You probably wouldn’t expect to go bush flying in New Jersey—especially not within sight of the New York City skyline. Yet the town of Andover has all of the ingredients necessary to challenge a pilot’s abilities and push a plane to its limits. With parallel grass and paved runways that have lakes on both ends, surrounding valleys formed by glaciers, and a long aviation history, it’s no mistake that Damian DelGaizo chose Aeroflex-Andover Airport as a base for his one-of-a-kind tailwheel school, Andover Flight Academy. Here you will learn to manage crosswinds and operate on short fields as you earn a tailwheel endorsement, further your bush flying skill set, and just have fun.
It gets better. The airport, operated by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, is contained entirely within a state park. At your tiedown, you're surrounded by hiking, biking, and fishing. Within minutes you can be riding through a hemlock forest, picnicking in a wildflower field, casting a line, or spotting wildlife. Combine this with nearby golf courses and antique shops, and you have the recipe for a great trip.
Arriving from the west, you can find the airport on the 100° radial of the Stillwater VOR/DME (STW 109.6 MHz) at 6 nm; however, the hills west of the airport make it difficult to spot the strip until you are almost on top of it.
From the southwest, fly 12.7 nm from Broadway VOR/DME (BWZ 114.2 MHz) along the 031° radial, and you will be looking down Runway 3. If you're arriving from the east, be aware of the New York Class B airspace, extending 20 nm north of La Guardia Airport (LGA). The outer ring has a floor of 3,000 feet beginning 6 nm south of the very visible Tappan Zee Bridge (Interstate 87), so crossing the Hudson River within a few miles of the bridge below 3,000 feet will keep you clear. The best choice of navaid from the east is the Sparta VORTAC (SAX 115.7 MHz). The airport is 9.7 nm on the 260° radial. New York Approach, 127.6 MHz, will provide flight following if they're not too busy, though reception is often lost below 2,500 feet and/or west of SAX. Approaching the airport, white hangars on the north side of the field will come into view before the runway.
Traffic patterns for Aeroflex are on the east side of the airport, with right traffic for Runway 3. If you don't hear anyone on the CTAF, 122.8 MHz, overfly the field to look at the windsocks (one at mid-field and the other on the north end) and the flags on top of the hangars. If the breeze is blowing at more than 5 kts., it's likely that wind spilling over the hills and tall trees to the west will make for a bumpy final approach. Stronger winds usually create mild to moderate wind shear, so be prepared to use throttle on a windy day. Keep in mind that a number of planes operating here do not have radios, so just because you can’t hear them doesn’t mean they're not in the pattern.
In consideration of the neighbors, the downwind leg is flown just east of Lake Lenape, over the water tower at 1,600 feet MSL. Transient parking comprises three tiedowns in the grass, just north of the fuel pumps. The paved area south of the hangars that appears to be a good parking spot is actually the staging area for the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. If you’re planning to stay for a few days, call airport manager John Flyntz and he’ll find or create a spot for you, open daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., 973-786-5100.
The airport was built in the late 1950s by Fred Hussey, owner of a company called Aeroflex, which developed gyroscopic camera equipment during WWII. Here his staff maintained his private collection of WWI aircraft, antique cars, and military surplus cars. For its time, the facility was state-of-the-art; almost everything was custom-built. The runway was paved, but there were no taxiways—instead, there were turnarounds at each end of the runway. Hussey’s estate also included what today is a state park. After his death in the mid-1970s, the LoRae family acquired the land in an auction and converted several buildings into stables to house their beloved Arabian horses. However, the property was sold to the state of New Jersey in 1994, as part of the Green Acres Program; thus Kittatinny Valley State Park was born. Andover-Aeroflex Airport, although enclosed by the park, operates separately under the New Jersey Forest Fire Service, and serves as their base for the greater northern New Jersey area. It is the only state-owned and operated airport in New Jersey; in fact, the state created the title of Airport Manager just for John Flyntz. A 1966 Bell 205 UH-1H Huey is kept on premises, but during fire season (late March through early May), the fire service contracts up to ten Grumman Ag-Cats, two of which temporarily relocate to the airport. Today there are about 50 private aircraft based at the airport. The original, 1950s-era hangars and the profusion of vintage planes, such as J-3 Cubs, Luscombes, Aeronca Champs, Stinsons, and Cessna 140s, retain an old-time feel.
