Story and photos by Corey Beitler
Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania is rich with history and heritage. The region is well-known for its Pennsylvania Dutch population and culture. Farms that have been in Pennsylvania Dutch families for generations dot the landscape, and many of the barns are still adorned in hex signs, a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art thought to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. Pennsylvania Dutch favorites such as ham balls and scrapple are still offered at local restaurants. Local farm markets offer Pennsylvania Dutch favorites such as shoofly pie, whoopie pie, apple dumplings, and fresh produce.
In the northern part of the county, a different kind of history is preserved and celebrated, the history of aviation. Located at the Grimes Airport in Bethel, the Golden Age Air Museum restores and preserves aircraft and aviation artifacts from the 1910s until the late 1940s, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Aviation. After purchasing the Grimes Airport in 1996, Paul Dougherty Sr. and Paul Dougherty Jr. founded the Golden Age Air Museum on the property. A farmhouse on the property was restored and turned into the museum gift shop and office. Hangars were built on the property to house the growing collection of aircraft and artifacts the Dougherty family had collected and saved over the years. The airfield’s grass runway was restored and ramp space was expanded for museum use during special events. Today, the museum has five hangars and a collection of over 30 aircraft. Some highlights of the museum’s aircraft collection include an airworthy 1918 Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny”, the 1926 Winstead Special, a one-off barnstorming and air racing aircraft, and a reproduction 1918 Fokker Dr.I Triplane powered by an original World War I-era Le Rhone rotary engine.
Recently, the museum hosted a special event, the 2022 Fokker Scourge. Organized by Chris Hill from Georgia, an owner of a Fokker Dr.I Triplane replica powered by an original Le Rhone rotary engine, the event brought together as many Fokker Dr.I reproduction aircraft as possible that were powered by original rotary engines. The event was held in combination with the Golden Age Air Museum’s own Flying Circus/World War I airshow weekend. Through Hill’s tireless work and fundraising to defray travel costs, three Fokker Dr.I Triplane reproductions would appear at the event. Fred Murrin and Chris Hill brought their rotary-powered Dr.I’s to the event, joining the rotary-powered Dr.I reproduction that is part of the Golden Age Air Museum’s collection. Another Fokker Dr.I Triplane reproduction owned by John Elliot also appeared at the event, but Elliot’s aircraft is powered by a modern engine. With its modern powerplant, Elliot’s Fokker Dr.I replica was the only aircraft to fly to the Golden Age Air Museum for the event. The well-known antique aircraft restorer and pilot, Andrew King, flew Elliot’s Dr.I from Virginia to the Golden Age Air Museum and then back home to Virginia on Sunday. As the event was being planned, it was hoped that a fourth Fokker Dr.I reproduction powered by a rotary engine would attend the event all the way from Sweden. Unfortunately, there was no way to get the aircraft taken apart and shipped to the United States in enough time, and the cost of doing so was prohibitive.
Also attending the event was a Sopwith Pup replica powered by an original rotary engine that was brought down from the famous Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome museum in New York. Replica World War I aircraft powered by modern engines joined these aircraft, including a pair of 7/8-scale Nieuport 23 replicas owned by Tom Martin and Rick Bennett and the Golden Age Air Museum’s own Sopwith Pup and Rumpler C.V replicas.
The Fokker Scourge/Flying Circus/World War I 2022 Airshow took place at the Golden Age Air Museum on the weekend of September 3-4. Aircraft began arriving for the event already on Thursday, September 1, as all aircraft except Elliot’s Dr. I were brought to the event by truck. The reproduction aircraft with their original engines are simply too fragile and it is too risky to fly them long distances. Once the aircraft arrived, the support teams quickly began assembling them on the field. By Friday, many of the aircraft were assembled and on the field. Several flights took place on Friday prior to the show weekend, with each pilot wanting to get their rotary engine dialed in and running correctly. The four Fokker Dr. I triplanes on the field together were an incredible sight. A highlight of Friday’s activity was Chris Hill taking his Fokker Dr. I triplane up to have a mock dogfight with Mark Mondelo in Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome’s Sopwith Pup. Much like in the days of World War I, a turning battle ensued over the Golden Age Air Museum. During this mock dogfight, the incredible turning ability that the Fokker Dr. I Triplane design is famous for became quickly apparent, as no matter what maneuver Mondelo, an experienced pilot, did in the Pup, he could not escape Hill’s Fokker Dr.I. Friday evening also saw the four Fokker Dr. Is go up together for some photo flights along with Rick Bennet and Tom Martin in their Nieuports. The Golden Age Air Museum’s grass airstrip with vintage motif hangars and buildings, location with the nearby Blue Mountain Ridge as a backdrop, and fields of corn surrounding the airfield, made the museum a perfect location to travel back in time to World War I. Photo opportunities were plentiful throughout the weekend, and the landscape with no modern elements nearby allowed for some excellent period-style photos of the aircraft, vintage vehicles, and reenactors on the airfield.
