Before Oshkosh was the big show, the annual gathering in Reading, Pennsylvania, was the center of the aviation universe. In this article from the June 1968 edition of Air Facts, you’ll see what general aviation looked like during the heyday of the late 1960s. From the new airplanes to the celebrity pilots, it was a thrilling time to be a pilot.
The 1968 Reading Show
Last year we said: “It is hard to believe the Reading Show gets better every year but it does.” That still holds true. This year the show was expanded by a day, and the weather cooperated. Warm June sun blessed Reading on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, June 5th through 8th.
The crowd. At one point on Friday there were 1,132 airplanes on the field.
New airplanes? The Derringer was there. It’s a trim two-place twin with spectacular performance. Ted Smith’s Aerostar was present, and it attracted large crowds. From England, the Britten-Norman Islander, a commuter-liner, made its Reading debut, as did the turboprop Handley Page Jetstream and the twin-engine Beagle. The long and beautiful Beech 99 airliner was shown. It is already in service, and is very impressive. Aero Commander’s trim new Lark was on the line, and so was the American Aviation Yankee, and there were a lot more.
The hangar was full of exhibits. A pilot could see a full line of aeronautical products, and choose whatever he needed.
A couple of incidents did mar the show. Two airplanes, one expensive one and one very expensive one, were altered in the course of demonstration flights – while being flown like the consumer would never (hopefully) fly them. Both these airplanes came within a hair of being totally busted, right in front of the crowd. The harm such a thing would do to aviation is incalculable. Maybe in future shows things will simmer down to minimize the risk of a tragedy.
Reading Tower did a masterful job of handling traffic. There was a lot of it to handle, too. The traffic counts were: Wednesday, 1,809; Thursday, 2,225; Friday, 3,269; and Saturday, 2,068. When you consider that the traffic is almost all within about 12 hours each day, and that the airport doesn’t have parallel runways, that is really something. It would be at an annual rate many times that of Chicago O’Hare – the busiest airport.
One observation: If Reading can go from a normal airport to a high-capacity super-airport with virtually no change in facilities, why can’t other places do the same thing? Many airports have a low traffic count on weekdays, and a high traffic count on weekends. They try to do this with the same operating procedures. As a result conditions are chaotic on weekends. Maybe FAA could develop a Reading formula to be used at some general aviation airports on pretty Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
The Reading Show. It’s something for all general aviation to be proud of. See you there next year. Some of the things observed this year follow.
The AEROSTAR 600 from Ted Smith. The 600 is powered by two 290 engines, and was a very impressive performer on demonstrations at the Reading Show. It is a full 6-place plus baggage. The price is $86,550, which includes electronics.
Just before the Reading Show it was announced that the American Cement Corp. had acquired Ted Smith Aircraft Company, and that it would be operated as a wholly owned subsidiary. Present management is to be retained. American Cement is headquartered in Los Angeles and has major cement divisions California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Hawaii, and Greece. The company is also involved in the manufacture of metal buildings and swimming pool equipment, and is one of the co-developers of Snowmass-at-Aspen, a Colorado resort.
The BEECHCRAFT 99 COMMUTER AIRLINER was at Reading, and it is a very impressive airplane. Note in the interior picture that the passengers have plenty of windows. This picture was taken from the rear seat.
The airstair door is at left, and there is a baggage compartment at the rear of the cabin as well as in the nose. The airplane is already in service and it looks like it will be another one of those classic Beechcrafts.
The AMERICAN AVIATION YANKEE is moving into the production stage, and 10 are scheduled for delivery by August 1st. Three dealers have been appointed. The YANKEE, which began life as the Bede, is powered by a 108 horsepower engine, and the price for a standard airplane is $6495.
The HANDLEY PAGE JETSTREAM, a turboprop executive aircraft from England, can also be used as a commuter-liner.
The BRITTEN-NORMAN ISLANDER is a basic airplane. The gear is fixed, and everything is functional. Power is 250 hp each. The airplane can carry 10, including pilot. Quite a number have been sold to 3rd-Level carriers in this country.
The DERRINGER is a 2-place twin. It attracted a great deal of interest at Reading, and those who flew it were enthusiastic. The questions, though: “Will a 2-place twin find a market?”
The exhibit area in the big READING hangar. Every imaginable aeronautical accessory was on display, and this year they had to add a tent at the far end of the hangar to accommodate additional booths. Harrisburg Flight Service Station maintained a pilot briefing center in the hangar.
DANNY KAYE, one of the airborne celebrities who came to Reading. He came in a Jet Commander, at the Israel Aircraft booth.
Notable GATES LEARJET arrivals included ARNOLD PALMER. Arnie uses his jet on the tournament circuit as well as in connection with his other business interests.
The Great Godfrey (Arthur Godfrey) is pictured with aviation personality Torch Lewis. The number on the Learjet he was flying ended in GA (for Gates Aviation), but when that familiar voice came over the radio, inbound, it was “594, Godfrey Arthur.”
For over 50 years, pilots turned to Richard L. Collins for his unique perspective on the challenges and rewards of flying light aircraft. He started his career working with his father, Leighton Collins, at the original Air Facts magazine. He then went on to work for the leading aviation magazines, including as editor of both AOPA Pilot and Flying. With over 20,000 hours of real world experience, much of it in Cessna 172s and P210s, Collins wrote about safety, weather and air traffic control from first-hand experience. He was the author of numerous books, including Logbooks
, published in 2016 by Sporty’s Pilot Shop. Collins passed away in April, 2018.
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Always thought the Derringer was a cool plane. It should have been promoted as a twin training aircraft.
Arthur Godfrey and Danny Kay – two of my childhood flying idols. I clearly recall Godfrey using his nationwide morning radio program to lambast the FAA over an argument he was having with the Teterboro tower. He prevailed too, but that was another era.
I saw a Wing Derringer once, in St. Thomas. I think circa 1981 or 82 – I could look the date up in one of my logbooks. I had just finished reading an article about it in a magazine (maybe Private Pilot) in the terminal magazine shop. The article said that only three were manufactured and Ernie Gann owned one. Now, sitting in the cockpit of my Aero Virgin Islands DC 3, I heard a Derringer call ground asking to taxi to the fuel pumps. I asked myself what are the odds that Ernie Gann is sitting at the controls of this one? I asked ground if the owner (without mentioning a name) was at the controls of the Wing. An affirmative response from the Derringer came back before ground could respond (and how would ground know anyhow?). About fifteen minutes later we departed for San Juan with the Derringer departing either just before or just after us in the same direction. I asked Captain Corvo if he would take care of the radio and controls while I talked to the Derringer on the air to air frequency. The conversation lasted fifteen minutes. Reluctantly, I had to break it off as we approached SJU’s airspace. We discussed the DC 3 and many other subjects. If I had any doubt with whom I was talking (I really didn’t) it was confirmed as we said goodbye and I asked if he was going back to Friday Harbor. Gann answered in the affirmative. Captain Corvo who was Cuban, asked if I knew the Derringer pilot. I said, “No, but he has written some books and I have read all of them.” Corvo was not familiar with Gann’s books. For years I looked in vain for one translated into Spanish. I finally sent him a hardcover English version for Christmas years later, with a note explaining that this was the p[ilot I had spoken to on the radio.
I remember seeing Danny Kaye at KVNY
be flew out of Fred Murphy aviation. Later I think he purchased a piper twin.