Mike Steffen was Tony’s flight instructor when he learned to fly at Burgard Vocational High School in the early 1930s while attending night classes. The two developed a pretty unique relationship and remained good friends throughout my father’s aviation career.
Tony graduated on February 26, 1935, after enrolling in Burgard’s three-year evening vocational aviation course. He continued his employment at Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor Company in Buffalo as a mechanic until purchasing his Gardenville Airport property in 1938.
I am not too familiar with the history of Burgard, other than what my father acquired in his collection. However, that recently changed when I received my monthly WNY Aeromail newsletter, #55, from Ron Ciura, the reporter. In that newsletter, Ron shares some history of the Elm/Burgard Flying Club provided by Paul Faltyn, a Burgard Grad and Curator of the Niagara Air Museum. Click the link button below to read a document outlining the Flying Club with its inception in 1927.
May 30, 1933, is Tony’s first logbook entry flying dual instruction with Mike Steffen in Burgards Eaglerock biplane, NC-6323, powered by a Kinner K5 engine. Tony flew for 45 minutes on his first flight, and I can only imagine his excitement!
On September 7, 1933, Tony piloted his first 5-minute solo flight and finished his training for an additional 25 minutes of dual time with Mike Steffen on that day, continuing to build hours in Burgards Eaglerock. Tony continues to acquire solo time, and on October 13, 1933, he flys a full solo flight.
Tony received his Amateur Pilots License on October 14, 1934, with just over 55 hours logged of total flight time. He focuses on the required classroom study to complete the Burgards aviation course, although he dreams of getting back in the air after graduation. As I mentioned earlier, his hard work and determination pay off, and Tony graduates on February 26, 1935.
He continues his flight training with Mike Steffen, starting on April 20, 1935, adding additional hours in his logbook flying solo in the Eaglerock. Tony received his Private Pilots License on July 8, 1935, and flys his first passenger from Buffalo to Niagara Falls three days later, on July 11, in the Eaglerock. His logbook doesn’t state who his first passenger is, but I’m guessing it was either his mother, father or brother Victor.
Tony’s first night flight is on October 13, 1935, in the Eaglerock, departing the Buffalo Airport at 5:30 pm and returning at 6:50 pm, bringing his total logged hours over 76 hours since he started flying. His first logbook of the nine that I have covered from May 30, 1933, to June 27, 1938, with a total flight time of 228 hours and 30 minutes. Only 14 hours and 50 minutes were dual time!
I discovered an article that my father saved featuring Mike Steffen printed in the Buffalo Courier-Express, dated February 12, 1967. It’s terrific writing to a fascinating person, and I highly recommend downloading a copy for yourself!
Tony had heard that Republic was hiring for test pilots to fly their newly developed P-47 in the summer of 1942, and he knew that he couldn’t let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by. Two years have gone by since he first opened his Gardenville airport, and he felt this could be financially beneficial to expand his business. Could the airport survive without him, Tony thought to himself. It must, he later concluded, and began to make arrangements so the airport would remain operational while he was away.
Tony found out that he needed to complete a flight check before submitting an employment application to Republic. On December 9, 1942, he met the requirements through a test flight in a North American AT-6 trainer at the Romulus Army Air Field in Detroit, Michigan. Tony flew for 1 hour and 45 minutes with an instructor, and upon landing, he receives his certificate to fly a P-47!
Tony’s last flight at his Gardenville Airport is on February 7, 1943, in a Taylorcraft model D airplane with a 65 hp Franklin engine. He finished a long dual-time lesson with one of his students for a total of 3 hours and 30 minutes under the Civilian Pilot Training program.
Tony’s first test flight for Republic is on February 23, 1943, in a P-47-C warplane with a 2000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-21 “Double Wasp” twin-row 18 cylinder radial engine. The plane’s registration number is 16650, and he flew for 55 minutes from Republic’s base in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York.
On March 1, 1943, Tony test piloted his first P-47-D, ship number 16864, for 55 minutes.
Let’s stop for a minute and think about how Tony must have felt on this day. At the beginning of February, he last flew a Taylorcraft airplane and is now test piloting a P-47 warbird, all 8 tons of her glory, pushing it to its structural limits with speeds above 400 mph at 30,000 ft. I consider this a life-changing event, almost an enlightenment of one’s self-being, that I know Tony cherished throughout his life and was very proud to share his experiences. I remember him telling me stories of flying the P-47, and I was the most popular kid during “show and tell” at grade school when he let me bring photos of him in his flight gear and the P-47. He even let me bring in his leather flight helmet and goggles one day, but I’m sure he was concerned about its safety because that opportunity never came up again.
