February 19, 2018

Chester Airport, the Shoreline’s Gateway to the Sky

The Chester Airport is thriving on a hilltop

Chester Airport in a sense is already up in the sky. The airport is located at the top of a 415 foot prominence, towering over the surrounding landscape below.  The airport’s street address is 59 Winthrop Road in Chester, and it is located a few miles west of Exit 6, off Route 9.

Chester Airport of course provides routine aviation services for the takeoffs and landings of general aviation aircraft. The airport has a single 2700 foot long runway and has personnel on duty to greet incoming aircraft during normal daylight business hours.

Chester-based pilot Bruno Kitka takes off in his Piper Seneca bound for Schenectady

Also, like many general aviation airports, Chester Airport offers air taxi service for traveling business persons and vacationers. Frequent destinations are to New York and Boston, and to vacation spots such as Nantucket, Bar Harbor, and even the Caribbean.

These chartered, general aviation flights are provided by Chester Charter, Inc., which can be reached at 860-526-4321, or at www.chester-charter.com.  Still handling these routine airport services is only one of the services that Chester Airport provides to the area’s aviation community.

The “Discovery flights” at Chester Airport

The airport is also the jumping off place for aerial sightseeing tours of the beautiful Connecticut River valley, courtesy of Chester Charter. To get you started in the air, the company offers a ½ hour “Discovery flight.” The cost of this introductory flight is about what you would pay for a dinner for two at a local Chester restaurant.

Chester Charter also offers more extensive air passenger rides for one to four passengers. Cessna aircraft are used for these flights, and the cost comes to about $150 per passenger on a four passenger flight.  The taking of aerial photography is a favorite on these flights.

Then, if you want to bring out the Red Baron in you,* there is the unique option of flying in the open cockpit of a Boeing  Stearman, a vintage, 1941 biplane.  This exhilarating flying experience is priced accordingly, and we shall leave it at that.  The “de rigueur” outfit for a flight in the Stearman are goggles and a leather hat that covers the ears.

Taking up water-filled balloons to drop on the ground below, from the open cockpit of the Stearman, is not allowed, as tempting as that may be.

Learn to fly at Chester Charter flight school

Beyond the thrills of airplane rides and aerial sightseeing, Chester Airport also offers serious flight training courses at the Chester Charter Flight School.  Chester Charter partner, Jean Dow, is at the airport to help would-be pilots started in learning to fly.

Chester Charter partner Jean Dow says, "Learn to fly here"

Flight training at the flight school includes a ground school with eleven hours of instruction. Chester Carter uses Jappesen products for its ground school, and miscellaneous materials, such as charts and directories are provided to flight school students as well.

Chester Charter flight school is also a Cessna flight training center, and it uses Cessna 152’s and Cessna 172’s aircraft.

The amount of instructional flying time in the air, required to become an FAA certified pilot, varies immensely. Although the minimum air time required by the FAA is as low as 40 hours (20 in flight hours with an instructor and 20 in flight hours solo), this is the bare minimum required. Also, it is rarely appropriate for student flyers.

In fact, the national average for the completion of FAA flight training is 72.8 hours in the air, well above the 40 hour FAA minimum.

As for the cost of tuition at the flight school it is more affordable than some might think.  By the time you are certified as a pilot, it is certainly much, much less than a single year of college tuition costs these days. And you have learned to fly!

Maintaining your aircraft at Chester Airport

In addition to teaching students to fly at the Chester Airport, there is an extensive aircraft maintenance facility at the airport called the Chester Charter Airplane Factory. The Factory is essentially an aircraft maintenance and service facility, which is accessible both to aircraft permanently based at the Chester Airport, as well as transient aircraft.

The Factory also hosts Stellar Aironics, which services and repairs aircraft radar and ground positioning systems.

Renting hangar space for aircraft

The Chester Airport also rents hangar space on a long term basis, as well as short term space for transient aircraft. There is interior space in the long line of hangars down the airport’s single runway, as well as “tie down” spaces in the open air on the tarmac.  The average in-hangar rental for a two-seated aircraft is $250 a month, according to James A. Olson, the Airport Manager.

Indoor storage of aircraft at Chester Airport

Olson also holds the title of Corporate Vice President of Aviation of Whelen Engineering Company, Inc. He says that, “Since the airport’s rejuvenation, after the Whelen family bought the airport 20 years ago, the place has been thriving.” “Presently, 100 plus airplanes are based here,” he notes, adding that “there is a long waiting list for an open spot in one of the airport’s hangars.”

As for the size of aircraft that can land and take off at Chester Airport, the airport’s helicopter pad is big enough to accommodate large helicopters. Also, it can handle the take offs and landings of large, multi-engine aircraft as well. However, Chester Airport, obviously, cannot accommodate modern day, jumbo jets.

The typical pilots who fly the planes at Chester Airport

Airport Manager Olson has some unique insights into the pilots who fly out of Chester Airport. “Generally, they fly smaller planes,” he says, “predominately on weekends.” Also, favored destinations of the weekend flyers are smaller airports that have a good restaurant nearby.

Chester-based pilot Bruno Kitka with his Piper Seneca

“They know where the good restaurants are,” Olson says in admiration.   Once they have landed and eaten at their restaurants of choice, the pilots fly back home to Chester. Computing the cost of this one day flight plan can be as much as $200, or more, mainly because of the high cost of aviation fuel to make the trip. The lunch itself is a minor expense.

Just come out and watch the planes

Airport Manager Olson without reservation says, “Visitors are always welcome at the airport.” “It is good to see people satisfying their aviation curiosity,” he says with a smile. As for his own flying experience Olson says, “I started flying, when I was 13 years old.”

Airport Manager Jim Olson, started flying at age 13

Chester Airport is indeed a wonderful place to visit on a clear, clear sunny day, even if you have absolutely no intention of flying anywhere. Just go out and lean on the sparkling white fence, next to the runway, and watch the aircraft take off and land.

People frequently speak of “the wonder of flight.” Evidence of that wonder is in our midst at Chester Airport.

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­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­*The “Red Baron” was the German ace, Manfred von Richthofen, who had 80 confirmed kills in World War 1. The Red Baron himself was killed near the end of the war.

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