About the Author: John Lesser is retired from a Fortune 500 Company and is currently working for a major Airline. He is an avid motorcycle rider and former pilot.
In August 2011, Collins Dictionary declared that the word “Aerodrome” is extinct. For those of you that are not familiar with the word and what it is, an Aerodrome is, without going into a lot of detail, an airport. Airports are not extinct; in fact, an airport is probably the most valuable mile of real estate a town has at its disposal. It represents an economic foundation that builds and enhances a community’s value to its immediate location and the world. But that’s not the point of this article, which is not an article about economic development, yet a motorcycle route worth riding and sights worth seeing.
Many comparisons have been made to equate motorcycle riders with pilots. Many of the same traits and understanding of how your machine will react to specific situations are very similar. For me, there has always been an underlying attraction to motorcycle riding and flying. I have spent most of my adult life up in the air. If I was more comfortable on the ground, I would not have always tried to fly above it. Motorcycle riding has provided me that comfort.
So here is why we are here, a motorcycle tour that takes us through the rolling farm lands of Southern New Jersey looking at the extinct aerodromes, which by the way could not be further from the truth – aerodromes are alive and well and thriving.
Our motorcycle ride will take us through the southern counties of New Jersey that are linked by the aerodrome. As you will see on this tour, many activities happen at these airports from crop dusting, to sky diving to recreational flying to making new pilots that will explore the skies above us. Our exploration will be from the ground and hopefully you learn a little about airports and how pilots navigate across the earth. By the way, the longitude and latitude given are approximate. They’ll get you close enough to find the extinct aerodromes listed.
Imbedded in military aviation history of the United States, the Millville Municipal Airport is the site of “America’s First Defense Airport”. Dedicated in 1941, the aerodrome was the site of the US Army Air Force’s gunnery school for fighter pilots. The preservation of this rich aviation history is presented in the Millville Army Air Field Museum (856-327-2347) located on Leddon Street in the airport complex. Today the aerodrome is a hub for Medi-Vac helicopter service serving Southern New Jersey and a pilot training center. The airport is also the site of many aviation related services.
After visiting the museum, the only place within the complex that you can get a bite to eat is the homey and quaint Flight Line Restaurant (856-825-3200). It’s a great place to get a sandwich to go, and sit on the flight line and watch the air traffic from small private airplanes to medium sized corporate jets.
This aerodrome is also the site of the Millville Airshow, generally held in the early fall, a great time to take a motorcycle ride and see WWII Warbirds, military, classic and homebuilt aircraft. In past years, this airshow is a stop for the US Navy’s Blue Angels. There is always great food, music and fun at this aerodrome.
Here’s one stop on your motorcycle tour you have to make; it’s Cross Keys Airport. If you’re looking for some action on your motorcycle ride, this stop is it. Many of the aerodromes on this tour offer exciting things to see and do; this one can very well be the jewel.
Aside from the sights of airplanes coming and going, and the opportunity to learn to fly at the Philadelphia Flight Academy (856-740-0333), (http://www.freefalladventures.com/) adjacent to the airport is Freefall Adventures (856-629-7553). Located at the end of Dahlia Avenue, Williamstown, NJ 08094, the complex offers a multitude of adventures. If you have every wanted to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, this is the place for you. One of only five sky diving schools in New Jersey and the only one in the southern part of the state, Freefall Adventures is a skydiving school that is suited for the beginner as well as the advanced jumper.
After riding to Cross Keys or deciding to test your nerves at skydiving, the Drop Zone Café offers food, a spectator deck, and is the perfect place to sit and think about that first jump. There is also a pro shop for those hooked on skydiving. For those not so much interested in sky diving, there is a paint ball field. If you are lucky enough to be at this aerodrome early in the morning, you may just be witness to one of the truly spectacular aviation events, the launching of hot air balloons. There is definitely something for everybody at the Cross Keys complex.
This stop can easily take up a good portion of the day, but worth the stay.
If that’s not enough, a little further down the road is Bobby Chez (856-751-7575) (http://bobbychezcrabcakes.com/). A Zagat Rated Restaurant, Bobby Chez is well known throughout Southern New Jersey for his Lump Meat Crab Cakes. Zagat said it best...Heavenly, “chock-full-of-crab” Crabcakes that just might be the “best in the universe”.
This aerodrome is in the heart of the Southern New Jersey farmland. After all, New Jersey is known as the “Garden State”. Vineland Downstown Airport (856-697-3300) is home of two important features. First it is the home base for Downstown Aero Crop Service, one of the premier crop dusting services in Southern New Jersey. Sit there long enough you will see some of the finest crop dusting pilots on the earth fly in and out of this aerodrome. Their airplanes appear to be ancient, aviation relics when in fact they are sophisticated pieces of equipment designed to deliver high tech products that insure a high yield crop. Secondly, this aerodrome is the location of Ceader Lake VORTAC.
