Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:
Pennsylvania - Southern Philadelphia area
© 2002, © 2013 by Paul Freeman. Revised 4/14/13.
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Buckman Airport (revised 4/14/13) – Philadelphia Navy Yard Field / Mustin NAF (revised 12/14/11)
Piasecki Factory Heliport (revised 12/5/11) - Platt-LePage Aircraft Factory (revised 3/27/11)
Buckman Airport, Chester, PA
39.84 North / 75.4 West (Southwest of Philadelphia International Airport, PA)
An undated (circa 1927-1930s) photo of a Keystone XB-1B bomber believed to have been taken at Buckman Airport (courtesy of Robert Lloyd).
Sheri Brown recalled, “Buckman Airport was my family's legacy in aviation.
Before the airport existed it was farmland owned by my father's great-grandparents, the Boyd's.
Norman Smith use to barnstorm there long before the airport.
On one of his ferrying trips he stopped there & met a young boy who had been riding his horse through the field.
This meeting was the beginning of not only the airport but a great friendship between this boy (the instrument) and the pilot (his mentor).
Their chance meeting changed both their lives forever.
The boy sold rides for Mr. Smith as well as taking care of his airplane.
He later became a mechanic & pilot.
When he was able he joined the Civil Air Patrol & then the Army where he became a flight instructor.
When be returned home Buckman Airport had become very successful
and this man had helped to make it all possible for without him the airport property would never have been acquired by Mr. Smith.
This man is my father Albert Brown (Brownie) and he has a story to be told.
He is a wealth of information about those early days when flying was considered a great risk & only attempted by daredevils.”
The earliest depiction which has been located of Buckman Airport
was an undated (circa 1927-1930s) photo of a Keystone XB-1B bomber (courtesy of Robert Lloyd).
According to Robert Lloyd, “I think the photo may have been taken at Buckman Airport.
My mother grew up nearby & we used to talk about it & my first plane ride there at age 3.”
The Buckman Airport reportedly originated in the early 1930s on the west side of Highland Avenue,
and It was built & operated by Norman Smith.
Ed Spellacy recalled, “I lived at 912 East 16th in Sun Hill when I was in grade school.
Every afternoon I would hear & then see the mail plane that had picked up the mail pouch.
I believe that the pouch was suspended from 2 poles.
The aircraft would hook the cable attached to the pouch & just about the time it went over my house the pouch was just being pulled in the door.
This always fascinated me & gave me a life-long interest in aviation.
I later had a chance to ride in a J3 cub at Buckman, a ride paid for by my uncle.”
The earliest dated depiction which has been located of Buckman Airport was an 11/4/37 aerial view (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted a single hangar at Buckman Airport, with a grass landing area.
An October 1940 aerial view of a hangar & 2 planes (one of which is airborne) at Buckman Airport (courtesy of Harvey Martin).
The October 1940 issue of The Delaware County Advocate reported,
“Federal Government appropriations for civil airport expansion linked to defense plans
have included an allotment for Chester of $613,500.
It is expected that Buckman Airport, on the northwestern edge of the city, will be the subject for expansion & improvement.
It is situated directly on the radio beam of several present airlines,
and would be convenient for military as well as civil emergency landings.”
Charles Fehl recalled, “In May of 1941 we moved into a house on Anderson Avenue.
All I had to do was look west & on the opposite hill was the Buckman Airport.”
The 1941 USGS topo map (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Buckman Airport's single hangar (unlabeled),
but nothing else of the airport was depicted.
The earliest aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Buckman Airport
was on the November 1941 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
It depicted Buckman as a commercial/municipal field.
Charles Fehl recalled, “The Second World War started the following December,
and the airport became a storage depot for military vehicles, Jeeps,
half-tracks, 4X4 trucks, etc., for the Ford Motor Company in Chester.
My father worked for Ford driving those vehicles to Buckman Airport from the Ford plant.
He would come from 9th Street, up Anderson Avenue (then a dirt road) to the airport,
as Anderson Avenue ran directly into the airport entrance.
Sometimes, my father would pick up me & my buddies and give us a ride in a Jeep or half-track.
There were thousands of vehicles stored there, and a military guard post was built at the airport entrance at Township Line Road.
As kids, we got to know the soldiers who guarded the airport & would hang out at the guard shack.
We would sit around a pot-bellied stove, fascinated by the war stories we were told.”
Charles continued, “The war ended & returning military pilots flocked to the airport as did I.
I was about 9 years old & spent every available moment helping to push airplanes in & out of the hangars
and sometimes they would give me an airplane ride.
I never asked for a ride but did not refuse an offer of one.”
Charles continued, “A field adjacent to the south end of the north/south runway was the pickup station for the Adams Airmail Pickup System.
My friends & I would help the Adams representative assemble 2 poles from shorter sections he carried in his car trunk.
The poles when erected stood 14' high & were placed 20' apart.
At approximately 4:30 PM, the aircraft could be seen at first as a dot coming from the south.
This dot became a Stinson Reliant SR-10F.
When it arrived, a mail pouch was dropped, and we kids would chase & retrieve it.
Sometimes, the drop would miss & end up in the underbrush.
One pouch was lost for a year or more. It was found in the culvert pipe beneath the airport driveway.
The aircraft would then circle around & come in approximately 20' off the ground & snatch the rope that was attached to the mail pouch.
This rope was extended between the 2 poles.
This was accomplished with a pole extended beneath the aircraft that used a hook & winch apparatus to grab the rope.”
Charles continued, “An airshow was held every summer & was very popular.
This show was attended by many people who relied on public transportation.
The bus stop was at 9th Street & Langley Avenue, with Anderson Avenue being the most direct route to the airport.
My father would position me at the curb in front of our store with a galvanized wash tub filled with ice & sodas.