The Golden Age Air Museum opened up early on both Saturday and Sunday and a large crowd showed up early to see the Dr.I Triplanes and other exhibits prior to the airshow starting later in the afternoon. As part of the WWI exhibits on display, reenactors from the East Coast Doughboys set up an encampment and displayed authentic World War I equipment. One exhibit highlighted the role of the signal corps during the war and another highlighted the duty of chaplains. A restored 1918 Harley Davidson motorcycle that saw service in World War I attracted a lot of attention in the WWI exhibit area.
All of the museum hangars were open and people could walk through them and see the airplanes on display that were not flying in the airshow as well as the other smaller aviation artifacts in the museum’s collection. Biplane rides in the museum’s beautiful 1929 Waco GXE were also available before and after the airshow. The Waco GXE got quite the workout through the weekend, being used as a photo ship for photo flights with the World War I aircraft and also giving lots of rides to eager customers wanting to experience the thrill of open cockpit flying above scenic Berks County. The event would be blessed by good weather on both days. Warm temperatures, light winds, and no rain meant that the field remained in good condition and all the aircraft could be flown.
The airshows each day featured most of the museum aircraft flying with some creative storylines and demonstrations that took the visitors back to the Golden Age of Aviation and how airshows were conducted during that time. Saturday had some of the aircraft taking part in a vintage air race, in which all the pilots removed their pants prior to competing. Later, some of these same aircraft took part in a flour bombing contest to bomb a hideout of local gangsters. Perhaps the funniest skit of the day was Professor La Mer (played by Michael O’Neal), a French inventor trying to build a flying machine out of a bike and an ACME rocket. When that fails, he invents his own plane (the museum’s 1970 Breezy homebuilt) only to have it stolen by the escaped gangster Tony. La Mer falls from the plane when trying to stop Tony from stealing it, and is magically resuscitated by the Grimes Ambulance while the Grimes police attempt to chase down Tony and his fellow gangsters. These characters are all played by the museum volunteer staff, who have fun doing it and enjoy performing for the crowd. Sunday’s show featured a balloon-busting competition using many of the museum aircraft and a flying farmer routine played by Eric Lunger. Some of the museum aircraft that flew in the airshow included the 1936 Aeronca C-3 Master, the 1927 Veile Monocoupe, the 1932 Pietenpol Air Camper, and the 1926 Winstead Special. For those interested in World War II aircraft, Sunday’s airshow also featured a demonstration of a Boeing N2S Stearman training aircraft by Eric Lunger. Eric’s demonstration in the Stearman showed the spectators some basic turning maneuvers any new pilot completing flight training would have done in World War I and World War II. The Saturday airshow was announced by Golden Age Air Museum staff Mike Cilurso and Steve Moyer Cilurso and Moyer’s expert knowledge of the museum aircraft collection and narration of the airshow delighted the gathered spectators and helped take the audience back into the early days of aviation. On Sunday, with a focus more on World War I, Mike Cilurso was joined on the announcer stand by Michael O’Neal, the museum’s World War I expert and historian. O’Neal did a great job explaining to the airshow audience the history of World War I aviation and the history of the Fokker Dr.I Triplane and other replica World War I aircraft on the field.
