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Long Island, the forgotten ‘cradle’ of aviation

The Spirit of St. Louis
The Spirit of St. Louis
Creative Commons

Most people associate the Wright Brothers and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina with the beginnings of aviation. People forget (or haven’t learned) that Long Island, New York also played an important part in early aviation history.

An airport (now the site of a shopping mall) in Long Island, New York was the departure point for the first solo transcontinental flight in 1927. Charles “Lucky” Lindbergh departed for Europe from Roosevelt Field in Garden City on May 20, 1927. Lindbergh had previously trained for his flight at Curtis Field in Valley Stream, about five miles west of Roosevelt Field.

Aviation history was made when Lindbergh landed in his plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, at Le Bourget Field near Paris, France 34 hours after departing from Roosevelt Field airport.

You would have to know exactly where to look to find any indication that a major aviation event occurred in Garden City. Here’s where you can find it: Lindbergh’s accomplishment is noted upstairs at the Roosevelt Field food court. There’s a colorful aviation-themed mural and plaque that describes Lindbergh’s history-making flight.

Curtis Field, previously the site of a small airport and an airplane hangar, now has a Home Depot in its place. Visitors may spot the small sign in the parking lot that describes the history of the site.

Grumman Aerospace Corporation was located in Bethpage, New York. In the 1960s, Grumman built the Lunar module for the Apollo launch, and in the 1970s and 80s they built the E-2C Hawkeye and F-14 Tomcat for the US Navy. Grumman was a Long Island-based company until they were purchased by Northrop Corporation in 1994.

Long Island has a museum that’s dedicated to its long and rich aviation history, The Long Island Air And Space Museum located in Garden City, not far from Lindberg’s historic departure point. The museum has regular events featuring explorers and scientists of the world of aviation.

There’s also a Planetarium and the museum is the home of Nunley’s carousel, salvaged from the beloved Freeport, New York amusement park.

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