The air show attracted visiting aircraft of various designs, both military & civilian.
There was the constant sound of aircraft flying.”
Charles continued, “I remember one year that a mock attack on the airport was held by the National Guard during the airshow,
complete with paper bags containing flour simulating bombs being dropped from airplanes.
Charles continued, “The airport had a restaurant/snack bar in a separate building that was opened seasonally.
The building was located near the airport entrance.”
Buckman Airport, as depicted on the 1946 USGS topo map.
A 1946 USGS map depicted Buckman Airfield as having an L-shaped property outline.
The Chester Times Year Book for 1949 reported, “Buckman Airport lies along Township Line road, in Upper Chichester Township,
just a half-mile from the western boundary of Chester.
It has two 1,800' runways, north/south & east/west.
There is hangar space for storing 17 planes.
Flying lessons are given by accredited instructors, and planes may be rented.
Norman Smith is manager; Norville Matthews is assistant manager.
Both men are licensed pilots & instructors.”
The Chester Times Year Book for 1949 also reported, “Delaware County Flying Club: Meets at Buckman Airport, Chester.
Solo flight is qualification for membership.
William Springer, president;, Phil Larney, Vice-president;, Harry Hladky, treasurer; Paul Nelson, Secretary.”
Rodger Phillips recalled, “In the 1950s, my brother & I used to rent the same J-3 Cub at Buckman
that my uncle learned to fly in back in the late 1930s.
The 1953 USGS topo map depicted a single hangar at Buckman Airfield, labeled simply as “Airfield”.
The last photo which has been located showing Buckman Airport while in use was a 3/11/53 USGS aerial view,
which depicted 3 light single-engine aircraft parked around the hangar.
The last aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Buckman Airport
was on the 1955 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe).
It depicted Buckman as having an 1,800' unpaved runway.
A 1958 aerial view still showed the hangar at Buckman, and the airfield area was still clear,
but there was no sign of any active use.
Buckman Airport was evidently closed at some point between 1955-60,
as it was no longer depicted on the 1960 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe).
Its closure was undoubtedly due to the construction of Interstate 95,
which was built along the northern edge of of the airfield property.
A 1965 aerial view showed that Buckman's hangar had been removed at some point between 1958-65,
Two large buildings had been built just southeast of the former hangar location.
A 1970 aerial view showed that Interstate 95 had been built along the northern edge of of the airfield property at some point between 1965-70.
Micheal Denest recalled in 2008, “Long after this place closed,
there was a circular patch of ground left for us to fly radio-controlled model airplanes from.”
A June 2004 aerial photo shows that the majority of the site of the former Buckman Airport remained clear,
although no trace remained of the hangar.
Amazingly, close inspection of the photo will reveal a bright-red Lim-6 jet fighter (Polish-built version of the Soviet MiG-17)
at the northeast corner of the photo.
An undated photo by Brian Wenhold of the Lim-6 which sits on the northeast corner of the site of Buckman Airport.
Brian reported in 2009, “An aircraft was spotted on the former Buckman Field.
Even though the rest of the airport seems to be missing or overgrown, this airport cannot help but attract another visitor.
I found out about the aircraft because it was purchased by a local businessman for an advertising publicity reasons.
The buisness is an auto garage/RV sales dealership.
The aircraft comes from the Polish Air Force; it's actually a Lim-6 variant.
I was told that up to a few years ago the powerplant was operational & that it was occasionally fired up to entertain the neighbors.
The aircraft was on display at a local area business (advertising) and was repainted red but not well maintained so it's now quite faded.”
A circa 2007 aerial view looking west at the northeast corner of the former Buckman Airport property,
showing a bright-red Lim-6 jet fighter (Polish-built version of the Soviet MiG-17).
Platt-LePage Aircraft Factory, Eddystone, PA
39.86 North / 75.32 West (Southwest of Philadelphia International Airport, PA)
The Platt-LePage Aircraft Company factory, pictured during the early days of Platt-LePage's testing (circa 1941).
Photo is courtesy of Jay Hendrickson (of the Platt-LePage Aircraft Archives).
The suburban Philadelphia area can make a strong claim to being the birthplace of the American helicopter industry,
and one of the earliest helicopter firms in the area was the Platt-LePage Aircraft Company.
Dr. Laurence LePage was a pioneer rotary wing designer working with Harold Pitcairn, and later with Kellett Autogiro.
LePage designed the first line of autogiros, K-2, K-3, and K-4,
establishing Kellet as manufacturer of well-performing autogiros.
In 1935, due to the effects of the economic depression in the 1930s,
Laurence LePage left Kellett to become an independent engineer.
By 1935, LePage met & became partners with Haviland Platt,
a mechanical engineer & patent expert with a number of rotary wing patents.
They collaborated on a number of ideas for a helicopter,
and then hearing of the early flights of the Focke FA-61,
they decided to investigate this promising development.
In 1938 Laurence LePage traveled to Germany to view the Focke Fw-61 helicopter,
and after much negotiation obtained an option to build Focke helicopters in the USA,
but the worsening conditions between the 2 governments prevented a deal going through.
In 1938, Platt & LePage formed The Platt-LePage Aircraft Company,
and proceeded on their own to design a helicopter based on their patents & ideas.
Design & construction was started on an experimental helicopter PL-1,
with Laurence LePage keeping the Air Corps informed of their progress during the early construction of their machine.
At this time there were no funds for the Air Corps to purchase a helicopter,
so the Platt-LePage design went forward as a private venture.
The Air Corps later held a competition for rotary winged aircraft,
and Platt-LePage redesigned the PL-1 to meet military needs & the design became known as the PL-3.
According to Jay Hendrickson (of the Platt-LePage Aircraft Archives), by 1940 Platt-LePage Aircraft Company
was located on the grounds of the former Baldwin Locomotive Works in Eddystone, PA.
