Planes flock to Groton airport for 'fly-in'
Groton — It might be the last hurrah for this Grumman Albatross flying boat, perhaps the rarest aircraft on display at an auto show of sorts for aviation enthusiasts going on at the Groton-New London airport.
Tom Casey, 67, of Redding has owned the vintage Grumman HU-16 Albatross flying boat dubbed "American Clipper" since 1994, but plans to sell it after he retires at the end of this year.
"An odd-ball investment turned into a remarkable opportunity to fly and teach," Casey said Friday night as he sat in the cockpit of his plane, sipping white wine.
A pilot with American Airlines for 30 years, Casey has trained people how to fly on the vintage twin-engine flying boat, restored to flying condition in 2012. There are only six or seven of these aircraft still flying, he said.
"It's like a 60-foot yacht except it flies," Casey said of the aircraft, on which he estimates he spent $1.2 million between purchasing it, restoring it and other work. These fixed-wing sea planes have hulls allowing them to land on water. Casey said he doesn't train anyone to fly it who doesn't already have "nautical experience."
The Albatross is on display as part of a two-day "fly-in" event put on by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the largest aviation association in the world, with about 350,000 members.
Another big draw at the event is the C47 "Placid Lassie," which flew in World War II during the Normandy invasion.
The event — one of only four fly-ins being held around the country this year — is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.
Mark Baker, CEO and president of AOPA, said the organization hosts these events to expose its members to different parts of the country and different airports. It's the first time such an event was held in Groton.
And local organizers hope it will entice visitors, mostly private pilots, to come back to the area in the future and see what it has to offer, said Franz Edson, chairman of the event.
Organizers predicted about 500 planes and several thousand visitors would partake in the event.
Bob Polich rented a Piper Warrior, which can fly up to 100 miles per hour, from his flying club to make the 45-minute trip from Boston, Mass., to attend the event. Many of the pilots, including Polich, brought tents and were camping out next to their planes.
Polich got his pilot's license in college, and has been flying for 39 years. "It's a hobby," he said. "I don't hunt, fish, drink or smoke."
When Dylan Park, 13, of Groton, who hopes to be a pilot one day, approached him, Polich was eager to show her the ins and outs of the aircraft. He gave Park his business card and offered to take her flying the next time she's in Boston. The general aviation community is declining, he pointed out, so it's important to attract younger participants, especially females in what is largely a male-dominated community.
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