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Red Bank Airport – An Aviation Hub for Monmouth County

Editor’s note: On March 24, 1930, the aviation facility then known as Airview Field was the scene of an accident, quite possibly for the first time, when an airplane attempting a night landing overturned, wrecking the aircraft.  Luckily, the three young men aboard were thrown clear and suffered only cuts and bruises.  Such examples of the dangers of airplanes did not deter people from flying, and interest in aviation grew rapidly.  The following presents the history of the complex that eventually was renamed Red Bank Airport, and served Monmouth County as a transportation hub for decades.

This article is excerpted from the author’s forthcoming book “The Red Bank – Rumson Peninsula including Fair Haven, Little Silver and Shrewsbury, 1815-2015, A Documentary History,” publication details to be announced soon.

By Randall Gabrielan

John F. Casey, known as Jack and a veteran army aviator, assisted by his brother James, ushered the Red Bank – Rumson peninsula into the world of commercial aviation in 1919. After they bought a surplus military plane – one of the first airplanes purchased in Monmouth County – they began by offering airplane rides for local residents. They also acquired an agency for the sale of Curtis biplanes and seaplanes. The Casey brothers built airplanes at a time when constructing a flying machine was still a simple operation that could be undertaken by a skilled mechanic and they began airborne advertising by dropping circulars from a plane.

Aviation in its early years was not only dominated by, but was principally supported through an air mail service that began in 1918. Mail pilots, together with stunt and barnstorming flyers, all faced danger and suffered significant casualties. The attempt to demonstrate the practicality of flying was a cause unto itself, which Casey addressed through rides to paying risk takers and his demonstration trips. One was the 6,000 mile flight he made with J. Clark Conover to Omaha, Nebraska and return. An available and regularly accessible field for early Casey operations has not been located, so one infers he used available open space options such as a farmer’s cleared land. Aviators regularly utilized such environments during emergencies. For example, the Register reported June 23, 1920 that Casey used a landing field “on the corner of Harding Road and the Ridge Road,” a reference lacking clarity, as these two thoroughfares now meet, but do not intersect. 

The land that was once the location of Red Bank Airport, then and now.  One block east of Shrewsbury Avenue, the high-tension power lines that run along the Conrail freight rail tracks are still today lowered from Apple Street to around Gilbert Street; they had been lowered to allow for airport take-offs and landings. It’s the last remaining physical vestige of Red Bank Airport. Image credit: Google Maps, Paul  Freeman, www.airfieldsfreeman.com

During the 1920s numerous small flying fields were established over a wide area in Monmouth County, the antecedents of larger, planned, and well-equipped airports that were years away. In 1926 Casey interested Red Bank businessmen with a proposal for an aviation field that he claimed would enhance the town’s profile. Casey and supporters, organized as Air View, Inc. prior to building a hangar later that year at the eventual airport site on the west side of Shrewsbury Avenue, north of Sycamore Avenue and south of Apple Street. The location was actually in Tinton Falls, (then Shrewsbury Township), a short distance south of the Red Bank border. The site was chosen for proximity to Red Bank and the availability of sufficient open space. Aerial photography operations provided a revenue stream for Air View. Casey bought thirteen acres of the former Emma Morford farm and opened what he named and registered in aeronautical listings as the Airview Flying Field. The next year he enlarged the field to twenty-five acres. Casey left employment with the Boro Bus Company to devote fulltime to his expanding business of flight instruction and sightseeing tours. One could view Red Bank from aloft for $3, Long Branch for $5 and Asbury Park for $7.50 or secure longer flights for special rates.

A Curtis Hawk III sits on the runway at Red Bank Airport. Image credit: Dorn’s Classic Images

After Casey incorporated Airview Flying Service in 1928 he was better able to expand his aviation activities to include in addition to photography services, flight instruction and passenger transport. The firm purchase that year of 132 acres of the former George Hance Patterson farm would enable an expansion of facilities that would meet the growing needs of aviation operation. The major portion of the acquisition was contiguous to Airview’s property on the west side of Sycamore Avenue and extended west to Hance Avenue.

The Red Bank Aero Club, a membership organization of local aviation enthusiasts, enhanced facilities by sponsorship of a beacon light, a practical improvement that enabled night flights. After initial location on the roof of a hanger, the light was later mounted on a tower. Night flying, particularly dangerous in the early years, encountered considerable risk. Three men flying a rented plane escaped death in a crash in the dark on March 24, 1930. A variety of safety issues would haunt the airport for nearly all of its existence. Needed additional capital to finance that growth would be raised through the incorporation of the Red Bank Airport Company in 1929. Local aviation could no-longer be an individual entrepreneur’s venture. The field was thereafter known as the Red Bank Airport.