Platt-LePage was "quite literally next to the Delaware river",
on the river side of the old Industrial Highway near the old General Steel Plant.
A 1940 aerial photo showed what may have been a single hangar to the southeast of the former locomotive factory,
adjacent to a large grass field next to the river.
No airfield was depicted at the site Washington Sectional Charts from 1940, 1941, 1942, or 1944.
The building used by Platt-LePage was also the site of Baldwin's WW2 tank assembly works,
and the helicopters were test flown by the tank test course.
The Platt-LePage XR-1 hovering in 1944
(courtesy of Jay Hendrickson,of the Platt-LePage Aircraft Archives).
In 1940 the Platt-LePage Aircraft Company won the competition to build a helicopter designated XR-1.
The first flight of the XR-1 took place in 1941.
A number of teething problems developed with the control system,
causing delays in progress, along with test pilot Lou Leavitt refusing to fly the XR-1 in forward flight.
In 1943 Col. H.F. Gregory took the XR-1 up & proceeded to fly the XR-1 at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour,
and completed the first close course flight of the XR-1.
By the summer of 1943 the XR-1 was flying with much better control,
but the XR-1 was damaged due to the loss of a rotor blade, further slowing testing.
In 1943 the second model XR-1A made its first flight,
and was found to have better flying characteristics than the XR-1,
numerous flight tests were carried out,
and by 1944 the XR-1A was flown from Eddystone, PA, to Wright Field, OH,
passing through a dangerous mountain pass & flying through a long stretch of bad weather,
during which the XR-1A encountered a grounded Sikorsky XR-4 along the way.
By August of 1944 rebuilt XR-1 was back in the air & slowly progress was made in solving the control problems.
But in March of 1945, just a few days after a new control system was installed
that solved some the problems with longitudinal stability,
the Air Corps canceled all contracts with Platt-LePage,
including 7 additional YR-1A helicopters that were to be built.
By this time the McDonnell Aircraft Company, which had invested in Platt-LePage Aircraft,
in exchange for having McDonnell personnel learn helicopter design,
had bought the rights to the PL-9 twin-engine twin-rotor design that became the McDonnell XHJD-1 Whirlaway,
the first twin engine helicopter to fly in the USA.
During this time period, Platt & LePage had proposed & patented the first tilt-rotor aircraft design in the US,
but the small size & lack of capital of Platt-LePage Aircraft,
along with lack of orders for military aircraft caused the Platt-LePage Aircraft Co. to shut down in 1946.
The McDonnell Aircraft Company obtained most of the helicopter patents from Platt-LePage during the liquidation of the company,
along with the personnel responsible for the twin engine project.
Robert Lichten, an ex-Platt-LePage engineer went to Bell Helicopter
and developed the tilt-rotor idea into the XV-3.
One other notable designer came from Platt-LePage -
a very young Frank Piasecki had his first helicopter design job at Platt-LePage,
before going off on his own, to a brilliant career as one of the great designers of helicopters.
A 1947 photo of the Platt-LePage XR-1A, in the markings of Helicopter Air Transport.
According to Jay Hendrickson of the Platt-LePage Aircraft Archives, “The photo was at the Camden NJ Airport where HAT (Helicopter Air Transport) was located;
HAT had bought the XR-1A as part of a deal for a number of civil Platt-LePage heicopters.
Both Platt-LePage & HAT would go out of business before the deal was concluded.
Ex PL-LP test pilot Lou Leavitt got the XR-1A flying, and the helicopter was sold to Frank Piasecki at HAT's bankruptcy sale (Frank worked on the XR-1 at Platt-LePage early in his career).
The person walking in front of the XR-1A is an engineer from PL-LP, Alan Price, who did a great deal of design work at PL-LP.”
A 1953 aerial photo still showed the former Platt-LePage facility still remaining intact.
What may have been a hangar was still located along the river, next to the WW2-era tank test course.
The former Platt-LePage facility was evidently removed at some point between 1953-57,
as a 1957 aerial view showed the property having been cleared to make way for a powerplant which subsequently covered the site.
According to Jay Hendrickson, "Their location was in the area where PECO has their generating facility.
When PECO took over the area, all building were razed, so nothing remains.
A couple of longtime Eddystone residents confirmed this, as well as a surviving Platt-LePage engineer.
The Crum Creek or River separated the area between Platt-LePage & what was General Steel,
ironically Boeing took over the area once used by General Steel,
so Boeing & Platt-LePage were quite literally next to one another.
The area south of of the generating facility, that looks to be coal storage,
was where the (Baldwins) tank testing grounds were,
this is were most of the flight tests were carried out,
where they were often right by the ship loading cranes seen in a number of hover tests (they often were right next to shore).”
The 2005 USGS aerial photo of the site shows no evident remains of the former Platt-LePage facilities.
Ironically, note the extensive facilities of the Boeing Helicopter Company (home of the CH-47), just across the creek to the east.
The site of the Platt-LePage facility is located south of Industrial Highway,
west of its intersection with Crum Creek,
adjacent to the west side of the present-day Boeing Helicopter factory.
Piasecki Factory Heliport, Morton, PA
39.91 North / 75.33 West (Northwest of Philadelphia International Airport, PA)
An undated photo of a Piasecki HRP-X Dogship.
Frank Piasecki was one of the pioneers of the helicopter industry.
He founded his company in 1940 in the Philadelphia suburbs, known at first as the P-V Engineering Forum.
Piasecki's PV-2 was the second helicopter to be flown in the US, making its maiden flight in 1943.
His improved PV-3 "Dogship" (HRP-X / XHRP-1 / HRP-1) flew in 1945.