It isn't easy to find a tailwheel school—trust me, I've looked. That’s why pilots come from all over to Aeroflex-Andover Airport to earn their tailwheel endorsement, and learn advanced tailwheel and bush flying skills. Students from Germany, Austria, and as far as Africa happily make the trek. Actor Harrison Ford prepared for his movie, "Six Days Seven Nights," here. The U.S. Forest Fire Service and the FAA have also benefited from this specialized instruction. And on multiple occasions, I drove four hours round-trip just to practice patterns. Andover Flight Academy transforms nosewheel pilots into tailwheel addicts, and tailwheel addicts into tailwheel pros.
Owner Damian DelGaizo developed his bush expertise in the wilderness of Maine, where he learned from both old-timers and his own mistakes, in planes from J-3 Cubs to deHavilland Beavers. Wanting a change from flying corporate King Airs, he began his school in 1987, with just a J-3 Cub and a dream. Damian has come a long way, with over 20,000 hours of mostly-tailwheel flight time and a lineup that includes a Piper J-3 Cub, a 1958 Piper Dakota Slotted Wing Super Cub, a Cessna 172, and a 1943 Stearman. More than 100 students have trained in the Aviat Husky A-1A featured in this article’s photos. Instructor John Tremper has many years of tailwheel and aerobatic experience.
A tailwheel checkout involves six to eight hours of flying time and one hour of classroom instruction; it can easily be accomplished on a long weekend. You’ll learn directional control, stick and rudder skills, and will improve your crosswind landings. As the icing on your cake, this fun can count as your BFR. If you already have a tailwheel checkout but want to improve your existing abilities, the Advanced Tailwheel Operations course is for you. From the front seat of the Super Cub, you’ll learn bush flying techniques, including short- and soft-field operations, slope landings, landing site selection (you’ll do a series of flyovers and touch passes to determine if a field is suitable), and much more. But in New Jersey? Through some ingenuity, Damian will take you to strips that push you to the limit. His repertoire includes crop duster strips, farmers’ backyards, sloped strips, and even tiny 400-foot private strips. A bit short? Think again—your goal will be to get down and stopped within the first 300 feet or less, consistently. Class discussions revolve around a comprehensive syllabus, dry-erase board, and handheld wooden model plane. There’s nothing high-tech; you’ll sit on a floppy sofa in a wood-paneled office that oozes vintage, crammed with aircraft models, Charles Lindbergh mementos, hundreds of snapshots, and handwritten notes. Dual instruction costs $165 per hour for the Cub, $210 per hour for the Super Cub, and $285 for the Stearman.
Their Stearman means aerobatic lessons or additional checkouts like a high-performance endorsement, but even non-pilots are sure to enjoy scenic rides over the Delaware Water Gap in this open-cockpit biplane. Other diversions include a trip to New York City, just over an hour by car or bus, should your companions prefer the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Times Square to loops and rolls. The school also offers spin training in the J-3, and a ski flying course during winter months when conditions permit, 973-786-6554.
After an adrenaline-pumping flight, you’ll want to unwind. Get out your hiking shoes and fold-up bikes; the airport is surrounded by the 5,656-acre Kittatinny Valley State Park. Here you’ll find miles of multi-use trails and four lakes, but you’ll need to be self-sufficient; the park does not rent equipment. If you’ve packed lunch, there are picnic tables and grills within steps of your tiedown. Dogs are welcome on a leash. A good place for maps and information is at the park ranger’s office, approximately one mile from your tiedown. Follow the main paved road by Lake Aeroflex past an open field and a large stone house until you reach the headquarters, office open daily 9 a.m.–4 p.m., park open sunrise–sunset, 973-786-6445,
The 21-mile Sussex Branch Trail passes through the park and makes for a mix of nature and history. In the mid-1800s, the Sussex Branch Railroad Line ran here, transporting iron ore from the Andover Mine to the Morris Canal. This abandoned railbed has a wide, flat cinder surface, which makes for gentle hiking or mountain biking, or even cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in winter. You’ll walk or ride through valleys formed by glaciers and lined by limestone ridges; rock formations reach as high as 30 feet. The rail trail connects with more challenging dirt roads and logging trails of varying skill levels.
The self-guided Nature Trail is an easy, 2.5-mile loop that begins just east of the tiedowns, across from the parking lot on Limecrest Rd. You'll pass through freshwater wetlands, hemlock forests, rolling hills, and grassy fields. Bring your binoculars; there are 224 species of birds in the park, from osprey to ruby-throated hummingbirds and great blue herons to bald eagles. Other wildlife sightings are likely, including red foxes, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional black bear.
