Feds Ground Pitcairn Plane
Flight enthusiasts were hoping to get approval from the federal government to allow a rare airplane to fly into the shuttered Willow Grove air base for display at the adjacent Wings of Freedom Museum.
One of two remaining circa 1931 PA-8 Mailwings will be disassembled and driven “home” to Horsham and reassembled soon after.
The hope, according to Mark Hurwitz of Delaware Valley Historical Aircraft Association, was for the lightweight plane to fly from the Trenton-Robbinsville Airport and land – for its final flight – on the runway of the shuttered Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove before being stowed at the neighboring Wings of Freedom Museum.
But, the federal government, still the owners of the 1,100-acre former military base, quashed that idea by denying use of the runway.
“We’re disappointed, but we’re not faulting them,” Hurwitz said.
Instead, the rare plane will be taken apart by brothers Mike and Larry Posey of Posey Brothers Inc. The Poseys, who have been maintaining the 81-year-old Harold F. Pitcairn aircraft for some time, will remove the 35-foot wingspan from the 25-foot-long plane and transport it to the museum, Hurwitz said. Once there, the Poseys will reassemble the remnant of Horsham aviation history.
"I'll be taking it apart this week, maybe have ready to deliver by the end of the week," Mike Posey wrote in an e-mail to Patch. "We should have it assembled in a day."
Pitcairn, who had owned much of Willow Grove air base at prior to 1942, had constructed the Mailwing and five others of that model, on the former Pitcairn Field. The land was transferred to the federal government during World War II and became a military base soon after.
The Mailwing was a light, sturdy plane designed to carry the 800 pounds of mail required by the air mail route at that time.
Because of its local origins, some have suggested that flying it back to Horsham is the perfect tribute for the aircraft’s official end of its flying days.
“This would be a fitting end for the Mailwing and the base,” Steve Czerviski, who had worked at the base as a weapons loader on the A-10 from 1994 until the base’s closure in September 2011 wrote on a related Patch article. “It's bad enough that all the history at the base will be bulldozed over soon enough.”
But, Hurwitz and other DVHAA volunteers are committed to keeping Pitcairn’s name and history alive. The Mailwing will be the first Pitcairn aircraft to be on display in the museum, which is named for the late aviator.
To make room among the more than two dozen planes situated inside and outside the Route 611 museum, Hurwitz said DVHAA's helicopter has been moved from its floor display to “hovering above the ground.”
“It actually draws your eye up,” Hurwitz said. “It gives the museum a different look.”
With the helicopter in the air, Hurwitz said there’s more floor space to accommodate the Mailwing once it’s delivered and assembled.
“The plan all along was, if nothing else, we’d be able to take the wings off bring it in, reassemble it,” Hurwitz said. “The Poseys would reassemble it because they know what they’re doing.”
In the end, museum visitors could have the opportunity to “see something that they would not normally have access to,” Hurwitz said of the assembly.