Bill seeks to recognize LI's aviation history

1938: Douglas (WrongWay) Corrigan stands next to plane

1938: Douglas (WrongWay) Corrigan stands next to plane at Roosevelt Field in Garden City in this photo on the eve of his famous wrong-way flight to Dublin. (Credit: The Los Angeles Times / Wide World photos)

Long Island's aviation legacy includes pioneering pilots, manufacturing plants that pumped out military planes and engineers who designed spacecraft that put man on the moon.

The Island's aviation roots run so deep, said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, that its former air strips, military bases and factories should be recognized by the National Park Service.

This week, McCarthy (D-Mineola) plans to introduce legislation that asks the Department of Interior to study local historical aviation sites to determine whether they warrant being added to the park service list of historic places.

"It's really a tradition that goes back a century," McCarthy said. "It would be nice to have some federal recognition."

The bill, if passed, would give the Department of the Interior three years to complete a special resource study and make recommendations to Congress on how best to preserve the aviation sites.

Long Island played "an indispensable role" in the development of U.S. aviation history, McCarthy says in a draft of her legislation.

Hempstead Plains, about 950 acres off Old Country Road in Garden City, was home to three renowned airfields in the early 1900s: Roosevelt Field, Curtiss Field and Mitchel Field. While attractive to aviators because it was flat and close to flight sponsors in New York City, little of the plains remains undeveloped today.

Charles Lindbergh began his historic transatlantic flight from Roosevelt Field in the Spirit of St. Louis in 1927.

Amelia Earhart and other women in aviation founded the International Organization of Women Pilots, or the Ninety-Nines, at Curtiss Field in November 1929.

The original site of the U.S. Air Defense Command was at Mitchel Air Force Base. The base was an integral part of mainland defense in 1940 and during World War II.

More recently, Grumman Corp. of Bethpage in 1962 won the contract with NASA to build the Apollo space program's lunar module. In 1969, the first astronauts on the moon used a lunar lander built by engineers and technicians on Long Island. The 43rd anniversary of that moon landing was Friday.

McCarthy's proposal "does give recognition to the historic importance this region played," said Andrew Parton, executive director of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, which is dedicated to preserving Long Island's aviation heritage. "It solidifies Long Island's role and [will] attract more people to come here."

Since 2000, the Department of the Interior has conducted 70 special resource studies, and 62 were to determine the appropriateness of a site for the National Park Service, park service spokesman Mike Litterst said.

Of the 62 evaluated sites, 29 were accepted while the others were found not to meet park service standards. There are 35 such studies ongoing, Litterst said.

Under federal law, to obtain the nationally historic designation, the site has to be an outstanding example of a particular resource; possess exceptional value for highlighting national heritage; have superlative opportunities for public enjoyment or scientific research; and retain a high degree of integrity as a true, accurate and relatively unspoiled example of a resource.

After examining the sites for their historical significance, the National Park Service has options for how it hands out the recognition.

If an area is deemed to be nationally significant, the federal government could recommend the site become an affiliate of the National Park Service. Such sites are typically owned or administered by the federal government.

Another option could be that sites remain with current owners, but the government make improvements through grants or technical assistance, Litterst said.

A third option would be naming the different geographic areas part of a national heritage area designated by Congress.

"They are collaborative efforts with communities to preserve important natural or cultural historic sites," Litterst said of national heritage areas. "They tend to be spread over a specific geographical region."

Park service technical assistance and money appropriated by Congress comes with the designation, but the park service doesn't own the land or control how it's used.

"When they say cradle of aviation, it really does have meaning," said Dick Dunne, 74, who worked in Grumman's public affairs department during the years in which the lunar modules were built. "It's a place where some of the nation's heritage was founded."


Aviation on Long Island

Long Island is known as the "Cradle of Aviation" for its many air fields and aircraft production facilities, particularly during World War II. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is asking the National Park Service to study key areas on Long Island to determine if they should be designated national landmarks or historic places. They include:


The Hempstead Plains

About 950 acres in Garden City, now densely developed. The area was a training center for pilots as well as a hub for military aircraft research, development and production, and was home to three major airfields:

Roosevelt Field Charles Lindbergh departed from Roosevelt Field for his 1927 trans-Atlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis. In the 1930s, it was the busiest civilian airfield in the United States.

Curtiss Field Amelia Earhart and other women in 1929 founded the International Organization of Women Pilots, known as the Ninety-Nines. The Curtiss factory building still stands.

Mitchel Field The former Air Force base opened in 1917. It was decommissioned in 1961 and is now home to the Cradle of Aviation Museum, Nassau Coliseum, Nassau Community College and Hofstra University.


Bethpage

Grumman Aircraft Co., based in Bethpage, built military aircraft and during World War II was the major producer of aircraft for the Navy. In 1962, Grumman won the contract to build the lunar module for the Apollo space program.


Farmingdale

Republic Aviation Corp. developed many important military planes, including the P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the main U.S. fighters of World War II. The American Airpower Museum is based at the former Republic factory site.


Westhampton

The Suffolk County Air Force Base in Westhampton in 1951 became the main Air Defense Command base for defending the metropolitan area from air attacks. The site is now the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base, a joint civil-military airport, and is used by the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing.


Historic aviation sites in New York managed by the National Park Service or designated an historic site:

Floyd Bennett Field Historic Aviation District on Barren Island, Jamaica Bay. The site is part of the Park Service's Gateway National Recreation Area and was the first municipal airport in New York City. In 1938, Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan left the air field for California, but landed in Ireland.

Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport is the only active airport terminal dating from the first generation of U.S. passenger travel. The terminal, an Art Deco building completed in 1940, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1982.

Miller Army Airfield Historic District on Staten Island was used from 1919 to 1921 as part of the aerial coast defense system that supplemented other U.S. coastal defenses. The site includes a double seaplane hangar, built in 1920, and a lighthouse, the Elm Tree Light.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986, two years after the ship opened as a museum. The Essex class carrier was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. of Virginia and commissioned in 1943.

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