Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award
“I am convinced that human flight is both possible and practical.”
Wilbur Wright, 1899
Last month we gathered as Princeton Airport’s co-owner, Dick Nierenberg, received a plaque from Gene McCoy, Chief of Allentown FSDO, to honor Dick’s over 50 years as a pilot.
Those who came had some funny stories to share, and some commentary about how Dick would be at the airport ready to fuel in zero degree weather for a 6:00 am departure, and even a “hand prop” if necessary.
During the ceremony, Tim Coyne, lineman from 1983-88 called from Rome, advising us the an email would arrive. Tim is now a captain with Netjet, Europe. His letter gives a great window into the early days of Dick’s hands on efforts to build an airport.
Tim Coyne’s letter follows:
Dick Nierenberg. Employer, teacher, mentor, friend. –
I first met Dick Nierenberg on June 16th, 1983. I was 16 years old and didn’t know it then, but that man was to help form the foundations of my life.
When I was growing up all I wanted to do was to learn how to fly, but coming from a working class family, I did not have the means to pay for flying lessons.
So one day, I asked the lady who ran the flying school if I could work for her in exchange for flying lessons. That Lady was Naomi Nierenberg and she offered me the job…
THAT was THE biggest break of my life and I will be forever indebted to her for her generosity. THANK YOU NAOMI! 🙂
I started my illustrious Aviation Career that morning by cleaning the toilets, mopping the floor, polishing the glass displays, loading the soda machine and doing the myriad of other tasks which were on a list pinned to the back of the cleaning closet door. Just as I had finished all the jobs and finally sat down to have a rest, a giant, smiling, teddy bear of a man walked in and said “Looks like you need something to do! There’ll be no sitting down on the job around here, young man… Come with me!” A few minutes later, he and I were up on the roof with a mop, a blow torch and a bubbling bucket of hot boiling tar, fixing a hole in the tar paper which was letting the rain leak into Naomi’s office!
I thought “This guy is CRAZY, but he sure is fun and he’s not afraid to turn his hand to anything!”
A few weeks later, on a hot Saturday afternoon, I was mopping the floor in the classroom when I saw Dick moving past the windows as he walked across the ramp. He was smoking a big, fat cigar, wearing a baseball cap and a rather mischievous grin…
Just as he walked past the back door which was wide open, something came flying into the classroom and landed in the middle of my freshly mopped floor… it was small, red and smoldering…
Next thing I hear was Dick’s voice shouting “FIRE IN THE HOLE!”
I remember thinking… “What the heck is he on about?”
That was my first introduction to Dick’s rather quirky habit of wandering about the place, tossing the odd M80 or two over his shoulder as he went along, just for a laugh!!!
Several years later when Naomi, Dick and Ken bought Princeton Airport, they decided to throw a big party in order to celebrate. One Saturday morning Dick and I set off in the pickup truck on our way to Home Depot or some such, with the intention of purchasing a few picnic tables to use at the party. Well, we got there and sought out the “outdoor furniture” section of the warehouse. When he saw how A) EXPENSIVE and B) POORLY BUILT the store bought tables were, he said… Well I won’t tell you the FIRST thing he said… but the SECOND thing he said was “Follow me!” and off we trundled, first to the “electric saw” aisle and then to the “lumber yard” section of the shop.
Having returned to the airport, Dick and I spent the rest of that Saturday building picnic tables in the maintenance hangar. By the end of the afternoon, we built about a half a dozen tables which were much better made than the ones which were in the store and had an electric circular saw to boot, all for less than the cost of buying just ONE of those which were for sale.
So what were the lessons which Dick taught me?
- Do what you love and don’t be afraid to “have a go” at anything.
- Maintain a sense of humor throughout.
- Use your imagination and add value. Don’t just accept the status quo.
I remember what Dick said to a newspaper reporter who asked him why they bought Princeton Airport.
“My Wife, Son and I are going to run the airport for Fun and Profit.”
I’ve always thought that that was an absolutely CLASSIC line.
Dick, THANK YOU for all of the opportunities you gave me and lessons which you taught me, all those years ago. I just hope I can be as positive a role model to my 2 sons as you were to me.
Enjoy your Special Day… this evening, I shall lift a glass to you, my friend. Cheers!
Line boy at Kupper and Princeton Airports from 1983 to 1988
Captain, NetJets Europe
Writing from Rome, Italia.