I found a fascinating entry in Tony’s logbooks while researching his flight time in the P-47. On April 6, 1943, he only flew two P-47’s that day, but the second one, he recorded ship number 28079 as “Racer #4.” I was intrigued by this. With a little research, I believe this to be a War Bond Plane used as a promotional airplane for Republic to generate civilian revenue to offset production costs and salaries. It seems to be a popular option used by other manufactures during the war, and I knew nothing of it.
From the hundreds of pictures that I have of my father, Tony, I decided to assemble a short timeline to better illustrate his life but not bore you with an extensive family photo album. I have chosen the most relevant ones starting with him as a young man until his passing in 1976. I’ve divided the photos into seven pages, with about ten on each page.
I hope you find this interesting as much as I do and can’t help but think about the thousands of hours of flight time he accumulated throughout his lifetime.
Goodyear built the first “Ranger I” blimp, NC-10A, in 1940 as an upgrade to the previous advertising blimps, but it soon became a part of a fleet of airships for the U.S. Navy’s L-Class airship division, used during World War II. The Ranger measures 150 feet in length, is 51 feet high while resting on its landing wheel, and holds 123,000 cubic feet of helium. Two 145 hp Warner Scarab engines mounted on outriggers, one on each side of the 22-foot long car, provide a top speed of 62 mph. The blimp has a 600-mile range at a cruising speed of 50 mph. A preferred altitude is between two and three thousand feet, but blimps have a service ceiling limit of 10,000 ft.
The Ranger I’s first test flight was on August 13, 1940, and the U.S. Navy received delivery on February 1, 1941, reclassified as the U.S. Navy L-2. Unfortunately, this blimp is destroyed in a mid-air collision in 1942.
As U.S. Navy blimp L-2, the ship collided with Navy blimp G-1 (formerly Defender) on June 8, 1942 during night operations near Manasquan Inlet, New Jersey. Both blimps were destroyed.
During World War II, Goodyear ceased the operations of all advertising blimps.
Goodyear built two other versions of the Ranger series blimps, the Ranger II (NC-1A) and the Ranger III (N1A). After World War II, the first flight of the declassified U.S. Navy L-18, now know as the Ranger II (NC-1A) is on May 28, 1946.
Click the “Download” button to access this booklet and please feel free to save a copy for yourself, print, or share!
In this series, you will find pictures of the hangars and maintenance shop at Buffalo Airpark in chronological order, separated by individual pages per hangar. Again, if you have anything to share or would like to comment on, please do so. Enjoy!
The horse stable is one of the first buildings that my father, Tony, built after purchasing the property in 1939. He salvaged what he could from the small barn next to the farmhouse and constructed a much bigger stable further East of his Gardenville Airport Operations building. It was his first maintenance shop with room to store a few airplanes. His shop was on the South end, and the horse stall was on the North end with room in the middle for storage.
I dedicate this page to my sister Carol Payne Zagon for if it weren’t for her extraordinary photographic skills, this story wouldn’t exist.
Sometime between Friday night, January 28, and early Saturday morning, January 29, 1977, we suffered a devastating hangar collapse. The roof of the West building of our twin “North” hangars gave way to the snow’s tremendous weight due to the historical Blizzard of ’77. The valley between the two buildings quickly became impacted by the deep powdery snow transported from the frozen surface of Lake Erie by the daily peak wind gusts ranging from 46 to 69 mph.
The weight was too much for the large pine roof trusses, and the aircraft’s destruction below was inevitable. It breaks my heart to this day to see such devastation because these airplanes were not just machines for transportation. They became a part of each pilots’ life, a close family member, and a strange bond that develops, unexplainable except to another pilot.
My brother Doug Payne remembers that tragedy all too well, telling me, “I was at the airport on Friday, the day before, and received a phone call the next day on Saturday morning that the hangar collapsed. It was heartbreaking to see all the destruction.”
This view is from inside the partially damaged Eastside hangar looking towards the valley seam. We were able to save this side of the hangar.