The Red Bank Aero Club sponsored a four-day air meet that began July 3, 1929, to mark the official opening of the airport. Races, along with other contests, were held before an audience that included Governor Morgan Foster Larson, and distinguished aviators that included Amelia Earhart and aviation businessmen. Numerous aircraft participated for the reported crowd of more than 30,000 that attended the event. Meet revenue failed to reach expectations, but there were no injuries and only one minor accident at an event that fulfilled its aim to elevate the aviation profile of Red Bank.

A number of noteworthy aircraft visited Red Bank including one piloted by H.L. Ogg, a manufacturer from Iowa, who came in 1930 aboard his private office that he installed in a TravelAir five-passenger plane, one equipped with then-modern amenities. In 1931 Rolland Chilton few in on a Ford Trimotor, a leading passenger carrier of the era. The New York Daily News visited on a craft called the “Aloha” that the paper acquired to utilize for photography after the plane won a race from San Francisco to Hawaii.  Colonel Clarence A. Chamberlin, a prominent pioneer aviator, arrived in a Curtis Condor with a capacity of twenty-seven passengers. The craft may have been the largest plane in the country. Locals were impressed with the 1938 arrival of the Lockheed 14 Zephyr, its stature enhanced as it was the same plane that Howard Hughes and crew flew around the world.

The construction of two runways in 1936-7 represented the foremost of a number of improvements made during the 1930s. The Works Progress Administration built both north-south and east-west runways. An elevation or small hill that existed at the south end of the north-south runway required all takeoffs to proceed to the north, while landings were in the southerly direction. One suspects the hill was removed during this project. Over time the north-south runway was abandoned. New pavement removed dangerous turf conditions. A state spokesman at the time pointed to the potential military utility in view of proximity to Fort Monmouth. Military visitors included five planes, including three twin engine Martin B-10 bombers that carried army officers on May 11, 1937 to a conference at Fort Monmouth. Their arrival during on-going work resulted in one of the heavy bombers having become stuck on soft gravel of a not yet completed runway. A tractor was required to pull out by the stuck aircraft. Casey sold his interest in 1938 to Walter Laudenslager. The standing of the Red Bank Airport continued to rise under new ownership.

A postcard showing Red Bank Airport c. 1930s. Image credit: John R. Barrows

Airport advocates believed that the Red Bank Airport had potential value to aid national defense preparedness as this nation, isolated and disarmed, was growing wary over the emerging European war. Still, safety concerns fueled opposition to airport expansion as memory lingered over the crash on November 5, 1933 that killed naval aviator Lt. George R. Johnson, his observer and five people that occupied a house on Peach Street.

After America entered the war, new flight restrictions barred civilian flying within 100 miles of the eastern seacoast, a ruling that virtually shut the airport, which formally closed in August, 1942. Laudenslager was able to secure a contract to train pilots for the military, but was compelled to relocate his school to Wittenberg College and the local municipal airport, both Springfield, Ohio. Red Bank continued to be used for emergencies (and by the Civil Air Patrol), as revealed by a crash of a navy pilot on August 11, 1943. Poor maintenance resulted in hazardous conditions that prompted an editorial the next week that suggested that at the least the tall grass be cut. Relaxed restrictions on civilian flight enabled the airport to reopen in 1944, while pilot training was later resumed.

An aerial view of Red Bank Airport during the World War II era. Image credit: Dorn’s Classic Images.

A major expansion proposed by airport proponents after the war faced opposition from a wary populace never comfortable with nearby aviation activity. Safety was an ongoing concern. Air travel then enjoyed unprecedented growth, especially for the airlines, but also for entrepreneurs that included former military pilots who found business opportunities to fly passengers to airports and on charter flights.

Air taxi services became a recognized branch of the aviation industry at the time when the Red Bank Airport was positioned to play a major role through Laudenslager’s Air Taxi Company. Air taxi, an irregularly organized branch of aviation, sought structure through the February, 1950 organization of the National Air Taxi Conference; Laudenslager served a term as its president. James Loeb, a former navy pilot and one of Laudenslager’s early hires, became president of Air Taxi Company prior to his purchase of the firm in 1958. In 1963 Loeb also bought the airport through his firm, New Shrewsbury Aviation, Inc. After Loeb erected a new terminal building, Governor Richard J. Hughes was among those who attended the dedication on July 13, 1963.

A major mishap marred the post-war period, albeit an event on the ground. A fire on July 13, 1949 destroyed the hanger and about thirty-five airplanes, including four military craft. Safety, which had long-made many locals wary, proved an ongoing and growing concern. Loeb attempted to allay discontent by regularly speaking on the subject. Fears intensified as Laudenslager sold land that he had retained on the edges of the airport for development. He shrugged off objections by pointing out that the airport was there first. Indeed, as the grounds shrank, aviation activities grew.

