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Plymouth Airport celebrates its pioneers by naming gates for them

Now a busy general aviation facility, the Plymouth Municipal Airport is quite different from how it looked in a 1968 airport archive photo (below) .

Massachusetts State Police Air Wing/2010

Now a busy general aviation facility, the Plymouth Municipal Airport is quite different from how it looked in a 1968 airport archive photo (below) .

Four local aviation leaders will be honored at a naming ceremony on Monday at Plymouth Municipal Airport, an airfield founded following Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight.

After his 1927 solo flight from New York to Paris, Lindbergh called for a national network of airports. In response, the first airfield on the Plymouth site opened in 1934. The field was taken over by the Navy during World War II, used for training pilots, and then sold to the town after the war. Today, the municipal airport is one of the busiest small airports in New England, with 55,000 touchdowns and takeoffs a year.

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Airport commissioners decided the field’s four gates, which open to roads leading to the airport’s main facilities , should be named after men who were played significant roles as “pioneers” in its development, said airport manager Tom Maher. 

The ceremony will recognize Chester Motyka, who launched the first full-service airframe and power plant maintenance shop at the airport. His company maintained the planes used for fish spotting off New England’s coast.

A second gate honors the late John Petrell, who persuaded the town to buy the airport from the Navy after World War II (for $1), foreseeing that it would help the town maintain itself as a regional economic hub in a new age.

Gate 3 will honor the man who oversaw the airport’s early growth, the late Elio Barufaldi, its manager from 1954 to 1968. “That was when the runways were paved, taxiways put in,” and new buildings constructed, Maher said. The airport bought some more land for its expansion then, too.

Plymouth Municipal Airport Archives

Looking South over Plymouth Airport in April, 1968.

Airport commissioner Walter Morrison, whose name will go on Gate 4, was instrumental in those property acquisitions at a time when land was still available in West Plymouth, an area since densely developed.

“He was the one of the most influential people when it came to positioning the airport for the future,” Maher said. A commissioner since 1976 and chairman for a quarter of a century (1983 to 2008), Morrison helped bring the airport up to “critical mass” in the size, activity, and revenue needed to maintain itself, Maher said.

Although it’s owned by the town, the airport pays for its operations through its revenues.

“These men each saw the future of aviation and committed personal assets and efforts to make the Plymouth Airport what it is today,” commission chairman Kenneth Fosdick said.

The naming ceremony takes place at 1 p.m. Monday with some 50 to 70 guests expected. The date chosen — Dec. 17 — marks the 109th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight in North Carolina.

Robert Knox can be reached at rc.knox2@gmail.com.
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