These set the standard for a long line of Piasecki/Vertol/Boeing helicopters,
all of which used the successful tandem-rotor design which became the Piasecki hallmark.
The very unusual bent fuselage earned it the nickname "Flying Banana",
which stuck to this & later Piasecki models.
The PV-3 had 10 seats, and was powered by a 600 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 radial piston engine.
Over 5 years, small quantities were built for the US Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
In 1946, the P-V Engineering Forum changed its name to Piasecki Helicopter Corporation.
The 1946 USGS topo map did not yet depict the Piasecki Morton factory.
Piasecki Helicopter Corporation opened a new manufacturing plant in Morton, PA, in 1947 (according to Boeing).
The Piasecki plant consisted of a large factory, with a heliport west of the factory.
A control tower sat on top of the corner of the factory, overlooking the heliport.
The Morton plant was where hundreds of Piasecki helicopters were manufactured & flight tested.
Jim Stahl recalled, “My father worked for Piasecki & then later for Boeing-Vertol.
My father's employee number was 007.
My Dad's name was Don Stahl.
My dad was probably hired in 1947 or 48. He was working there when I was born in 1949.”
The first example of the tandem-rotor Piasecki PV-18 (later known as the HUP-1 Retriever) flew in 1952.
The larger tandem-rotor Piasecki PD-22 "Flying Banana" (later known as the H-21) first flew in 1953.
A 1953 photo commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Piasecki PV-2, with a Piasecki H-21 behind it,
in front of the Morton Piasecki facility.
Pictured are Ken Meenen, Elliot Daland, Frank Piasecki, Don Meyers, Frank Mamrol, and Walt Swartz.
The earliest aerial photo which has been located of the Piasecki Morton facility was a 1953 aerial view.
The factory was on the east side, with what appear to be 3 helipads just northwest of it.
“Piasecki Helicopter Company, Morton PA” was painted along the northwest side of the factory roof.
An undated photo of the huge Piasecki PV-15 / H-16 Transporter, which first flew in 1954.
It had 40 seats, and was the world's largest helicopter at the time.
According to Rich Kline (whose father in law worked for Frank Piasecki from the beginning),
"Frank would come out in the shop every day & talk to all the employees & knew all their families."
Additional manufacturing space was later acquired by renting 2 hangars at the nearby Philadelphia International Airport.
At the airport site, H-21 Shawnee fuselages were manufactured & completed H-21s were flight tested.
Company founder Frank Piasecki left the firm in 1955,
and established the Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at the Philadelphia International Airport.
The company he founded was renamed Vertol Aircraft Company the following year.
Jim Stahl recalled, “As a child, I recall that Frank Piasecki used to have open houses for employees' families.
I recall him bringing antique cars into the hangars to display.
You could also tour the plant & climb into the helicopters.
At the one open house in 1955, we were allowed to climb into the massive Piasecki PV-15 / H-16 Transporter.
The big chopper had just set the speed record & the mood was festive.
Months later, it crashed, killing the test pilots.
Piasecki was up & down back in those days. My dad ended up leaving Piasecki. We moved to Tampa in 1956.”
Lon recalled, “My earliest remembrance of the Morton facility is somewhere between 1956-58.
We used to pass by the facility.
I remember that there were several WWII vintage propeller planes lined up in front of what would now be the entrance to BJ's & Forman Mills.
They were pretty small, blue, with the big star in circle, with some bars to the side. Obviously, they were not flown in there.”
The Piasecki company apparently established another facility in nearby Wilmington, DE in 1957,
as the former Bellanca Field was labeled "Piasecki" on the 1957 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
The maiden flight of the Piasecki PA-4 Sea Bat unmanned helicopter on October 25, 1958,
with a “Piasecki Aircraft” building in the background.
The earliest available aerial photo which has been located of the Piasecki Morton facility was a 1958 aerial view.
The factory was on the east side, with what appear to be 3 helipads just northwest of it.
The lettering painted on the northwest end of the factory roof had been changed to “Vertol Aircraft Corporation, Morton PA”.
A large open grass field to the west also was used for helicopter flight operations.
The earliest topo map depiction which has been located of the Piasecki Morton facility was on the 1958 USGS topo map.
Lon recalled, “My family moved to Forest Avenue; Our house was 0.4 mile from the tower.
Our house was one of 3 built in 1959.
I remember the big buildup of the Chinook activity started shortly after that.”
Vertol was acquired by Boeing in 1960, becoming known for many years as Boeing Vertol.
The Morton "Vertol Heliport" was listed in the 1962 AOPA Airport Directory,
which described it as consisting of a 1,000' x 300' dirt heliport.
In 1962, Boeing Vertol relocated to a newly-established, much larger development & manufacturing site along the Delaware River,
southwest of the Philadelphia International Airport,
on property once occupied by a locomotive manufacturer.
The Morton plant was closed in the same year (according to Boeing).
Jim Stahl recalled, “We eventually moved back to Pennsylvania
and my dad went back to work for Piasecki's successor Vertol & then eventually Boeing-Vertol.
Vertol gave my father his original badge number from Piasecki – 007.
Boeing moved operations & test flights from the Morton facility in 1962.
But the [Morton] plant did not close however.
Parts & components continued to be manufactured at the site.”
Lon recalled, “I remember the big racket that the Chinooks created.
This started maybe in 1962, but no later than 1963,
because I remember my classes at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School being interrupted due to the noise.
My brother had a paper route from 1963-64.
We used to go home down Church Road, the back (West) side of the Vertol property.
Traffic was very heavy when the afternoon shift change happened at 4 or 4:30.
Traffic was also very heavy on PA 420 at the PRR (now SEPTA R-3).
That was prior to the automatic gates. There was a gate house with employees that controlled the gates.
In the afternoon, a Morton policeman directed traffic.”
