Believe it or not, West Windsor Township once had its own airport. It wasn’t identified as West Windsor’s, but from the 1930s until around 1960 or so it was right here within our borders. It was on the western side of Route 1 just a little over a mile south of the traffic circle at Washington Road. Present-day Market Fair and a portion of Canal Pointe now sit where it once did. It was called Nassau Airpark, and it catered to the owners of light aircraft that had become so popular during the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Operation as an airport stopped in about 1959 when better facilities in the area became available, including the enlarged and improved airports in Princeton and Robbinsville. And, of course, Trenton’s original airport had been moved by then from its original location on Route 1 in Lawrence to where it is now as Mercer County Airport in Ewing. Two other area airports, Twin Pine in Pennington and Princeton University’s Forrestal on Route 1 in Plainsboro, have been closed for some time.
Nassau Airpark was operated by Whit Savage, who was well known to many pilots in the Princeton-West Windsor area. There is little he didn’t know about flying and how to keep the airplanes in good shape. I met him a couple of times when, as a student at Princeton I had occasion to visit his field when I went flying with my roommate, who was a pilot. The university had a flying club for undergraduates, and the club owned an old Piper J-3 two-seater that was used by members who had pilots’ licenses. Much to my disappointment, I never got a license myself.
The airport had two runways, both of which were unpaved turf. As a result you had to be very careful about how weather conditions might have affected the surface. The longest runway ran from near Route 1 almost to the D&R Canal, about 2,000 feet. There was no radio communications tower at the field either, and no lighting. Once you got in the cockpit of your plane and took off, you were on your own until you landed and taxied to a stop.
My most adventurous day as a Princeton student began and ended at that airport. My roommate and I had decided one spring day in 1950 to use the J-3 to go visit a friend who lived in the Pocono Mountains, about 90 miles away. Our map showed an airfield nearby. We figured the run should take less than an hour if we could make 100 miles per hour in the air. We left in the middle of the afternoon, assuming we could make the round trip and get back before dark.
Well, were we optimistic. When we got airborne we soon realized that there was a strong headwind and our ground speed was only about 40 miles per hour. It took us twice as long to reach our destination, and when we did, the airport we were planning to land at wasn’t there. (That gives you a funny feeling.) Since we were running low on gas, we had no choice but to land on a farmer’s field on the side of a shallow hill.
Of course the farmer and his whole family came out to see what was going on, and they told us that the airport we were looking for had closed several years before. Anyway, we bought a couple of gallons of gas from them — used by the farmer for his tractor — put it in our tank and took off for the nearest town airport (Scranton), about 20 miles away. Since it was almost dark by then we couldn’t fly back to Nassau Airpark. So we hitched a ride into town and stayed for the night at the local YMCA.
The next morning we hitched back to the airport, got a full tank of gas, and flew back home. Were we glad to see Nassau Airpark and Whit Savage again. The whole episode was a perfect example of poor judgment, over optimism, and dumb luck.