Here is the part of this article that explains in a very elementary way how pilots find their way from point to point without getting lost and for the most part not looking out the window. A pilot goes from point to point by connecting the dots, frompoint A to point B using VORTACs. A VORTAC is a ground facility navigational aid transmitting very high frequency signals, 360 degrees oriented from magnetic north and distance measuring signals. Very simply that is what it is; this one’s unique identifier is Ceader Lake. Each VORTAC has a unique name and identifying signal. So when you see these strange looking items sitting alone, by themselves, you will now know it is used for aviation navigation.
Typical of the small aerodromes throughout southern New Jersey are the small quaint, grass landing strips. While these landing fields don’t fit the typical picture of what we see in our minds eye, nor do they have the advanced navigational aids that larger airports have they are just as important. They are still in use and serve as points of transportation and commerce. Typical of the small grass field Aerodrome is >Southern Cross (N39º39.33’, W75º00.87’). Located along Gloucester County Route 555 (Tuckahoe Road), Southern Cross serves as a way point for crop dusters that operate during the growing months and is located just about six road miles from Cross Keys Airport.
More typical of the small airports of Southern New Jersey is Berlin (N39º46’42”, W74º56’52”). Located along Watsontown Road in Camden County, New Jersey, this small paved runway airport is a transit airport, a place where people fly in to meet with family, friends and business meetings.
But, the real attraction within 2 miles of this aerodrome is Berlin Farmers Market. Berlin Farmers Market (http://www.berlinmarket.com/) is located at 41 Clements Bridge Road, Berlin Township, NJ 08009. Open from Thursday thru Sunday and in the center of agricultural commerce in Southern New Jersey, the market has been around since 1940. It was originally the hub in Southern New Jersey of livestock and produce auctions. Berlin Farmers Market has evolved into one of the east coast’s oldest and largest market. Operating every Saturday and Sunday one of the largest outdoor flea markets in New Jersey is held on the grounds of the Berlin Market. One of the treasures in the market is JRA Leather , Location 220 in the market (856-768-1107) (http://www.wernersleatherstore.com/). If you’re looking for motorcycle leather, or accessories, you’ll find it here and the prices are very reasonable. Put the Berlin Farmers Market and JRA Leather on the must see list for this tour. Right behind the farmers market, on Park Drive, is a small park, with lots of shade, and picnic benches and a lake. Pick up some of the fine foods from the vendors in the Farmers Market, and have yourself a relaxing picnic lunch in the park at this inviting rest stop.
Hammonton Municipal Airport is situated on 107 acres off Columbia Road (Atlantic County Route 693). This aerodrome is one of the few places in Southern New Jersey where the Civil Air Patrol operates its Eagle Flight Glider Training Program. Gliding is real flight. It is the closest that you can get to experiencing the thrill of real non-powered flight where you user your skills and talent to find the up and down drafts that will carry you through the air. During the summer months, Hammonton is a great place to see gliders in action. This aerodrome is close to US Route 30 (White Horse Pike) where there are plenty of fast food places to eat and other restaurants. The area is a great place to explore. Further down Columbia Road from the Airport is Atlantic County Route 542 (Nesco Road). The treasure that lives on Nesco Road is Batsto Village. Batsto Village is located within Wharton State Forest and is a registered historic site. Rich deposits of iron in the area provided a source of iron made supplies to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary war. As the deposits were depleted, Batsto became a glassmaking community.
Check out Batsto’s web site (http://www.batstovillage.org/) for events and tours throughout the year. This is a great place as a rest stop, picnic and a camp site if you are contemplating making this an overnight tour.
Located along Atlantic County Route 563 (Tilton Road) lays one of the most sophisticated and advanced aviation facilities on the east coast. The Atlantic City International Airport and the William J. Hughes Technical Center cohabitate a tract or land about 9 miles from Atlantic City. The Technical Center is a world-class laboratory and a top-notch engineering facility. The Technical Center is at the forefront of the FAA's challenge to modernize the U.S. air transportation system. The Center serves as the FAA national scientific test base for research and development, test and evaluation, and verification and validation in air traffic control, communications, navigation, airports, aircraft safety, and security. The Technical Center is the primary facility supporting the nation's Next Generation Air Transportation System.
You can arrange a general tour of this facility at least two months in advance by contacting the visitor information office by calling 609-485-5210. If you have any interest in the development of the air transportation systems of the future, plan your trip and schedule a tour of this facility.
Even if you don’t tour the facility, the airport complex is very impressive. It is the Home of the 177th New Jersey Air National Guard Fighter Squadron.
So there you are, a motorcycle ride through aviation history in Southern New Jersey. This motorcycle route is an exciting and action packed tour of extinct, old, out dated aerodromes…that are very much alive and well.