A 1965 aerial view showed a circular helipad had been added to the west of the factory at some point between 1958-65.
Lon recalled, “I remember the mid-1960s & the Swarthmore College students coming by & protesting at Vertol.
A guy from my neighborhood was arrested for throwing eggs at them.
Boeing Vertol Morton had its own little union office right on Yale Avenue, across from what was then a Sinclair station.
The union hall was for AFL-CIO UAW, Vertol Boeing Local 1069.
I remember where the landing pad was, west of Church Road, south of Stewart Avenue. It was right next to a basketball court.
There were no houses on the south side of Stewart Avenue, and Millison Drive did not yet exist.
My brother remembers some aircraft being on the front lawn of the facility along PA 420.
I remember one summer day in the mid-1960s they had to move one of the Chinooks back to the Ridley facility through the streets.
I remember them going down Amosland Road. They had some long pole to push up the telephone lines crossing the road.
My recollection of the facility closing [was] in 1970.
For years afterward, I remember car dealerships along Baltimore Pike renting the parking lots for new car storage.”
The ahead-of-its-time Piasecki Pathfinder II compound high-speed helicopter,
photographed outside Piasecki facilities at the Philadelphia International Airport in 1970 by Steve Williams.
A July 5, 1971 aerial view of the Piasecki Morton facility, with the factory on the right.
At the center of the photo, west of the factory,
what appeared to be a paved taxiway led to a paved circular helipad.
A trail led to another more remote field to the west, perhaps used for other testing.
Jim Stahl recalled, “Parts & components continued to be manufactured at the site at least until 1971 or perhaps a little later.
I recall my father still working at that location & then eventually transferring to the Eddystone [Boeing Vertol] plant.
I worked right down the street from the facility back in the mid-1970s.
Boeing pulled out of the facility very gradually.
The hangar end of the building became a building supply store.
I believe it eventually became a Home Depot.”
Boeing Vertol was eventually renamed Boeing Helicopters.
By 1990, the Piasecki/Vertol/Boeing companies had built a total of more than 2,500 aircraft
using Frank Piasecki's tandem rotor configuration.
The "Heliport" west of the factory was still depicted on the 1998 USGS topo map.
As of the late 1990s, the former Piasecki factory building in Morton still existed,
with the control tower still atop one corner.
A circa 2006 aerial photo of the former factory & heliport.
The heliport area to the west had been reused as a baseball field.
According to Rich Kline, the former Piasecki factory had been reused as a BJ's Wholesale Club.
A circa 2006 aerial view looking west at the former Piasecki factory building,
showing the considerable amount of industrial infrastructure which remains at the site.
A January 2009 photo by Joe Burke, looking east at the control tower cab which still sits on top of the western corner of the former Piasecki factory building.
In contrast to the 2006 photo, only the steel frame of the tower cab remains, with the glass evidently having been removed at some point between 2006-2009.
A January 2009 photo by Joe Burke, looking east at the control tower cab on top of the western corner of what is now the BJ's Wholesale Club building.
Surely this is the only BJ's Wholesale Club store with its own control tower!
Lon reported in 2010, “The tower is still there.”
The former Piasecki Factory is located west of the intersection of Woodland Avenue & Yale Avenue.
Philadelphia Navy Yard Field / Henry C. Mustin Naval Air Facility,
Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, PA
40.1 North / 75.27 West (Northeast of Philadelphia International Airport, PA)
A 1917 photo of the Naval Aircraft Factory assembly line for unidentified biplane flying boats.
The Philadelphia Navy Yard was established in 1801 on League Island in the Delaware River in Philadelphia.
On July 27, 1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels approved the development of a Naval Aircraft Factory
to assist in solving the problem of aircraft supply which faced the Navy Department upon the entry of the U.S. into World War I.
The Army’s requirements for an enormous quantity of planes
created a decided lack of interest among aircraft manufacturers in the Navy's requirements for a comparatively small quantity of aircraft.
The Navy Department concluded that it was necessary to build a Navy-owned aircraft factory in order to assure a part of its aircraft supply,
to obtain cost data for the Department’s guidance in its dealings with private manufacturers
and to have under its own control a factory capable of producing experimental designs.
The contract to build the Naval Aircraft Factory on the grounds of the Philadelphia Navy Yard was let on August 6, 1917,
and ground was broken 4 days later.
The entire plant was completed by November 28, 1917, 110 days after ground-breaking.
When the Naval Aircraft Factory was completed the greatest need was for patrol flying boats, so production of the H-16 patrol aircraft was started.
On March 27, 1918, just 228 days after ground-breaking & 151 days from receipt of drawings,
the first H-16 built by the NAF was successfully flown.
On the following April 2 the first 2 NAF-built H-16s were shipped to the patrol station at Killingholme, England.
After World War I, the Naval Air Factory served as a research & development to support the Navy's new air arm.
It built prototype aircraft & produced small production lots of aircraft.
A 1924 aerial view looking northeast at the Philadelphia Navy Yard Field, with the large building marked “Naval Aircraft Factory” along the river.
An October 14, 1926 photo of a beautiful Curtis R3 floatplane racer at the Philadelphia Naval Airplane Factory.
The factory acquired its own landplane airfield, Mustin Field, in 1926, along with 2 large hangars.
Mustin Field was named after Henry Mustin, the first pilot launched off an American ship.
The location & layout of Mustin Field Naval Air Station, as depicted on the 1927 Department of Commerce Airway Bulletin (courtesy of David Brooks).
It described Mustin as a sod field measuring 2,500' east/west,
with 3 hangars along the southwest & south sides, and the Naval Aircraft Factory on the south side.
Mustin Field, as depicted on the Philly Chamber of Commerce's
1930 "Aviation Map of the Philadelphia Metro District" (courtesy of Tom Beamer).
