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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 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 before being stowed at the neighboring .

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 . “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.

Matthew Pine August 14, 2012 at 12:49 PM
Why not do something different instead of just giving up and taking the Fed's denial as the last word? Would it be possible to give the Mailwing it's 'last flight' and have it land at a neighboring airport (Doylestown, Wings, etc)? This way the plane gets the 'last flight', flight enthusiasts and the general public will get to see an historic event. Posey made it sound like it wasn't going to be a huge problem to dismantle the plane for shipment. I'm sure a local airfield would probably donate space in a hangar for the Posey's to dismantle the plane and prep if for the short ride to the DVHAA museum. Just a thought.
Mallison Schwartz August 14, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Did anyone contact career Phila politician Congressoman Allyson Schwartz ? Oh nevermind, she doesnt know the suburbs exist.
BrianT August 15, 2012 at 12:58 PM
The air space over the base is open for air traffic,They should have just flown the Pitcarin plane around the base a few times.Then land the plane in Trenton so the Posey Brothers Inc.can disassemble it.
Mike Shortall Sr August 15, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Not unexpected ... No way the Navy is going to find the money or want to spent it for a single plane landing regardless of the historical significance. Once these bases are shuttered, they probably would need a dispensation from half the U.S. Government to reopen any funding. And it's doubtful any sponsors in local or state governments are likely to fund it either.
Gregory Marston September 30, 2012 at 05:30 AM
What's really tragic is that if aircraft could land at the Willow Grove runway for their last flight (to the museum) - then the DVHAA could probably get a C-130 or other aircraft on the way to the mothballs at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. Due to the long distance to Arizona, extensive (and expensive) preparation for the "desert slumber", PLUS 20+ years of boneyard maintenance - it is far cheaper just to fly the military aircraft to Willow Grove and the museum. The C-130 is just the first of several aircraft that the museum could get and save the taxpayer hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

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