I remember Doug showing me the hangar a few days later because of a travel ban and waiting for plow drivers to clear the enormous snowdrifts that once covered the streets. He wasn’t living with us then and was able to get to the airpark on Saturday. What upset me the most was the sight of just a tail sticking out of a snowbank where there should have been an entire airplane.
This view is from inside the collapsed Westside hangar that my sister, Carol Payne Zagon, bravely entered to capture the “perfect shot.”
Notice how the roof trusses split under the extreme weight of the snow!
And not only were the airplanes a casualty of this hangar collapse, but two local antique fire trucks that were stored were also victims.
To help you understand the twin hangars’ size, here are a few photos of when it was under construction in the late 1940s.
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To say that a hangar fire in February 1943 was devastating to my father Tony is an understatement. His business, the Gardenville Aeronautical Corp., suffered a total loss of revenue. He was fortunate enough to be employed by the Republic Aviation Corporation as a test pilot for their P47 simultaneously, which gave him the time to strategize for the airport’s future.
Tony recalls that in the early heyday of government flight programs, he missed the boat when a fire “virtually wiped me out” in February 1943. Tony had qualified for a CPT Instructor school in 1942 and graduated his first 12 students when the fire destroyed hanger, airplanes, shop, classroom and records.
Tony kept the air-park open “as a landing strip” during the lush training years and stayed with Republic as a test pilot while he planned the fate of his airport. He returned to Gardenville in 1943 and “from scratch” started to build.
NYS Aviation Bureau Flyer, Volume 1, Number 4, October 1952
Tony returned to his airport in the fall of 1943 and finished constructing a new Quonset hangar by August 1944.
I’ve posted a copy of the fire insurance quote on page 2 if you’re interested in reading it.
I’m not going to lie. There are many pictures in this series, 68 total, and please give yourself some time to go through these. Most are aerial shots of the airpark throughout the years, but some are from different Western New York areas. I have broken it up into seven subpages to make it easier to navigate.
I’ve organized the subpages in chronological order to the best of my ability, and please contact me if you see something out of place or have something to share. I’ve also numbered all of the photos after their descriptions for easy referencing.
I hope you enjoy viewing these pictures as much as I did, and together we are discovering Gardenville Airport/Buffalo Airpark’s history.
My father Tony first purchased a 20-acre lot located in Gardenville, New York, including two buildings, a farmhouse, and a small horse barn in 1938 at the age of 27. He converted the farmhouse into the beginning of the first operations office for his Gardenville Airport.
Tony completely redesigns the interior to include a custom front counter, new bead board, and rear office space on the left side. A central dividing wall separates the two sides and eventually supports the staircase to the future second-floor addition.
The right side has a lounge area, a showcase for sectional charts, access to the rear restrooms, and a small café. It also features a large floor heater along the central dividing wall.
Tony salvaged the usable lumber from the dilapidated horse barn from the initial purchase and built a more extended building on the office’s east side, where he painted “Gardenville Airport” on the roof. This building was often referred to as the “Horse Stable” because his first wife Maxine kept her horse in the end stall even though he used it as a storage garage and workspace.
Tony later changed the name from Gardenville Airport to Buffalo Air-park and continued to upgrade the office building. Then came the second-floor expansion in the late 1940s.
If you have any pictures of Buffalo Air-Park that you would like to share, please contact me, and I would be more than happy to add them to this website.
While researching some upcoming articles that I’m working on, I came across a fascinating WWII aircraft, the Fokker G.I. I am familiar with Anthony Fokker, “The Flying Dutchman,” and many of his designs, but the G.I caught me by surprise. Maybe it’s my love for his initial designs during WWI, such as the Eindecker, or to get my heart pounding, the Dr.I triplane that I associate the Fokker name to and clouds my vision of the many aircraft that he produced.
The Palais de l’Air (Paris Air Show) of 1936 is the fifteenth exhibition since its inception in 1908 and showcased the modern aircraft construction techniques where the newly prototyped but never flown Fokker G.I is proudly displayed. Perched high upon welded steel wing stands positioned between Russian and Polish airplanes, the Fokker G.I gained the most attention because of its heavy armament.
Two rapid-fire 23 mm Madsen cannons along with two 7.9 mm machine guns reside in the nose, and one moveable 7.9 mm machine gun protects the rear section of the transparent cone-shaped fuselage.