The airfield layout of Mustin Field from the 1930 book "Philadelphia Aeronautical Center of the East"
(courtesy of the George H. Stuebing Collection of the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association).
The directory described the field as consisting of a 135 acre sod field,
measuring 3,200' east/west by 2,100' north/south.
The Philadelphia Naval Aircraft Factory was depicted on the south side of the field,
which was also said to have 4 hangars.
An aerial photo looking west at Mustin Field from the 1930 book "Philadelphia Aeronautical Center of the East"
(courtesy of the George H. Stuebing Collection of the Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association).
The field was depicted as an open grass field with buildings along the west & south sides.
Mustin Field, as depicted on the May 1932 J-18 Washington D. C. Airway Map (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
Mustin Field, as depicted on the 1934 U.S. Navy Aviation Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).
The 1934 Department of Commerce Airport Directory (according to Chris Kennedy)
described "Mustin Field - Navy" as having 3 cinder runways, with the longest being a 2,900' northwest/southeast strip.
A hangar was said to have "Naval Aircraft Factory" painted on the roof.
The Airport Directory Company's 1937 Airports Directory (courtesy of Bob Rambo)
described Mustin Field as having a total of 3 cindered runways,
with the longest being a 2,900' northwest/southeast strip.
The hangar was described as having "Naval Aircraft Factory" painted on the roof.
An undated aerial view looking northeast at Mustin Field.
The airfield appeared to have 3 runways in a “Y” shape, which may date the photo to the 1930s.
Large factory buildings were visible at the bottom-left,
along with a large building on the south side of the runways which does not appear in later photos.
The airfield area was smaller than that depicted in later photos (apparently more land was filled in eventually on the east side of the airfield).
A 2/13/37 aerial view looking north at 7 unidentified biplanes on Mustin's ramp.
Mustin Field, as depicted on the 1940 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe).
A 1940 aerial view of Philadelphia had the area of Mustin Field censored,
ostensibly due to pre-WW2 security concerns.
During WW2, the Naval Aircraft Factory devoted considerable effort developing improvements to the Navy's PBY Catalina flying boat.
During 1940 the Naval Aircraft Factory developed several worthwhile hydrodynamic & aerodynamic modifications for the plane,
but these couldn't be incorporated without stopping Consolidated's production lines
and slowing much-needed deliveries of the current model.
So the Navy took a different tack: on July 16, 1941
an order for 156 modified PBY-5s went to the Naval Aircraft Factory itself.
The NAF version, designated PBN-1 Nomad, featured a longer hull (64' 8”),
a sharper bow, a 20% taper step amidships, and a shallow breaker step just forward of the tail.
Wingtip floats were redesigned for more lift & improved planing.
More fuel tanks were added in the wing center section.
Wings were strengthened to carry 38,000 pounds gross weight. A new electrical system was installed.
The most noticeable change, however, was the 2 feet in height added to the vertical fin.
The armament was unchanged with one exception:
a .50-caliber machine gun in a hydraulically powered turret replaced the .30-caliber gun in the bow.
The first Nomad didn't come off the NAF assembly line until February 1943.
A 1943 Naval Aviation Archives photo of a rare Allied Aviation prototype XLRA-1 amphibious glider
approaching Mustin Field's seaplane ramp following a test run on the water.
The Naval Aircraft Factory was redesignated the Naval Air Material Center in 1943.
In 1943 the Seaplane Hangar (Building 653) was built on the south side of Mustin Field.
Designed by engineers Roberts & Schaefer,
the large steel-framed concrete-arched hangar measured 302' x 273', and 49' high.
A 1944 photo of PBN-1 Nomad flying boats under construction
inside the Naval Air Material Center at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.
Of the 156 PBN-ls produced in Philadelphia, 138 went to the U.S.S.R. under Lend-Lease.
The remaining 18 aircraft were assigned to training units at NAS Whidbey Island & NAF Newport.
In September 1944, Mustin Field played host to trials for a very unusual aircraft:
an Army P-51 Mustang which had been modified to evaluate its use from Navy carriers.
The program was given the name “Project Seahorse”.
An early-series P-51D was selected: P-51D-5-NA serial # 44-14017 which had been retained by North American Aviation
was given the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics (BuNo) 57987.
A tailhook was fitted, which required an extended keel line on which to fix the tailhook attachment point.
A catapult hook was fitted on the fuselage centerline, just forward of the wing.
To cope with hard carrier landings, the tires were replaced with special high-pressure ones.
The main undercarriage shock absorbers received increased air pressure to reduce bouncing upon landing.
The airframe was also reinforced in various points to withstand the extra stress.
Thus modified, 44-14017 was redesignated ETF-51D & sent to Mustin Field for initial testing in September 1944.
The pilot in charge of testing the ETF-51D was Navy Lieutenant Robert Elder,
an experienced naval test pilot who had already conducted carrier-suitability trials with several types of aircraft.
One of the runways at Mustin Field was specially modified in order to test the naval Mustang.
Markings simulating the size of an aircraft carrier's deck were realized
and arrester cables were installed, as well as a launch catapult.
During the months of September & October 1944, Lt. Elder made nearly 150 simulated launches & landings with the ETF-51D.
Sufficient data concerning the Mustang's low speed handling had to be gathered before carrier trials could begin.
The Mustang's laminar-flow wing made for little drag & high speed but was relatively inefficient at low speed, resulting in a high stall speed.
As the arrester cables could not be engaged at more than 90 mph,
Elder reported that “from the start, it was obvious to everyone that the margin between the stall speed of the aircraft (82 mph)
and the speed imposed by the arrester gear (90 mph) was very limited.”
By late October 1944, Elder had amassed enough data
and the ETF-51D entered the next stage: live carrier operations at sea,
thus ending its tenure at Mustin Field.
