Aviation museum celebrates NJ’s role in the history of flight

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Five-year-old Dalia Glasser is boarding a 1950 commercial plane, and she’s about to fly it. Well, she’s about to pretend to fly it at the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey.

“It felt so weird, but it felt good,” Glasser said.

The nonprofit, located at Teterboro Airport, has been educating visitors about New Jersey’s rich aviation history for more than 45 years. The museum’s full of donated pieces — everything from an electronic flight simulation to an actual piece of the Hindenburg.

“We have the things that make New Jersey famous — the aircraft engines, the Curtiss-Wright engines, the rocket motors that powered the first aircraft past the speed of sound. We have the parachutes that saved so many airmen over the years, they are all developed here in New Jersey. But we also have some very interesting things that were failures but turned into something that was very important,” said retired airline captain and trustee Bruce Meyer.

One example of this is a rocket-powered mail plane from the 1930s. Volunteers say it didn’t work, but the idea lead to other successful advancements in the field.

“I cannot describe flying because every flight is its own adventure. Every flight is different,” said Aviation Hall of Fame & Museum of New Jersey President Stephen Riethof, who served in the Air Force for nearly 30 years.

The flight simulators help visitors imagine what it’s like to fly a plane, and they get to sit next to pilots during the museum’s open cockpit weekends.

“I can not imagine ever having worked at anything else other than flying,” said retired airline captain and Hall of Fame inductee Janis Keown-Blackburn.

Blackburn worked for six different airlines over the years.

“Just before I retired, passengers would come in, still in 2013, and say, ‘You’re the pilot? But you’re a girl.’ So it’s amazing, here we are in the 2000s and they’re still not used to seeing female pilots,” she said.

Her message to aspiring pilots?

“Anybody can do it,” Keown-Blackburn said. “There’s a lot of hard work. If you really want to be a pilot, you can do it.”

About 170 people are honored in the Hall of Fame room for their contribution to the field of aviation. They all have some connection to New Jersey. Some are pilots, engineers, educators, and more. The museum honors new inductees each year.

The museum also recognizes the many astronauts born in New Jersey.

“Right now we’re having a lot of fun with the youngsters because very soon we’re going to go to Mars and I explain to them, get interested in aviation, engineering, science, a lot of different things, and you may be walking on Mars one day,” Riethof said.

Volunteers hope a trip to the museum inspires kids to, quite literally, let their dreams soar.