Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fantasies take flight, get rolling at Wings & Wheels Expo in Teterboro, New Jersey

At home, Nico Ayamami can walk to his own toys. But for an hour on Saturday, Teterboro Airport became a very large playground for Nico, and his toys included a brown helicopter and a blue Piper Comanche airplane. These toys are too big for a 3-year-old boy to manage by himself, so his father Jason helped him.

Their system was simple. Nico, held in his father’s arms, looked across the tarmac to something shiny and big. He called the thing’s name, pointed toward it with his open hand, and suddenly he was transported there, so excited he could barely speak.

“Firetruck! Firetruck!” Nico said, staring with wide-open eyes and hands toward a red firetruck from Moonachie with its doors wide open. Father carried son to the big red firetruck.

“Do you want to go inside the firetruck?” said Jason Ayamami, 32.

“Sure!” said Nico, who had fire­trucks printed on the T-shirt he was wearing as well as the backpack he was carrying.

“Sure!” Ayamami said, mimicking his son. “This is fun. Kids love this stuff.”

Adults are pretty big fans of big toys, too. Saturday’s event was called Wings & Wheels Expo, a gathering of aircraft, classic cars and emergency equipment that takes over a hangar and a swath of tarmac at the airport’s northwest end once a summer. There were many kids, but the crowd also included many unescorted adults, drawn outside by the nice weather and a chance to stand next to some beefy machines.

“Man that is beautiful,” said Al Johnston, 62, a Paramus resident who was looking at a red 1962 Corvette convertible “Look at those lines. They just don’t build them like they used to.”

Similar things were said about the silver B-17 bomber that flew in for the event. The World War II-era plane, one of thousands built during the war, never saw combat, and it’s one of just a handful still capable of flying, according to Yankee Air Museum, an organization based in Belleville, Mich., that restores historic planes. Spectators paid $450 each for a ride in the plane, which could be seen lumbering over much of North Jersey on Saturday.

Tony Ranaweera, 51, remembered the B-17 primarily from his time as a medic at the former Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, which had a Flying Fortress parked in front of its main entrance during his service there, he said.

“I love seeing this. Everything we have today in this country is because of people who served in planes like this,” he said.

The B-17’s engines groaned, and then its propellers started spinning. Ranaweera’s oldest daughter, Samadhi, age 7, ran to a metal fence at the edge of the runway, and hopped up and down. Ranaweera carried a camcorder in his right hand, but it had failed to capture the big plane rumbling to life.

Samadhi looked up and said, “Daddy! Videotape all of this!”

Wings & Wheels continues today, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Parking is in a lot near the Aviation Hall of Fame of New Jersey, with shuttle buses running to the expo.

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