Mustin Field's Naval Aircraft Factory ended aircraft production in early 1945.
During WW2, it built a total of 31 SBNs (license-built version of the Brewster SBA),
44 SOCs, 331 OS2N (license-built version of the Vought OS2U-3), and 156 PBN-1s.
The existence of the Naval Aircraft Factory was controversial at times
as it put a federally-funded industrial activity in direct competition with civilian industry, and this was one of the reasons it was disestablished.
Upon disestablishment, most aircraft test functions were passed to the newly formed Naval Air Test Center at Patuxent River, MD.
A WW2-era Navy photo looking east at Mustin Field.
The 1945 AAF Airfield Directory (courtesy of Scott Murdock) described Mustin Field
as a 328 acre irregularly-shaped property within which were 3 macadam runways, with the longest being the 4,280' northwest/southeast strip.
The field was said to have a single 150' x 100' metal hangar.
It appeared as if the Naval Aircraft Factory (along the river) had been removed at some point between 1944-45.
The 1947 Washington Sectional Chart depicted NAAS Mustin as having a 4,500' hard-surface runway.
A circa 1947 aerial view looking northwest at Mustin Field from the Naval Aviation News.
The airfield area had been expanded considerably (evidently with filled-in land) to the east, compared to an earlier photo.
The airfield consisted of 3 paved runways, with the primary runway having been significantly lengthened toward the east,
and the large arch-roof hangar had been added on the southeast side of the field.
A 1949 aerial view looking west at Mustin Field showed several dozen aircraft stored on the northeast portion of the field.
The 1949 USGS topo map depicted Mustin Airfield as having 3 paved runways, with hangars & seaplane ramps along the south side.
In 1950, it was designated the Naval Air Experimental Station,
which included numerous research laboratories.
A 1953 aerial photo showed a total of 17 aircraft parked on Mustin's ramp.
The primary runway at Mustin was apparently lengthened by 1955,
as the 1955 Washington Sectional Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe)
described "NAAS Mustin" as having 3 paved runways, with the longest being 5,200'.
A July 28, 1955 photo of the YC-123E Pantobase prototype at Mustin Field,
prior to its water takeoff trials.
The YC-123E was a Fairchild C-123 Provider which had been modified by the Stroukoff Aircraft Corporation with a Boundary Layer Control system,
4-blade propellers, 2 high-stress skis fitted to the lower fuselage, wing-mounted floats, and a sealed fuselage.
This gave the YC-123E the ability to operate on water, ice, and snow, along with airstrips of shorter length.
Mustin's primary runway was extended again within the next 2 years,
as the 1957 Philadelphia Local Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
described "Mustin ALF (Navy)" as having 3 paved runways, with the longest being 6,100'.
A 1957 aerial view depicted Mustin Field as having 3 paved runways.
A closeup from the 1957 aerial view, showing what appear to be 2 sets of aircraft carrier catapults &/or arresting gear, installed on the south side of Mustin Field.
A closeup from the 1957 aerial view, showing amazing variety of aircraft parked on the ramp on the southwest side of Mustin Field.
Robert Johnston shed some light on the variety of aircraft in the preceding photo:
“In the 1950s one of my greatest thrills was to ride around the base sightseeing with my dad, who was a LCDR in the Naval Reserve.
Part of the fun was exploring every nook & cranny that was not off limits,
including the Naval Air Engineering Center which was served by Mustin Field.
Quite a few years later, as a Lt. USNR myself,
I was stationed at Naval Air Development Center & I made many trips down to NAEC to work with the staff there.
The aircraft in the aerial view were mostly if not all stripped hulks used for catapult testing.
NAEC had the responsibility for all catapult research & development and troubleshooting.
Typically, the aircraft used for catapult testing had their engines removed
and replaced with cast iron or lead weights bolted into the fuselage.
They presented a pretty sorry spectacle to the casual observer.
In the mid- to late-1950s the only aircraft stationed at Mustin Field as far as I know
were Beech SNBs used for liaison work & VIP transport.
My dad knew one of the pilots quite well & I recall him giving us the inside tour of Mustin Field.
Of course, just like NADC when I was stationed there from 1970-1972,
I am sure that aircraft of various types were modified at NAEC for R&D purposes & sent back out to the fleet for evaluation.”
The 1960 Jeppesen Airway Manual (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)
depicted "Mustin ALF" as having 3 paved runways, with the longest being the 6,135' Runway 9/27.
"ALF Mustin" was still depicted as an active Navy airfield
on the 1961 Philadelphia Local Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe),
with 3 runways, the longest of which was a 6,135' bituminous strip.
The Naval Air Material Center was redesignated the Naval Air Engineering Center in 1963.
Mustin Field was closed in 1963, in part due to its location immediately underneath
airline traffic on final approach to nearby Philadelphia International Airport.
It was labeled "Abandoned airport" on the January 1963 Philadelphia Local Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Mike Keefe).
A 1963 aerial photo did not show a single aircraft on the field,
a dramatic change from the 1957 photo.
The last aviation use of the Mustin facilities came after the airfield was actually closed.
In 1971, the seaplane ramp at Mustin was briefly used for testing of the X-28 Osprey, a small, single-place seaplane.
These tests were intended to explore the usefulness of the Osprey for civil police patrol in Southeast Asia,
and it made a unique contribution as a home-built aircraft in the X-Plane program.
The Osprey also was very unusual for a modern American fixed-wing military aircraft,
was actually an open-cockpit aircraft.
An undated photo of the sole X-28 Osprey in tests from the Delaware River at Mustin.
The X-28 testing at Mustin was complicated by the FAA mandate
that all flying be restricted to no higher than 300 feet altitude,
given the conflict with air traffic from Philadelphia International Airport.
Dave Lewis recalled, "I was stationed at Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1973-74.
