Vaughn Field already operating, the usual inner-city rivalry apparently influenced Gloversville’s Chamber of Commerce to spearhead the initiative. On October 12 1927, the Chamber’s “Special Airport Committee” reported on potential airfield locations. After picking the location on East State Extension near the present Arterial, work commenced the following summer. The August 22 1928 Morning Herald observed, “Work on the Gloversville airfield is going on with great rapidity. Soon it is expected a large new surface of grass will be planted and hangers built.

Two very unusual aircraft landed at the Gloversville Airport. On July 7, 1931, “For the first time, a dirigible will land at the Gloversville Airport when the Goodyear Zeppelin named “Enna Jettick Shoes, Inc.” arrives. Special flights will be made when civic officials and others will be taken for short trips over the city. A large mooring mast is transported by a special truck, and a ground crew of twenty men travels overland in fast cars to meet the airship. This ‘Enna Jettick’ airship was made by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation of Akron, Ohio. It is 138 feet long, 28 feet in diameter, and is filled with non-flammable, non-explosive helium gas. Its two engines drive it through the air at 65 miles-per-hour with a cruising range of 500 miles. Five passengers and a pilot are carried comfortably in the car.”

The ‘Enna Jettick’ was a popular 1930s era women’s shoe priced in the $6 range and made in Auburn. Their slogan was, “You No Longer Need To Be Told That You Have an Expensive Foot.” Googling the term ‘Enna Jettick’ will bring you photos of this small dirigible which the shoe company used for publicity purposes, such as landing at airfields in cities where Enna Jettick shoes were sold and giving free rides to people furnishing receipts showing purchase of the company’s shoes.

Another aerial oddity, the Kellett Auto-Gyro, provided rides on the Aug. 6 and 7 of 1932. This odd creation — picture a small airplane with a helicopter propeller on top — may also be viewed on the Internet. The company later switched to building regular helicopters. The auto-gyro was billed as being, “Safe – Smooth – Comfortable” and capable of “Slow Motion Landings”, and one didn’t have to buy shoes to ride it.

Funny things happened at the airport too. The June 14, 1946 Leader Republican related, “Ralph Adams, Airport Manager, was doing whatever airport managers do, when out on the field rolled a large car bearing a harassed-looking driver, Alfred DeGraff, manager of Danascara Farm on the turnpike (old Route 5) east of Fonda. A thoroughbred cat wandered away from the house and Mr. DeGraff wanted to search the farm’s several hundred acres by air. Would Mr. Adams conduct the farm manager on such a search? Mr. Adams opined that he would. The two men ascended and the plane cruised over Danascara’s broad acres, alert for the coy feline. The cat is still at large as far as is known.”

Myron Williams managed the airport for a while during the 1930-31 flying season (small airports closed during winters then). A former army pilot, Williams also taught flight-training and aerial navigation courses at Gloversville High School. Gloversville’s airport personnel and the Gloversville Chamber did everything possible to popularize flying, hoping to increase the number of local pilots. Besides Williams’ training courses, “flying lessons at reasonable rates” were continually offered, and whenever student pilots accomplished their first solo flight, airport personnel saw to it our local newspapers publicized their success. A Gloversville Model Airplane Club also flourished, with special weekend time slots reserved at the airport for club members to fly their little gas-engine models.

Route 30A now carries cars and trucks across land where once exciting air shows thrilled Fulton County citizens with daring ‘aerobatics’, young pilots rose skyward for their first solos, and the thunderous sound of John Knox’s powerful Grumman Amphibian’s roaring engines loudly announced that the well-known gelatin executive was returning to town.

By Patricia Older

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