Even with a low overcast and a 30-percent chance of rain, Hampton Airfield in Hampton, New Hampshire, is hopping on the morning of Saturday, May 19. It's the thirty-first annual fly-in and flea market at the 2,100-foot grass strip tucked alongside busy U.S. Route 1 in a thriving commercial district of town. Cars stream into the parking lot. Out by the runway, people inspect vendors' wares displayed under canopies or on tarps on the grass. The aviation micro-economy hums as a vendor sells a Stinson 108 elevator for a good price, but finds himself spending more than he earned on items offered by other sellers.
Airport owners Mike and Cheryl Hart are mingling. They say the fly-in always falls on the weekend between Mother's Day and Memorial Day weekend. Nowadays the event typically features dozens of vendors and hundreds of visiting aircraft. The Harts live at the airport, which they bought 32 years ago when they were both 28. Two daughters are pilots. Hampton has grown into a family of based aircraft owners, pilots in training, a restoration enterprise, and the Airfield Café. "The main point here is to teach people to fly," says Mike, a retired airline pilot.
There's mist in the air and the clouds are lower. Inside the warm airport office, flight instructor John McCoy tells how they teach flying at Hampton. You start in a Piper J-3 Cub, solo it, and fly your first cross-country in the "nordo" (no radio) aircraft. You complete your training in one of Hampton's immaculate Cessna 172s.
McCoy gives sightseeing rides in the airport's 1930 New Standard D-25 biplane, which resides in the rear of a large hangar. Powered by a 220-horsepower Continental radial engine driving a ground-adjustable prop, the New Standard D-25 towers over the other singles. Climbing up and into the deep cockpit is like scaling a small cliff. Imagine yourself ascending over the treetops and cruising at 75 miles per hour above Hampton Beach with four sightseeing passengers aboard. Thrilling. To McCoy, the New Standard is "a minor national treasure."
Retired engineer Bill Whitney has stopped by the field. He can't say enough nice things about the Harts and their airport family. Whitney owns a Stinson 108, his twelfth aircraft, and he's got his eye on a Republic Seabee. There's a practical reason for the choice. "You can open the doors and fish right out of it."