Chatham Airport: One Man’s Field of Dreams
Founder Wilfred Berube’s grassroots effort paved the way for the airport we know today
Imagine that you and some friends decide to spend the day surfcasting off Monomoy. Rather than navigate the channels from Stage Harbor by boat, you decide to fly. You head to Chatham Airport, pay $3 to its owner, Wilfred J. Berube, and hand him your rods and tackle.
With a broad smile, Berube lashes the gear to the struts of his airplane. You climb aboard, and soon you’re flying low over Monomoy, scanning the bars and rips for schools of striped bass. Berube sets the plane down on the beach, and you disembark with your gear and a picnic lunch. He tells you he will return before dark; then you watch him taxi up the sand and take flight. When you return to the mainland, Berube arranges a photo shoot with all of your fish hanging, balanced, from the propeller of his plane. The year is 1935, and the country is slowly crawling out from the Great Depression; $3 goes a long way.
In today’s economy, those $3 from 1935 would be worth just over $52, but even that sum would seem a bargain for most fishing outings. A fly-in fishing trip up in Alaska might cost about $400, each way, but it’s unlikely any amount would allow you to hop on a plane in Chatham and land directly on the Cape’s outer beaches anymore. It may be easy to spot fish from a plane, but it is likely a challenge to notice piping plover chicks beneath the wheels of the landing gear, and it’s a good bet neither Mass Audubon nor the National Park Service would appreciate their beaches being used as runways.
Though the days of drop-in fishermen deliveries may be relegated to the Cape’s past, Chatham Municipal Airport still operates out of the same hangar today that Berube completed back in 1937. And while Stick ‘N Rudder Aero Tours, the company owned by current airport manager Tim Howard, does not touch down on local beaches, the pilots will happily fly customers up to “See Cape Cod By Air” from an open cockpit bi-plane. Today, the airport also offers flight instruction and aircraft rentals.
In recent years, the airport at 240 George Ryder Road has also been emerging as a center for community activity, a development that harkens back to its beginnings. In June, the airport held its second annual open house, which drew more than 800 visitors who came to see the planes and a variety of exhibits, including antique cars and hotrods.
Howard, who has been at the reins since the year 2000, is pleased to see that the open house event has grown. “The first year was good but this second year was better,” he says. “The police and fire departments gave truck rides, boatyards brought out some yachts, and the airplane owners let us drive their planes out.” Berube was legendary for his gregarious nature and would likely be delighted to see such activity at the airport he built nearly 80 years ago almost entirely with his own two hands.