Shore fishing is accessible at the park’s four lakes: Lake Aeroflex on the north end of the runway, Gardner's Pond on the south end, Twin Lakes west of Goodale Rd., and White's Pond off the Sussex Branch Trail. If you have an inflatable kayak, there's a 24-hour boat launch on the south end of Lake Aeroflex. This lake, more than 110 feet deep, is stocked with brown and rainbow trout; you'll also find largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, and panfish. Fishing licenses can be purchased at Andover Hunt & Fish, across from the Andover Diner, 2-day non-resident vacation fishing license $9, trout sticker $10.50, resident $12.50–$22.50, open Mon–Thu 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Fri 7 a.m.–7 p.m., Sat–Sun 6 a.m.–6 p.m., 196 Main St., 973-786-7382.
There are two public golf courses within four miles of the airport. Targeted at intermediate players, the 18-hole Rolling Greens Golf Club borders Lake Iliff and offers plenty of challenges, including nine par 3s that play over 200 yards each. An adjacent deli, Andover Bagel Works, will take your order at the seventh hole and have them ready after the ninth. The pro shop rents pull-carts, $5, and clubs, $20. Call from the airport if you need a ride, greens fees $13–$49 for 18 holes, sunrise–sunset, 214 Newton Sparta Rd., 973-383-3082.
The Farmstead Golf & Country Club offers 27 holes but is approximately one mile farther from the airport.Originally a farm, the course had a rudimentary beginning—a fire hose from an Eveready Oil Truck served as its sprinkler system. Today, the 275-acre grounds encompass three nine-hole courses with wide fairways, lined with mature maples and oaks, and punctuated with a 20-acre pond. Clubview, the oldest course, has an even blend of par 3s, 4s, and 5s over relatively flat landscape. For more of a challenge, continue to Lakeview, where you’ll contend with four doglegs and a par-3 final hole over water. At 2,851 yards, Valleyview may be the shortest course, but it is also the most difficult. You'll play on exceptionally narrow fairways and nowhere will you find greens that are flat.
After you've swung up an appetite, head to the Clubhouse for a meal and a step back in time. Built in 1839 as a dairy barn, it once housed more than 180 cows. Today, the original hay and muck rails are displayed across the ceiling and a wooden bar and wagon wheels retain a rustic atmosphere. Outdoor seating allows for a panoramic view of the course. The pro shop rents pull carts, $3, and power carts, $15 per person. Greens fees are $19–$68, open weekdays 7 a.m.–dusk, weekends 6:30 a.m.–dusk, 88 Lawrence Road, Lafayette, New Jersey 07848 , 973-383-1666.
Andover’s Main Street, approximately one mile from the airport, is populated with antique shops. The Great Andover Antique Village consists of five historic buildings, each crammed with antiques from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. A good place to begin is the 1868 House. Its three floors are jam-packed with items for both beginning and advanced collectors, from antique fishing lures and decoys to Native American snowshoes and a Civil War cartridge box stamped by the maker. You'll navigate this maze of treasures on creaky hardwood floors, up narrow staircases, and along exposed original stone walls, open Mon & Thu noon–4 p.m., Fri–Sun 11 a.m.–5 p.m., closed Tue–Wed, 122–124 Main St., 973-786-6384.
On ten wooded acres northwest of Kittatinny Valley State Park, the Wooden Duck Bed & Breakfast offers a quiet country setting at a house with a white picket fence on a hill. The Estate House has seven guestrooms on three floors; three additional rooms are in the Horseless Carriage House out back. Each guestroom is named after a type of duck and is adorned with wooden ducks, paintings of ducks, books about ducks, and even pillows depicting ducks. You’ll sleep and sit on cherry wood furniture, and dark wooden trunks substitute as coffee tables. Romantics will enjoy the Golden-Eye and Harlequin suites. Both have private balconies and two-sided gas fireplaces, visible from the two-person bathtub as well as the bed.
Other accommodations are in a southeast-northwest corridor along Route 206, which reaches into Newton, the neighboring township. The dog-friendly Econo Lodge has 50 rooms with cream-colored interiors and floral bedspreads; all have free high-speed Internet access and televisions. A continental breakfast is served in the lobby, $70–$130, dogs $15 per night, 448 Route 206 South, Newton, 973-383-3922.
What would bush flying be without camping? Panther Lake Camping Resort is a family-oriented private camping facility, two miles south of the airport. Its 160-acre grounds (on a 45-acre lake) consist of little neighborhoods in wooded cul-de-sacs connected by windy, hilly narrow roads. There are a whopping 400 campsites; 100 are transient, the remainder are permanent. If you don’t have tents, you can rent a cabin or a trailer, but come prepared with your own linens. Each two-room wood cabin can sleep four people and comes with a charcoal grill and picnic table. Public bathrooms and showers are spread throughout the resort; however, model trailers offer private bathrooms, a full kitchen, and room for up to two adults and four children. All rentals are intended for families; if you’re with a group of friends, you’ll need to stick with tent camping. Pets are welcome at tent sites, but not in cabins or trailers. There’s something for everyone, from tennis and miniature golf to shuffleboard and basketball. Water sports include fishing, swimming, and boating (rowboats, kayaks, and canoes rent for $7 per hour). Open Apr–Oct, reservations required, tent sites $49–$59, cabins $109, trailers $169, 6 Panther Lake Rd., 973-347-4440 or 800-543-2056.
Contact the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce for more information on accommodations, 973-579-1811.
A favorite among locals, including Andover Flight Academy instructors, Sheridan’s Restaurant and Tavern offers home-cooked meals in a Cheers-like atmosphere. Two miles north of the airport, this establishment was originally built in 1932 as a German beer garden. However, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the FBI closed the beer garden in a setup involving an underage drinker. Tom Sr. and Betty Sheridan took over in 1978 and their family has run the place since.
You’ll enter through the bar where dark stained oak beams cross the 30-foot vaulted ceiling. An old iron wagon wheel hangs as the room’s centerpiece. In good weather you can sit out on the patio with a beautiful lake view. Or, chat with others as you eat your meal on the octagonal bar’s white counter top. You can watch the game on 12 televisions in each corner, shoot darts, and the bartender, Rick or Rose, will ensure your glass never empties. For families, the main dining room that overlooks Lake Iliff is a great spot to enjoy your meal. In the backroom, kids can play videogames; adults might prefer the billiards table.
The menu includes large salads and a selection of sandwiches, as well as Mexican dishes. Sheridan’s is known for its burgers, but the family recipes are popular. Tom Sr.’s contribution, Sheridan’s Famous Chicken Pot Pie, is a flaky pie crust filled with peas, potatoes, carrots, and of course chicken, $13. Or try Mom’s Homemade Meat Loaf, made from Betty’s too-secret-to-tell recipe, $12. Open Mon–Sun 11:30 a.m.–2:00 a.m., 631 Limecrest Rd., Newton, 973-383-7577.
Other dining establishments are along Route 206, in Andover and neighboring townships. With its shiny silver and bright red exterior, the Andover Diner, one mile south of the airport, is impossible to miss when on Main Street. Its 1950s-style interior has a black and white checkerboard floor, red chairs, and a mural of old-time actors such as James Dean. The menu consists of typical diner fare, and all items are served throughout the day. Try the Andover Special, sliced steak with two eggs, $13, or Pigs in a Blanket, two pancakes rolled around sausages, $6, open daily 5:30 a.m.–10 p.m., 193 Main St., 973-786-6641.
To make the most of your visit, a rental car is necessary. Enterprise Rent-a-Car provides airport pick up, rentals $40–$70 including unlimited miles, open Mon– Fri 7:30 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.–1 p.m., 973-347-2000. If you plan to remain close to the airport, a taxi is a viable alternative. Dad’s Taxi & Limousine Inc. will take you from Aeroflex to the Andover Diner or to play a round of golf at Farmstead for about $25 one-way, 24 hours, 973-579-4807.
Whether or not you’re headed for the backcountry, a visit to Andover Flight Academy will improve your flying and stretch what previously were your limits. The proximity of a major metropolis to vintage planes and a retro ambiance is an astonishing contrast. After a day of stick and rudder, you can catch a Broadway show or a New York Harbor cruise. If instead, grass strips leave you longing for rugged environs, Kittatinny Valley State Park awaits your hiking boots, mountain bikes, and fishing rods. However you choose to complement your three-point landings, a trip to Andover is a learning experience, filled with aviation, history, and nature. —By Jessica Ambats
Prices, hours of operation, and contact information may change after the publication date of the article.