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John Vansant landed twice at Pitcairn Field. His first visit was Saturday, January 24, 1942. He flew an autogiro he identified as "BW-830." This aircraft was a Pitcairn PA-39 with civil registration N3908. It was built for the British Air Ministry during WWII as an observation aircraft. It still exists (left) at the museum of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) in Oshkosh, WI.
A site visitor provides the following information about pilot Vansant, "John Vansant was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1912. He changed the spelling of his name to Van Sant for business purposes. He bought the Old Star Airport, northeast of Philadelphia in 1944 and operated Van Sant Flying Service, crop dusting and FBO services. At the end of WWII, he bought a large stock of surplus Stearman parts and he continued buying and selling government surplus parts for the rest of his life. In later years, he was a very prominent dealer in parts for Cessna 195(LC-126) and L-19 aircraft. He moved his business to the Doylestown, PA airport about 1957 and to Van Sant Airport in Erwinna, PA about 1960. He died in 1981."
Vansant's second landing at Willow Grove was on Sunday, January 25, 1942. Interestingly, he noted that his arrival was a "pleasure flight." With WWII only about seven weeks old, the ban on civilian "pleasure" flying must not have been imposed. Regardless, based at Langhorne, PA, he flew the Pitcairn PA-5 he identified as NC6708.
An article appeared online in 2005 entitled "Van Sant Airport: Tribute to Aviation." The link is no longer functional, so I reprinted the article below. The photograph of Vansant, above, is from that article.
Van Sant Airport: Tribute to Aviation
By Marjorie Dorfman
“Along the lush and remote Cafferty Road in Erwinna, Pennsylvania, on property that was originally two adjoining farms, lies a living tribute to the history of aviation. Here one is thrust into a time that is no more, where one can almost hear lively strains of Glenn Miller's music and feel the tension of the free world united in its front against Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. The planes are antique, most of them tail draggers from the early 1940s, bearing significant names like Stearman, Cessna, and Bird Dog.
“The Stearman (also known as the PT-17) was the first American military plane, and 99 percent of all flyers in World II were trained on one of them. They were nicknamed "washing machines" by the military because cadets were constantly being washed out of training in them. The J-2 Cub, a classic airplane with a 40-horsepower engine dating back to the 1930s, stands proudly alongside the Bird Dog (L-19) that was used by American troops in Vietnam. The oldest model the Travel Aire [sic], a speed-wing, open cockpit bi-plane that has a Wright Whirlwind Engine, the same type that transported Charles Lindbergh on his memorable trans-Atlantic flight.
“American aviation may have been born on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in December, 1903 with the first successful heavier than air flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright, but others have followed with their own dreams and aspirations. One such man was John Van Sant, the son of a Bensalem farmer who was born in 1912. He began his love affair with flying as a teenager in Bucks County. One of his early instructors and personal friends, Bill Engle, later
“In 1944 Van Sant bought the Silver Star Airport and re-named the 80-acre site The Old Star Airport. As the owner, he operated the Van Sant Flying Service, which performed crop dusting and maintained a flight school for returning World War II veterans. The earliest air mail flights in Bucks County originated at Old Star Airport, which was later sold and became the most popular Valley Mall off Route 1 in Middletown Township near Langhorne Borough. In the years following the end of World War II, he bought government surplus airplane parts (Stearman and Bird Dog) and became the owner and founder of the Van Sant Airport.
"Van Sant also owned Doylestown Airport from 1957-1960. At first it was operated privately, but became, as it is today, a commercial airport. He served as an advisor to the American aerobatic teams competing in Spain and Russia in 1968. These contests were privately funded by flyers with their own planes, not like their European counterparts. He died of cancer 1981 at the too young age of 67, but savored every moment of his life as an innovator and pioneer in the field of aviation.
"His legacy lives on at 516 Cafferty Road in Erwinna, Pennsylvania for all the world to see.
"Restorations at the airport are always a labor of love and the work is intensive." Most, according to Husain, "are performed under the watchful eye of Mr. George Taylor, a true mechanic's mechanic. This specialization is almost a dying art, as A&P schools (Airframe and Power with Inspection Authorization) don't even teach the restoration of wood and fabric anymore. A single wing repair on an antique plane could take as long as eight months". No one's in a hurry here, where time in its own peculiar way, has stood still.
“Pilots from all around the world are offered a myriad of services, including Stearman and Great Lakes training, aerobatics instruction in a powered aircraft and a glider, tail-wheel check-out and rentals, glider instruction and rental, primary training in Cessna 150s and the maintenance and restoration of classic and wood/fabric aircraft. Some completed restorations include: Stearman, Tiger Moth, Pitts Special, Stinson, Champ, J-3 Club, Waco and Meyers OTW. Maintenance is lovingly performed by A&P mechanics.
“Many visitors to the airport prefer not to fly, content with their own specific, intimate encounter with the past. According to Husain, a 96 year old woman who, after watching her family loop and roll around in the sky complained that "no one asked her if she wanted to go along!"
“The excitement is contagious and Sport Aviation promotes a unique family atmosphere. On summer weekends people come and spend the day, nibbling on hamburgers and hot dogs while enjoying a glimpse into a time that is no more. The spirit of John Van Sant no doubt looks down with pride at the airport that was his dream and sole creation.”
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 04/10/14 REVISED: