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Fly-In theater: A treat for your cultured spouse

East Haddam, Connecticut

Pilots are willing to fly just about anywhere for just about any reason—but this was a stretch.

  • The Goodspeed Opera House is an excellent regional theater nestled beside the East Haddam Bridge on the Connecticut River. Goodspeed Airport (42B) is within walking distance to the south. Photo by Jim Moore.
  • The airport has a landing fee, which is payable via cashbox. Photo by Mike Fizer.
  • The Goodspeed Opera House is easily recognizable beside the East Haddam Bridge. Photo by Mike Fizer.
  • The Goodspeed Opera House has produced over 250 musicals in its long history and is part of a strong thespian community in the Connecticut River Valley. Photo by Mike Fizer.
  • Once scheduled for demolition in 1958, the opera house is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Mike Fizer.
  • Before attending a musical at the Goodspeed Opera House, many visitors will enjoy some fine dining next door at the Gelston House. Photo by Mike Fizer.

AOPA Senior Photographer Mike Fizer and I were headed to the Goodspeed Opera House in coastal Connecticut to, get this, see a play. For an uncultured lout like me, the idea of sitting through two-and-a-half hours of singing and dancing sounded about as painful as a tooth extraction.

But Bill Harrelson, the record-setting, earth-rounding Lancair pilot and his wife, Sue—two people who have been just about everywhere—convinced us this was a good idea.

“Pilots are always looking for places to fly that their spouses will enjoy,” said Harrelson, who led two pilot/spouse pairs flying a Mooney M20 and a Cessna 172 from Virginia to join them for the day. “Watching a musical may not be your idea of a great time—but your wife would absolutely love it. And let’s face it, you’ve probably dragged her to plenty of aviation events that she wasn’t terribly excited about attending.”

Guilty as charged. (And truthfully, my wife, Martha, would have thoroughly enjoyed the theater performance if she’d been present, but this was a weekday and she was working.)

From the air, the Goodspeed Airport and the historic, four-story opera house are easy to spot in a scenic valley on the Connecticut River. The asphalt runway is just 2,120 feet long and 50 feet wide, and the approach to Runway 32 passes over a bridge less than a half-mile from the threshold. A light breeze on the morning we arrived favored the relatively unobstructed Runway 14, however, and that simplified the visual approach and landing. (There are no instrument approaches at Goodspeed.)

The Goodspeed Airport also is a seaplane base with a ramp, so arriving in a floatplane would be an even classier way to get there.

The airport has a $5 landing fee ($10 for overnight stays) paid in cash at a drop box in the terminal building. Our group’s four airplanes were the only transients the morning we arrived.

There are several restaurants within easy walking distance of the nontowered airport, and the theater itself is only a few hundred yards away.

We landed in time for lunch, then walked to the Victorian-style opera house. The structure was built in 1876 and paid for by shipping and banking magnate William H. Goodspeed. It later fell into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition in 1958 when a foundation was established to renovate it.

The facility reopened in 1963, and it’s won a pair of Tony Awards and calls itself the “home of the American musical.” Tickets range in price from $29 to $75, and plays run from April to December.

Our group saw The Music Man, and the experience wasn’t as traumatic as the root canal I was expecting. More importantly, the spouses seemed eager to return. And since the three-hour round-trip flight to Goodspeed was longer than the performance, that’s still a good deal for us fliers.

Goodspeed Airport also offers a ramp for seaplane operations. Photo by Jim Moore
Dave Hirschman
Dave Hirschman
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large
AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
Topics: Travel, U.S. Travel

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