This twin-engine aircraft with its streamlined fuselage nestled between two tail booms supporting a single rear horizontal stabilizer with twin rudders is a sight to see and leaves a lasting impression! The plane earned several nicknames during the show where the British referred to it as the “Reaper,” and the French called it the “Le Faucheur” or “Mower.” Though some suggest, Mr. Fokker nicknamed it the “Mower” himself, and I can see why. I would hate to see that coming at me in my 6!
Mr. Fokker and his team of designers anticipated a large turnout that year and hoped to spark the spectator’s interest with their new aircraft, and in true Fokker fashion, his G.I is the prodigy of the show! Written by the flight correspondent on the eve of the show;
“Never in the history of flying has the technique of aircraft construction stood so high; the days of stick-and-string contraptions are over, and real engineering has taken their place. The art of designing aero engines has also improved very materially, with the result that power has gone up and weight down. Reliability, once a doubtful quantity, is now taken for granted.”
The G.I prototype painted green with a medium blue belly, designated X-2, first flew on March 16, 1937, from Welschap airfield, near Eindhoven, Netherlands, piloted by a Czechoslovakia pilot. It was a successful flight lasting for about 20 minutes until landing safely without any problems. Testing continued, and after four flights, some issues did arise on the fifth flight with one of the supercharged Hispano Suiza engines overheating due to a design flaw in the oiling system. Engine damage resulted from insufficient lubrication to the extent of broken parts exiting the exhaust and damaging one of the tail booms. Frustrated with the Hispano Suiza engines’ known issues, Mr. Fokker attempted to add extra oil coolers underneath each powerplant. Still, it had little effect on lowering the temperature, and he decides to replace the engines entirely with the more reliable Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Junior known as the Fokker G.I “Wasp” version. He also produced the Fokker G.I “Mercury” version for the Dutch, where larger Bristol Mercury VIII engines rated at 850 hp replaces the less powerful and smaller 750 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1535.
*My brother Doug brought to my attention that he noticed in the video the Fokker G.I. X-2 prototype has counter-rotating propellers. I was unaware of that, and I thank him for pointing it out. He also said that he could see the propellers’ rotational direction in the photos of the X-2. The news piqued my curiosity, so let’s have a look into why Mr. Fokker designed it this way, and I’ll discuss it at the bottom of this post.
Mr. Fokker received the first production orders for the G.I “Wasp” from the Spanish Republicans just before the beginning of the Spanish Civil War that started on July 17, 1936, and lasted until April 1, 1939. The Republicans contacted him looking for a good fighter plane for the looming civil war. He told them about a new fighter plane that his design team started working on in 1935 for the French Airforce but later rejected when other French designs seemed more practical. Mr. Fokker saw potential in this new design and continued developing the prototype, referred to as “project 129.” The Republicans, in dire need of a fighter airplane, ordered 26 planes, even before Mr. Fokker could complete a test flight. Because of the signing of the Non-Intervention Agreement in August 1936 that places an embargo against the fighting parties, Fokker suspends the order and focuses his attentions on the upcoming Paris Air Show in November that same year. He did continue to build those 26 aircraft and later told the press that Finland is interested.
Soon after the test flight, the Dutch Army Aviation Group (Luchtvaartafdeeling or LVA) ordered 36 Fokker G.I “Mercury” airplanes and received delivery in 1938 with aircraft registration numbers 300 through 335. This airplane differed slightly from the prototype with the installation of the Bristol Mercury VIII engines. Most importantly, as requested by the LVA, eight fixed 7.9 mm Browning machine guns to be installed in the nose and one moveable 7.9 mm Browning machine gun mounted in the rear. Also, provisions to be able to carry a bomb load of 400 kg if desired.
The Fokker G.I “Mercury” has a wingspan of 17.16 m(56 ft), a length of 10.89 m(36 ft), and an overall height of 3.35 m(11 ft). The unladen weight is 3360 kg(7408 lbs) with a gross weight of 4800 kg(10,582 lbs). It can reach a maximum speed of 475 km/h(295 mph) and a cruising speed of 356 km/h(221 mph) with a service ceiling of 9300 m(30,511 ft). A flight range of 1410 km(876 miles) is possible with full fuel tanks carrying 550 liters(145 gallons) plus 150 liters(40 gallons) in reserve at cruising speed.