In 1967, Loeb organized the taxi operation as Suburban Airlines, which provided regularly scheduled service. The line became a recognized third level carrier, or a regional airline. Safety concerns were elevated by accidents that preceded the reorganization, dreadful events that continued, some in proximity of the airport, others elsewhere. A crash in Raritan Bay on April 23, 1960 killed Cornelis Jan Bakker of the Netherlands, one of the most highly regarded nuclear physicists in Europe; three others were rescued. Four were critically injured on November 15, 1964 as a plane crashed on a Shrewsbury residential street. Debate over safety issues intensified after this crash. A second crash in the bay on February 14, 1965 killed two. Nine were killed on January 5, 1967 after a plane crashed shortly after takeoff and landed on Hance Avenue. Some subsequent crashes occurred without death or injury. The crushing blow came on March 18, 1970 when a Suburban Aviation plane on return from Canada crashed while attempting to land at Newark Airport during bad weather killing all four aboard. Three were executives of Rowan Industries, Inc. of Oceanport; the fourth was the owner, safety-spokesman and pilot James Loeb. Airport activities steadily declined after the death of Loeb and the sale of his airline to Reading Aviation Service, Inc. of Reading, Pennsylvania. On July 16, 1971 the airport officially closed.

About the Author:

Randall Gabrielan began his second career as a local historian during the 1980s while engaged as an insurance broker, a spell during which he wrote articles, delivered his first talks, mounted museum exhibitions and began a long tenure as president of the Middletown Township Historical Society. In the 1990s, Gabrielan published the first of his many books, titles primarily on Monmouth County subjects, but also elsewhere in New Jersey and New York City.  In 2000, he began a thirteen-year run as executive director of the Monmouth County Historical Commission, a body he now serves as vice-chair. Gabrielan and his wife, Carol Stout, live in Middletown.

Sources:

Bought an Aeroplane. (1919). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 30, 1919, P. 1.

Purchase an Airplane. (1919). Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park, N.J., July 31, 1919, P. 11.

An Airplane Sales Room. (1919). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., September 3, 1919, P. 1.

Left the Earth. (1919). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., October 29, 1919, P. 4.

Air Flights at Holmdel. (1919). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., November 5, 1919, P. 9.

Aerial Advertising. (1919). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., November 12, 1919, P. 9.

Advertising by Airplane. (1920). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., June 16, 1920, P. 12.

Back from Aerial Trip. (1921). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., October 12, 1921, P. 1.

Up in the Air with Casey. (1920). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., June 23, 1920, P. 11.

Airplane Field Here? (1926). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 21, 1926, P. 1.

From Trenton to the Sea. (1926). The Freehold Transcript, Freehold, N.J., November 26, 1926, P. 1.

Flying Field Opened. (1927). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., May 4, 1927, P. 13.

Flying Field Enlarged. (1928). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., April 11, 1928, P. 1.

Busy Days for Aviator. (1928). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., April 4, 1928, P. 13.

Flying Instructions – Aerial Photographs (advertisement). (1928). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., April 4, 1928, P. 27.

A Beacon for Red Bank. (1928). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., August 22, 1928, P. 9.

Big Flying Field Bought. (1928). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., November 7, 1928, P. 1.

Night Airplane Crash. (1930). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., March 26, 1930, P. 13.

Aero Club’s Clubhouse. (1929). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., May 22, 1929, P. 1.

New Device Warns Fog-Blinded Pilots Against Crash Hazards. (1929). The Daily Record, Long Branch, N.J., April 24, 1929, P. 4.

Visit Airport Over Week-End. (1931). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., February 18, 1931, P. 1.

Nation’s Biggest Plane Here. (1937). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., June 17, 1937, P. 1.

New Runway for Red Bank Airport. (1936). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 16, 1936, P. 16.

Martin Bomber Gets Stuck at Airport. (1937). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., May 13, 1937, P. 28.

Four Inquiries into Fatal Plane Crash. (1933). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., November 8, 1933, P. 9. 

Red Bankers Get Contract for War Training Service. (1943). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., April 22, 1943, P. 24.

Plane Crashes at Air Field, Pilot Uninjured. (1949). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., August 12, 1949.

Cut Down the Tall Grass at Red Bank Airport. (1943). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., August 19, 1943, P. 6.

Civilian Use of Airport Grows. (1944). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., August 31, 1944, P. 1.

Airport Resumes Flying Lessons. (1945). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., January 4, 1945, P. 1.

To Dedicate Building at Airport. (1963). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 9, 1963, P. 11.

Air Taxi Dedication (photo caption). (1963). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 15, 1963, P. 9.

$150,000 Loss in Airport Fire. (1949). The Daily Register, Red Bank, N.J., July 14, 1949, P. 29.

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