The History of Mattituck Airport
Located in the Town of Southold on Long Island’s North Fork, Mattituck Air Base (21N) is the area’s only privately owned, public-use airfield, occupying 18 acres and offering a single 2,200- by 60-foot asphalt runway-in this case, 1/19. Approaches to the first of the two magnetic headings are conducted over the Great Peconic Bay.
Established in 1946 after Parker Wickham returned from his World War II duty of maintaining Army Air Corps airplanes at his Mojave Desert base, he was given 16 acres of his father’s farm for an airfield after his return home, because, according to his father’s assessment, “There’s no money in potatoes, anyhow.” Before the asphalt, the “runway” was nothing more than a strip of moved grass.
Aside from its use by private pilots who were able to land and base their aircraft near their North Fork homes, its rule, revenue-generating component was its engine repair and overhaul facility, which was sold in 1984, repurchased by family members four years later, and sold again in 1999 to Teledyne-Continental, which renamed it Teledyne-Mattituck sets on November 9 of that year.
As one of the northeast’s longest established piston engine overhaul repair shops, it operated as a subsidiary of Teledyne Technologies, Inc., leasing the building from the Wickham family. It was afterward purchased by China-based AVIC International, at which time it was renamed Mattituck sets, employing 70 at a time during its peak, or some 350 per annum, and was responsible for at the minimum a dozen engines per week, or more than 500 per year.
Continental Motors listed its activities as “engine overhauls built to factory service tolerances; factory engine sales and installation specialists; major powerplant and airframe maintenance; propeller maintenance and repair; your in-stock source for parts; 50-hour, 100-hour, and annual inspections; inspection repair programs; and fuel system calibration and adjustments.”
For the 12 months ended on September 27, 2007, the single-strip Mattituck Airport averaged 33 movements per day, or 12,200 per year, and counted 32 single-engine based aircraft.
After Parker Wickham passed in 2011, he ceded ownership to his son, Jay, and his wife, Cyndi, who maintained and operated the airfield for five years. But a decline in general aviation due to its ever-rising costs, leaving only a handful of airplanes nevertheless based there, and the closing of the repair shop in the summer of 2012, left him little choice but to sell the airport four years later, an intention he announced on June 3, 2016. Because of costly repairs, its fuel tanks had already been given to Albertson Marine, Inc., of Southold.
The Continental Motors’ shop itself, closed after four years of declining general aviation business and its inability to keep profitable with two separate facilities, was integrated with its Fairhope, Alabama, plant.
“Very bluntly, I think both of us and Lycoming have done a good job of pointing out the value of factory options and that has made a contribution across the board to the decline there,” according to Rhett Ross, Continental Motors’ CEO. “It was not an easy decision, but that facility has been marginal for at the minimum the half decade.”
All 20 remaining employees were laid off.
While the Town of Southold deemed the buy cost-prohibitive and its revenue possible minimal, “saviors” came in the form of Paul Pawlowski and Steve Marsh, partners in the Hudson City Savings Bank project on Main Road in Mattituck. Advising existing pilots to remove their aircraft by September 30 of 2016, they intended to excavate the runway and demolish all buildings, with the exception of the carriage house, the car barn, and the newest hangars, but otherwise keep the airfield as it had been.