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Turbulence: 1970s to 1990s

Geert Frank
Plum Island Airport, 1970s. Airline pilot Geert Frank operated Kensington Aircraft Ltd., an antique aircraft restoration business based at Plum Island Airport. Geert restored several vintage and World War II planes. Author Richard Bach, television commentator Hugh Downs, and actor Cliff Robertson were all customers of Frank’s services. Courtesy of Charles Eaton III.

In 1971, when the Little sisters deeded their estate to Historic New England, they also renewed Hordon’s lease for twenty years with two options for five-year extensions.  With the long-term picture in mind, Hordon extended the asphalt runway and added “T” hangars at the east end of the airport. Commercial activity also continued. One report estimated that the airport saw 25,000 flights a year, with twenty-four planes permanently based there.  It offered flight services for scenic and business purposes, aircraft maintenance, pilot training, and banner towing, as well as serving as a base for crop-dusting, aerial photography, parcel delivery, and occasional medflights.

During the 1970s, a vintage plane restoration business also came to Plum Island. Airline pilot Geert Frank (pictured, above right), operating under the name Kensington Aircraft Ltd., restored a large number of World War II era planes and several antique planes. Private customers of his services included Hugh Downs, a television personality famous for his stints as an anchor on 20/20, The Today Show, and an announcer for The Tonight Show, and Richard Bach, the author of the 1970 best-selling novel popular among private pilots because of its strong aviation theme, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Bach was not only a customer, but also part owner of Kensington Aircraft Ltd. He and Downs used the vintage planes in a movie about barnstorming based on his novel Nothing by Chance.

After the fire of 1977. Courtesy of Charles Eaton III.

In October 1977, the airport faced perhaps its biggest hardship to date when a fire destroyed the earlier hangars, the office building, and several antique aircraft parts and classic cars housed in the hangars. Before the remains could be completely cleared away and rebuilding started, the blizzard of February 1978 caused extensive flooding, damaging the remaining hangars and destroying several planes. Throughout the clearing process, the Newburyport Daily News continually noted the way the community rallied around Hordon to offer help and support to get the airport back up and running.

After the facilities reopened, commercial activity continued much as it had before, though somewhat reduced. Throughout the rest of the century, the airfield also remained a popular spot for both aviation and non-aviation events. Air shows and fly-ins continued to be popular affairs, as well as circuses, horse shows, fairs, craft shows, and war reenactments.

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Turbulence: 1970s to 1990s