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The Skies Over Levittown

I'll take the Great Depression of the 1930's over our current era of socioeconomic upheaval any time. The 30's had style and grace: Big Bands playing to men in tuxedos and women in pearls and flowing gowns, Art Deco, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, elegant motor cars, ornate movie palaces, and nattily-attired gangsters. Between the Armistace and Pearl Harbor, the giant airships sailed the sky, observed with great admiration and romance; reflections in the heavens of the era's majestic Grace, White Star, and Cunard lines.  

The July 1919 visit to our area of the 665-foot British Navy R-34 to a very different Roosevelt Field is remembered on a mural on the second floor of the shopping center was doubtless visable from the Jerusalem/Island Trees area. Such rigid giants faded after the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 and were replaced by blimps and, in 1940, the Goodyear blimp arrived and set down in the meadows north of the old Stewart Line of the LIRR in what's now the "flower section" of Levittown. Its brief visit was captured on film by Steve Buczak, a friend of mine who recently passed away, and can be seen at the Levittown Museum.     

The Second World War saw the skies of Levittown abuzz with quality-control test flights from our area's big defense contractors. On Hicksville Road, Grumman built nearly as many F-4F Wildcats and F-6 Hellcats as Levitt & Sons built houses and the nearby Republic Aviation Corporation mass-produced 15,000 P-47 Thunderbolts to support the bombers bound to strategic targets in Germany.   Later Republic produced the F-84 and Grumman made the F-14 fighters that put the teeth in the U.S. fleet's strike capacity throughout the Cold War.

By then, of course, flying machines were old hat in this neck-of-the-woods anyway as three rural airfields - Nassau Airport (now the site of St. Bernard's Church), LWF Field (now the Target store), and the Long Island Aviation Country Club (Blacksmith Road and environs) had operated here in the 1920-50 era. Oddly enough, in 1955 a military aircraft crashed on Blacksmith Road without injuries or home property damage where, just half a decade earlier, a runway was situated.   

During the Cold War, the ubiquitous drone of the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye was part of Levittown life; its signature twin turboprop and 24-foot rotating saucer antenna always prompted a skywards gaze from the backyard. If Levittown symbolized the era's American way of life than the Hawkeye - designed to be the eyes and ears of the aircraft carrier task force - was an emblem of the awesome military might that could be brought to bear to protect it. No less a fixture overhead was the bird-like Concorde. Between November of 1977, when it began London-to-New York service, and 2003, this Anglo-French SST rumbled over the Levittown skies a couple of mornings every week.   

As the father of an elementary school student, I'm reminded that the Hawkeye and Concorde will seem as curious flying machines by the time my daughter's an adult as the R-34 seems to us today.  

Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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