FAIR SKIES AHEAD: “In 1985, when we moved here, we had no idea that we were carrying forward the torch of aviators from 1911 at this site. We think those early aviators would be very pleased with the expansion of the runway, taxiway, lighting system, hangars, and all the navigational aids that have come into being.” Ken Nierenberg, manager of Princeton Airport, carries on his family’s history in aviation.
“Come fly with me,
“Let’s fly, let’s fly away!”
And as the song continues,
“Once I get you up there, where the air is rarefied,
“We’ll just glide starry-eyed ….”
If that sounds intriguing, you don’t have to fight the traffic to Newark Liberty Airport, Kennedy, or even Trenton-Mercer County. Princeton Airport and Flying School is just around the corner.
And the opportunities abound. Flying lessons, rentals, hangars to park your own plane, and an extraordinary history.
Owned by the Nierenberg family since 1985, Princeton Airport has had a distinctive role in the annals of aviation.
In 1911, only eight years after the Wright Brothers made aviation history, Richard A. Newhouse arrived from Germany, settled in Rocky Hill, and began designing and building airplanes. The land where he tested his planes was Bolmer’s Field, later to become Princeton Airport.
10 Pioneer Aviators
History was made at the airport on November 19, 1916, when 10 pioneer aviators, members of New York’s 1st Aero Company (National Guard) completed a formation round trip from Mineola, N.Y. to Princeton. The flight, hailed by the press as “the largest number ever seen on one flight in this country” was the first mass cross-country flight in U.S. military aviation.
Years later, in 1929, Mr. Newhouse and his eldest son Werner, established the Newhouse Flying Service and named the site Princeton Airport. Their advertising flyer offered “Charter Flights to All Points; Planes for Hire; Student Instruction at Moderate Rates and Terms.”
History continued to be made at the airport. It was from there that the first Air Mail Flight took off on November 16, 1937. Also, on weekends, visitors could watch an air show, complete with “barrel rolls and wing over loops.”
During World War II, restrictions on general aviation within 50 miles of the coast were instituted, and activity at the airport decreased. However, the airport’s two runways accommodated military aircraft, including B-10 bombers and D-Cs.
Over the years, ownership of the airport changed hands, and in 1985, the Nierenberg family, including Dick, Naomi, and their son Ken, purchased the airport, which had been dormant and for sale for four years. The Nierenbergs had previously operated a full-service fixed-base operation at Kupper Airport in Hillsborough for 18 years.
Area pilots responded enthusiastically to the return of the airport service. The Nierenbergs began to improve the facility with an upgraded lighting system, and in 1987, a set of 16 T-hangars was constructed.
Also, the FAA certified flight school grew rapidly, a variety of planes became available to rent, the maintenance shop expanded, the tie-down area increased, and Princeton Airport was a full service operation again.
Improvements have continued in the years since, notes Steven Nierenberg, director of operations, and an attorney in his previous career. “We have expanded the space from 50 acres to 100, and we now have 88 hangars. We own eight planes for instruction, and have 125 planes here altogether. These are private planes whose owners lease the space.”
Every 100 hours, the planes are thoroughly inspected, which is required by law, explains Mr. Nierenberg. They are also inspected and licensed every year for safety by licensed mechanics.
In addition, a separate area for helicopters is available.
“95 percent of the planes we have are single-engine,” he continues. “Some are two-seaters, and the largest seats six passengers. We have five instructors, and not only are they licensed pilots but also trained as licensed instructors.”
Currently, Princeton Flying School (formerly known as Raritan Valley Flying School) is instructing 85 students, adds Mr. Nierenberg. “Students are from all backgrounds, including the financial field, doctors, carpenters, etc. They are predominantly men, but we have women who like to fly too. Our students are all ages, including high school and younger, but many are in their 50s”
And, he adds, it’s never too late. “Our oldest student is 86!”
Kids can also take lessons at ages nine or 10, but they must be big enough for their feet to reach the pedals. Both boys and girls are students, and they can’t solo until they are 16.
A minimum of 40 hours of air training are required to obtain a license, including at least 20 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flying. Ground work is also included, and a written exam is required.
During their training, students are advised to come at least once a week, but many come more often. A $199, 80-minute introductory lesson (including an hour flight), is available for people to see whether they find “the skies friendly”. Mr. Nierenberg reports that a number of students have never even been in an airplane before. Most of them sign up for lessons, but occasionally some decide not to proceed.
“After the first lesson, many people come in the office and are so excited,” he says. “They say it was thrilling, fantastic. There are lots of emotions — joy, excitement, a real mix of feelings.”
If they decide to continue, students will receive a kit with a variety of instructional materials, including books.
“One of the things I love to see is when students reach a milestone,” continues Mr. Nierenberg. “Soloing is a milestone, and another is when they fly 150 miles and return. This requires landing at another airport, and then flying back here. We enjoy being part of a student’s life. It’s very exciting for them to say ‘I can fly a plane.’”
He points out that pilots have embarked from Princeton Airport to such locations as Cape Cod, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, etc. “There is also the utility of flying. You can get places so much faster. No long road delays and traffic jams.”
The airport has a special Pilot Shop, filled with a great variety of aeronautical-related items. Model airplane kits, books, flight log books, toy planes, airplane memorabilia, jackets and T-shirts, puzzles, and picture frames are just some of the specialties available.
In addition, a Pilot’s Lounge on the second floor offers a congenial place to relax, and it provides a nice view of the planes and aircraft operations.
The airport hangars are also available to rent for parties and other special occasions. Area organizations, including SAVE, have had events at the airport.
Mr. Nierenberg looks forward to offering more people the opportunity to experience the pleasure and excitement of flying. He hopes even more students will come to learn to fly.
“I have a chance to meet people who really want to be here, and who want to fly. I meet such a variety of people, and each day can be a surprise.”
Princeton Airport is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s. The office is open seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (609) 921-3100. Website: www.princetonairport.com.