Monday, January 23, 2017

Katama Airpark (1B2) Hangar Ready for Replacement

The old hangar at Katama airfield, dating to World War II and long in a state of disrepair, may soon be replaced after years of delays.

“We’re in the final approach for moving the construction forward,” airfield commissioner Harald Findlay said, noting an apparent conclusion to nearly a decade of sorting out complex agreements that govern the small town-owned airfield just off South Beach in Edgartown.

Plans call for a 6,000-square-foot hangar similar in style to the current 2,650-square-foot tin hangar, which airport commissioners have long said is dilapidated and too small. The hangar will be used for aircraft storage, the airport manager’s office and storage for the Right Fork Diner located at the airfield.

“The old hangar is ready to be replaced,” Mr. Findlay said. “It’s kind of being held together with baling wire.”

The project has long been a focus of airport commissioners and other town officials, who are stewards for the unique grass airpark that dates to the mid-1920s. For a time the airfield was operated by the Martha’s Vineyard Flying Club. During the second World War the Air Defense Coastal Command shut down all costal airports, and Civil Air Patrol and National Guard planes used the field. After the war Stephen C. Gentle and Dorothy Gentle purchased the airpark, which they owned for more than 40 years. Today the Gentles’ grandson Michael Creato, operator of Classic Aviators and the former airport manager, offers red biplane tours from the airport.

The hangar that stands today dates to the end of World War II. A 1944 hurricane destroyed two tin hangars at the airfield, and with resources scant during the war era, a new hangar was built with scraps from those buildings and wood salvaged from the beach. “The doors were blown clear across Herring Creek Road into the pines, and the metal was twisted. The trusses were broken up. It was a sorry sight,” Mr. Gentle wrote in a reminiscence published in the Gazette in 1985. He died in 2001.

In 1985 the town bought the three-runway airfield from the Gentles through a joint agreement with the state and The Nature Conservancy. The purchase secured the land as open space and protected rare plants, birds, and insects found on the airfield and surrounding sandplain grassland.

But replacing the hangar was stymied by the agreement, which did not allow for any change in the size of the hangar. After years of starts and stops, last August selectmen signed a complex series of land agreements which gives the town control over the two acres of land where the hangar is located, allowing the reconstruction to go forward. With all necessary approvals lined up, Mr. Findlay said the commission is confident that a building permit will be granted soon. He said the town procurement officer is working on a bid proposal for construction.

Over the years the cost of the project has crept up. Mr. Findlay estimates the current price at about $1 million. Fnancing will be a public/private mix, he said. Edgartown voters approved $200,000 in community preservation act funding in 2008, and the Katama airfield trust will help make up the rest.

“We have private money available that has been raised over the years, and a number of donors have been waiting to get the final approval before going to sign up for real gifts,” Mr. Findlay said.

He said construction could start before summer.

Three weeks ago airport commissioners Edward W. (Peter) Vincent Jr. and Mr. Creato came before the planning board to ask for the board to reissue a long-lapsed permit for the hangar. The request was easily granted, and planning board members took the opportunity to praise the airfield.

“The Katama airpark is a unique feature just to the Vineyard,” board member Fred Mascolo said. “There are very few places in the U.S., I don’t know of any really, where you can fly in, park your plane, have lunch, go back to your plane, and leave.” Mr. Creato’s biplane tours, he said, are something hard to find outside aeronautical museums.

Mr. Findlay, a pilot, agrees. “Katama Airfield is a big part of my enjoyment of the Vineyard,” he said. “So many people just enjoy coming out to have breakfast there, to watch the planes come in and out.


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