The aircraft completed missions in their 3rd and 4th JaVA (Fighter Flight Department) used as a hunting/cruiser airplane. Initially, the Dutch intended to use them as a dive bomber aircraft but decided not to because it performed better configured as a fighter plane. Some testing included fitting dive brakes on aircraft number 302, similar to those found on the Junkers Ju 87 or Stuka, but showed poor results on the Fokker G.I “Mercury.” Other variants included setting up aircraft number 304 as a scout by installing an observation dome or “Bathtub” under the hull, but proved unsuccessful. I can imagine the extra drag and weight created significantly reduced flight performance.
The Fokker G.I “Wasp” version is similar to the “Mercury” version but with the smaller, lighter, and less powerful 750 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Junior engines. The nose armament is reduced to four fixed 7.9 mm Browning machine guns but still retains the single movable 7.9 mm Browning machine gun in the rear. This airframe is slightly shorter than the “Mercury,” with an overall length reduced to 10.30 m(34 ft) needed to adjust for the center of gravity. The unladen weight diminishes to 3150 kg(6945 pounds) with a decreased gross weight of 4400 kg(9700 pounds). While maintaining a cruising speed of 322 km/h(200 mph), the pilot can expect a flight range of 1580 km(982 miles), and at full-throttle will result in a maximum speed of 434 km/h(269 mph). Both Fokker G.I versions operated with a flight crew of two but had an optional “middle seat” for a third crew member, but rarely used. Through testing, the aircraft performed better with a flight crew of two. Fokker produces 26 G.I “Wasp” aircraft and assigned registration numbers 341 through 365.
Fokker used his proven mixed construction technique in building the G.I with a combination of welded steel tubing covered with removable aluminum panels for the nose armament, front cockpit, and engine nacelles. The fuselage’s rear consisted of a wooden frame covered with thin plywood and Perspex windows, a clear acrylic, hung in aluminum frames. The rear conical turret is capable of turning 360 degrees for the gunner.
Aluminum framing and removable panels form the wing roots and contain the oil tanks along the leading edges and the middle section’s fuel tanks. Fokker also constructs the twin tail booms, horizontal stabilizer, and twin rudders from aluminum. Past the engine nacelles, the outer wing development consists of wooden framing and plywood covering. The wing spars run through the cockpit behind the pilot and fore of the rear gunner turret providing maximum support. Steel frames covered with linen make up all of the controlling surfaces. This mixed construction technique is a standard Fokker process and became characteristic of their cantilever high-winged monoplanes such as the Fokker F.VIII in the late 1920s.
In April 1940, the Dutch Ministry of Defense purchased the remaining 26 Fokker G.I “Wasp” aircraft leftover from the Non-Intervention Agreement signed in 1936 involving the Spanish Republicans. They were supposedly going to Finland after that cancellation but never left the Netherlands. Most were incomplete and stored in multiple hangers in various locations, but the JaVA were able to complete some ready for service in a short time.
In the early morning on May 10, 1940, Germany invaded the Netherlands with the Luftwaffe attacking the Dutch airfields. The battle was fierce and devastating to both JaVa divisions, and on May 14, the Dutch surrender. The Germans seized the remaining Fokker G.I airplanes and were taken into service by the Luftwaffe as testing and training aircraft.
None of the original Fokker G.I survived the war with only a few pieces found not worth saving, but a replica is proudly on display at the Dutch Nationaal Militair Museum (National Military Museum) in Soesterberg, Netherlands. I hope to visit this place someday and enjoy first hand the true beauty of this Fokker design!
*The term “counter-rotating propellers,” is used when a twin or multi-engine aircraft has propeller(s) on one wing that spins in the opposite direction of the propeller(s) on the other side. The primary purpose is to remove any potential issues related to a “Critical Engine” situation by balancing the torque output between the engines along the vertical axis.
The definition of a “Critical Engine” on a multi-engine airplane would be the engine that would cause the most significant impact upon the aircraft’s performance and handling if it were not in operation. A “Critical Engine” does not exist on multi-engine aircraft with counter-rotating propellers that spin towards the fuselage looking at the propeller’s top while seated in the cockpit, like on the X-2. A good reason why Mr. Fokker set up the G.I this way, and I understand his reasoning.
When counter-rotating propellers spin away from the fuselage, the opposite is accurate, and both engines are critical. A prime example is the Lockheed P-38, but I’ll save that for a future post.