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New documentary chronicles Hagerstown aviation history

November 02, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

GREENCASTLE, PA. - The first name that comes to mind when one thinks of airplanes in Hagerstown is Fairchild, maker of the famous C-119 Flying Boxcar in the 1950s and the A-10 Warthog in the 1970s and 1980s.

But aircraft production in Hagerstown goes back further, to 1916, when Giuseppe Bellanca, an Italian immigrant and aviation pioneer, built a 35-horsepower airplane for the Maryland Pressed Steel Co. on Pope Avenue where he worked.

Bellanca flew his plane, called the Bellanca C.D., on its maiden flight off Doub's Meadow, now the site of South Hagerstown High School.

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The C.D. never went into production, but three years later its successor, the C.E., took to the air. Only two were built before the company went bankrupt.

At the other end of the spectrum was Fairchild Aircraft, at one time Hagerstown's largest employer with 10,000 workers.

Fairchild, and its long line of airplane models, was an economic force in the area for decades, through the mid-1980s.

It is the subject of a new 80-minute documentary film, "Hagerstown - Remembering Our Aviation Heritage."

The film debuts Saturday at a free premiere showing at 3 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. at the Faith Chapel Theater - formerly the Colonial Theater - at 14 S. Potomac St.

The documentary is based on an extensive collection of rare film and photos and interviews with former Fairchild workers. It is narrated by Kurtis Meyers, 35, one of three employees of Vintage Video Productions on Williamsport Pike in Greencastle, Pa.

The idea for the film was the brainchild of John Seburn, 43, president and founder of the 15-year-old video company, and Meyers. The two aviation buffs met at a Fairchild Aircraft homecoming air show in 1995. Both had been collecting old photos, film and memorabilia of Fairchild Aircraft and other local aviation history.

For Seburn, development of the documentary was a labor of love in memory of his grandfather, Webster Palmer, who worked at Fairchild for 25 years beginning in 1941.

"Growing up, Fairchild was part of our family history. We always heard Fairchild stories," Seburn said.

Meyers can't make the same claim. Although his grandfather also worked at Fairchild, his career there only lasted about six hours.

"He didn't like the job they gave him so he walked out," Meyers said.

Seburn said the idea for a documentary stemmed from his and Meyers' interest in joining an effort to open at Hagerstown Regional Airport a museum on the history of Fairchild and local aviation.

Meyers, a Greencastle native, said he has a penchant for the history of Fairchild and its long connection with the area's social and economic history.

"There are very few area families that don't have a connection with Fairchild,' he said.

Meyers did much of the research for the film, wrote the script and serves as its narrator. He has a degree in history from Hood College in Frederick, Md.

Steve Christiano, 36, the company's third employee, produced the documentary, and did the camera work and editing.

Christiano said several candidates, including some professionals, were interviewed to narrate the documentary.

"Kurtis' passion for the subject brought the story to life," Christiano said.

The film is available by calling Vintage Video Productions at 717-597-9695 or by e-mailing the company at vintagevideostore.com.

The film, on videocassette or DVD, costs $29.95.

Meyers is writing a self-published, 160-page book as a companion to the documentary.

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