One airshow highlight each day was the flying of the museum’s 1918 Curtiss JN-4D “Jenny” in the airshow. The “Jenny” was the aircraft that introduced America to aviation throughout the 1920s. Built as a trainer during World War I, the “Jennys” were sold as surplus to pilots returning home from the war, who used them for barnstorming, hauling airmail, wing-walking, and more. Today, fewer than a dozen “Jennys” remain airworthy. The museum’s example was found in California and restored to original condition with its original OX-5 engine. It is painted in the colors of Earl Daugherty, a barnstormer who flew in Long Beach, California. Paul Dougherty put the aircraft through its paces each day, demonstrating this unique aircraft in a demonstration of one of the classic aerial acts of the early flying circus-style airshows, throwing rolls of toilet paper from the cockpit and then cutting them with the airplane as they descend and unroll.
Another highlight of the airshow each day was the aerobatic demonstrations. Veteran airshow performer Mark Meredith was invited to the event and performed a nice display of classic aerobatics in his modified de Havilland Super Chipmunk called “Chippy”. Also flying an aerobatic demonstration was Paul Dougherty in his Christen Eagle II. Dougherty normally flies this aircraft at airshows throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic but did a demonstration of its capabilities at this event to show just how much aircraft have advanced since World War I. Veteran airshow announcer Eddie Leuter announced Mark Meredith’s routine and Paul’s daughter Caroline announced his routine as she normally does when Paul performs at airshows away from the museum.
By far, the feature performance of each day was the flying of the World War I aircraft. Saturday was a treat, as Chris Hill, Paul Dougherty, John Elliot, and Fred Murrin flew the four Fokker Dr.Is together during the show. The sound of the rotaries on three of the Fokkers starting up and the smell of the castor oil was an experience of a lifetime. It was also neat to see many of the pilots wearing proper flying gear such as leather helmets and goggles, to fly their airplanes. Also flying on Saturday were the two Nieuport 23s and the two Sopwith Pup replicas. Sunday, the World War I aircraft display was slightly different. Andrew King flew John Elliot’s Dr.I early in the day before flying back to Virginia to beat some weather. Chris Hill attempted to fly his Fokker Dr.I, but upon firing the engine discovered it was not running correctly. Rather than risk any unsafe condition, Hill elected to scratch flying his Fokker Dr. I in the airshow. But Sunday was far from a total loss, Mark Mondelo flew Old Rhinebeck’s Sopwith Pup replica and Neil Baughman flew the Golden Age Air Museum’s Rumpler C.V. replica. Tom Martin and Rick Bennett both flew their replica Nieuport 23s. The Sunday airshow ended with an excellent dogfight display between the Golden Age Air Museum’s Sopwith Pup flown by Mike Damani and the Fokker Dr.I Triplane flown by Paul Dougherty.
After the airshow each day, the museum dropped the crowd rope lines and spectators could view the aircraft up close, talk to the pilots and take pictures as they desired. Chris Hill was glad to pose next to his Triplane in his World War I flight uniform for a great photo opportunity. The museum gift shop and refreshment stand were both busy throughout the weekend as well, offering excellent food and drink items and souvenirs at very affordable prices. For those that made the trip to the Golden Age Air Museum, the sight of four Fokker Dr.I Triplanes flying together, three with the sound of rotary engines, and the smell of castor oil, will not be forgotten anytime soon. The event was also an excellent showcase of the Fokker Dr.I Triplane, one of the most famous fighter aircraft of World War I and an aircraft that continues to capture the imagination of the public thanks to its three-wing design and the famous pilots who flew it in combat. The efforts made by Chris Hill and Paul Dougherty to organize and host this event made it a huge success for the participants, the Golden Age Air Museum, and all the people who attended.
The next event on the Golden Age Air Museum calendar is the Fall Fly-In, held on October 22-23. All aircraft types are welcome to fly in. The event will also feature wine tasting, live entertainment and scenic biplane rides will be available in the museum’s 1929 Waco GXE. The museum is also open for tours and biplane rides on weekends until the end of October. Information on 2023 airshows and special museum events should be announced early in 2023. The museum is a great visit for anyone interested in airplanes or aviation history, especially on a special event weekend. For more information on the Golden Age Air Museum and its collection, visit https://www.goldenageair.org/
I would like to thank Paul Dougherty and the staff of the Golden Age Air Museum for inviting me to cover the event and offering excellent access to the flight line, aircraft, and pilots during this event.