Walk into the Concord Municipal Airport and it's like stepping back in time, with the buildings and many of the vintage planes on site predating World War II. Inside, though, the passion for flying is as alive as it was when Charles Lindbergh swept through the airport in 1927.
Concord has had an airport since the days of World War I, but it wasn't always in its current location. In 1920, Robert Fogg (who, incidentally, was the first person in the state to own an airplane, a Canadian World War I rig named Jenny) opened the first fixed-based operation along the Merrimack River near Everett Arena, then called the National Guard Muster Grounds. The airport was originally used as a training facility for military pilots.
After the war, recreational flying around the country began taking off. During his tour to promote aviation across the U.S., Lindbergh and his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, made a stop over in Concord, much to the chagrin of the folks running the Manchester Airport.
As the story goes, there was poor weather the day Lindbergh arrived. While searching for the airport, Lindbergh flew over a nearby park and spotted a group of kids playing. From the plane, he shouted down to ask where he could find the airport. The kids pointed him in the right direction, then ran to meet him.
Today, the airport houses about 100 planes, a handful of which are used for business - the rest are for personal flying. The airport also acts as a base for medics traveling from around the country to Dartmouth-Hitchcock pick up and drop off organs for transplants. It's big during primary seasons, too. Nearly every national candidate has passed through the airport on his or her way to the stump, according to Dave Rolla, the airport's manager. Last primary cycle brought in Barack Obama, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, to name a few.
The airport, which is owned by the city and leased through Concord Aviation Services, is one of 24 public-use airports in the state. In the past, the facility was big into the business of scenic rides. But that was a pricey operation, Rolla said, so now the focus is on teaching people how to fly themselves.
Learning to fly isn't cheap: to go from a beginner status to flying solo cost can cost $5,000 - $7,000. Individual lessons range from $250 to $300. But, Rolla said, the freedom and independence that comes with being a pilot is priceless.
Plane rentals are available for experienced pilots for $90 per hour, and that includes a full tank of gas (which is a steal, considering plane fuel is currently going for $4.79 a gallon).
The airport employs four part-time instructors, and lessons are available by appointment only. For more information about lessons, call 228-2267.