I worked for special services & I recall that in the spring of 1974
we were involved in a project to convert the big blimp hangar at the field into a recreational facility.
We built 3 or 4 indoor tennis courts inside the hangar
and set up a weight room in one of the machine shops that was located next to the big hangar work floor.
I also remember seeing store rooms in the hangar that were full of all sorts of parts including dummy Sparrow missiles."
Diana Cannon recalled, “I'm a former Navy brat and lived in that brick 'residential complex' next to that big hangar in 1980-83.
I have fond memories of that place.
Wow... I never realized I was riding my bike down a landing strip!
When I lived there, that big hangar was the commissary.”
In 1974, the Naval Air Engineering Center was relocated to Lakehurst, NJ.
The Naval Aircraft Factory's main construction building was converted for use by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division,
as a facility for research & development.
The closure of the Philadelphia Navy Yard was recommended in 1991 by the Base Realignment & Closure Commission.
Although local politicians tried to keep the Yard open, it finally closed in 1995 with a loss of 7,000 jobs.
Senator Arlen Specter charged that the Department of Defense did not disclose the official report on the closing.
This resulted in a controversy that led to further legal disputes to no avail.
A late-1990s aerial view looking southeast at Mustin Field. Note the large hangar with seaplane ramp along the river.
The 1998 USGS topo map depicted the “U.S. Naval Station Mustin Field (Inactive)”
as having 3 paved runways, ramps, taxiways, and hangars.
In the 1990s, the adjacent shipyard property was being redeveloped as a civil shipyard by the Kvaerner Corporation.
Plans for the airfield property are unknown.
As seen in a 2002 USGS aerial photo,
the hangar along the south side of Mustin Field remained intact.
Note the seaplane ramp leading down into the Delaware River, just below the hangar.
Diana Cannon reported in 2005 of the hangar area, “I heard future plans could be condos & a marina in that area.”
A circa 2005 aerial photo looking north at Mustin's hangar on the south side of the runway.
A circa 2006 aerial photo looking west at what may have been the Mustin airfield operations building (located northwest of the runways),
which appears to have what may have been a control tower atop the right side of the building.
A circa 2006 aerial photo looking south at what appears to be another former hangar at Mustin (located northwest of the runways),
A July 5, 2007 aerial view looking northeast at the site of Mustin Field.
The majority of the airfield appears to remain intact, including the hangar along the south side of the runway.
A 2008 photo by Everett Priestley looking northwest at “what was obviously the control tower & operations center at the end of [Runway] 27.”
Everett Priestley visited the site of Mustin Field in 2008.
He reported that the Navy installation is now known as the Philadelphia Naval Business Center,
with a sign for “Mustin Intermodal” at the former airfield.
Everett reported, “Kaeverner Shipyard is now known as Aker Philadelphia Shipyard.
The Navy still has a small presence in the old yard with their with alternative fuels research, inactive ships fleet, and other engineering detachments.
A 2008 photo by Everett Priestley looking south at Mustin's former hangar.
Everett reported, “The main hangar is still standing & is reasonably good shape.
On the South side of the hangar outside wall are the words 'Base Commissary'.
There was a man-lift & crews doing some welding & brush clearing.
I asked one of the construction workers concerning what their were working on,
and he said that the hangar was being converted into a indoor movie studio.
He also claimed that it was the largest standing concrete structure in the world.”
A 2008 photo by Everett Priestley looking east along Mustin's former Runway 9.
Everett reported, “Runway 9/27 is still there, the yellow X's barely visible.”
A January 2009 aerial view by Paul Freeman looking northwest at Mustin's former runways.
Nathan Hauser reported in 2011, “I manage a tugboat company located at the Navy Yard, adjacent to what used to be Mustin NAF.
I have spent quite a bit of time getting exercise in the area & fully appreciate all the aviation experimentation that occurred here.
There are still remnants of runways, markings and several hangars.
The old catapults & arresting gear can still be located in the weeds if you know where to look.
Unfortunately, with no regard to local history, new development is taking its toll.
About a year ago I took a friend to see the old “factory hangar”,
of which you could still see the painted sign 'BEWARE OF JET AND PROP BLAST' above the copper-trimmed brick building.
I believe this is the same building that [in which there is] a picture of PBYs being built in.
Well, that hangar & factory, even with it’s beautiful architecture, had been unceremoniously torn down & cleared.
The old seaplane hangar is currently being used by Paramount Pictures as a sound stage for making movies.
I recently read that much of the movie 'Avatar' was shot in that building.
There are plans to develop the immediate area into another container ship terminal called Southport.
Doubtful, however, if this will occur as significant funds need to be raised & current terminals are underutilized.”
Kevin Rampton reported in 2011 that the Mustin hangar is “now used as a sound stage, most recently for 'The Last Airbender' .”
A December 2011 photo by Kevin Rampton looking south at what appears to be the remains of a Mustin catapult.
Kevin Rampton reported in 2011, “The Navy Yard, now officially a business park, has unrestricted access until about 6pm so up until then, one can just drive/ride/ walk right in.
There is major construction going on along Kitty Hawk Avenue, which, I am pretty sure, is made up of Mustin's longest east/west runway.
Pretty much everything south & east of that just seems to be considered 'general use' land, and it's just like riding on any other city street -
which, quote honestly, I didn't expect; I EXPECTED to be told off by security people every 10 feet, but it just didn't happen.
The only part of the site that even hints at being Restricted space, and even then, through signage only,
is the abandoned base housing section east of the hangar.
[I noted] the surreal suburban decay of this section of the yard.
Wildlife abounds there, too, which makes it even stranger.
Opossum, turkey vultures, and even an at-least 10-point buck were observed yesterday, but were too fast for the camera.
All in all, one of my favorite urban adventures ever.”
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