Future Aviators Will Want To Experience The New Garden Flying Field
This local airfield is committed to community and devoted to sharing the joys of aviation with kids during free flight days, camps, and air shows.
I was introduced to the New Garden Flying Field when I volunteered to help a friend who was hosting an event there. On my way, I remember thinking how classic Chester County the drive was. There were stellar views of meticulously kept farms, stone walls held together only by gravity, and wide sweeping roads that dropped me at the entrance to this…well…airport.
Toughkenamon is the last place I thought would be home to an airport of any kind, but there I was staring at a runway, lined with historical airplanes, surrounded by hangars of all shapes, sizes, and colors. The contrast of a modern flight facility, mixed in with the sweeping fields of our area, was not lost on me. In fact, it’s one of the things I treasure most about living here–the opportunity to find something unexpected, offering something unique, just a quick drive from my home.
The thing is, when I dug deeper–when I started watching what New Garden was doing via social media, hearing stories of friends’ experiences, and even writing a preview for one of their events for this very website–I discovered even more to love about this place. In short, what I found was a dedication to community and a drive to give kids, and families, the chance to learn something new.
“Airports are getting locked up and lined with fences. Kids aren’t allowed to see the magic of flight up close and so, we decided we were going to change that” said New Garden’s Aviation Director, seasoned pilot and father of four, Jonathan Martin. “Our goal is to be a pillar of the community, focusing on youth and educating them on all the facets of aviation in the hopes of getting them interested in becoming the next generation of pilots.”
With everything from discovery flights, to summer camp, to balloon and air shows, The New Garden Flying Field is taking every avenue it can to reach as many Main Line and Philadelphia youth as possible.
If you’ve got a pilot in the making flying around your house, you should know that New Garden is home to a chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), a non-profit “dedicated to providing a motivational aviation experience for the younger generation.”
Monthly during the summer and in early fall, this group hosts a pancake breakfast and a morning of flight for kids between the ages of 8 and 15. The kids are given a presentation on the airplane itself, they learn about the controls and the mechanics. From there, they are paired with a trained flight instructor who donates his or her time, and plane, to give them a ride over Chester County. Kids come away from the experience with a flight log book to record their past–and hopefully their many future–flights.
If you know your child has an interest in flight and wants to take the next step, they should try the Future Aviators Summer Camp.
“This year marks the 10th anniversary of our camp,” said Martin who started the program with the help of his colleague Court Dunn. “The first year we had around 25 kids, but now the camp has quadrupled in size.”
The camp experience includes a discovery flight with a certified instructor, and a trip to the Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington. Campers also learn the principles of flight, they spend time constructing their own miniature airplanes, tour the airport facilities, learn what it means to be ground support, and of course play games and make friends with fellow aviation-lovers.
“Many of our older campers finish their camp experience and go right into our flight school, where by the age of 17 they can become a licensed pilot” said Marin, whose own son J.J. is currently logging hours for his pilot’s license.
New Garden also hosts two yearly festivals: In June, there’s The Chester County Hot Air Balloon Festival. Visitors can enjoy a tethered or untethered balloon ride, a coordinated balloon glow, skydiving demonstrations, and food trucks, to name just a few of the many activities during the three-day event. In August, there’s the Festival of Flight that kicks off with a Run the Runway 5K and includes antique planes, skydiving demonstrations, and more.
Beyond these structured programs, the public is welcome, and encouraged, to visit the airport for the single purpose of watching and observing aviation in action. There are picnic tables so families can bring a lunch and watch planes take off and land. Families can also walk along The Lindbergh Nature Trail and watch the airport from afar.
“It’s all about introducing kids, about simply giving them a chance to see what it’s all about,” reminds Martin. “If they are on that trail, or sitting at a picnic table, they will look over and see those planes and hangars and hopefully get drawn into experiencing the airport on a deeper level.
I never stop being amazed at the hidden gems in our area, but I am especially grateful to places like New Garden for quietly making a huge impact on everyone who visits.
The New Garden Flying Field is located at 1235 Newark Road in Toughkenamon. For more information about their programs, events, and festivals, you can call them at 610-268-2619 or visit their website at www.newgardenflyingfield.com
Photographs by Sarah L. Bender