Bethany, CT. – January 24, 1942

Bethany Connecticut – January 24, 1942

     On Saturday afternoon, January 24, 1942, an aircraft mechanic at the Bethany Air Field discovered a fire in the hangar where twenty-one aircraft were being stored.  He sounded the alarm and then he, along with two other another mechanics,  two student pilots, and the airport manager, began moving as many airplanes as possible out of the hangar.  Meanwhile, the local fire department arrived and began battling the flames.  Within twenty minutes the blaze was brought under control, but when it was over six planes had been lost, and the hangar was badly damaged,  The total damage to the building and aircraft was estimated to be $25,000.

     The good news was that sixteen of the airplanes had been saved, and there were no injuries.

     The blaze was investigated by the Connecticut State Police, but the cause was undetermined.  Because WWII was in progress, sabotage was considered, buy later ruled out. 


     Waterbury Democrat, “Waterburians lose Planes In Bethany”, January 26, 1942, pg. 2.  

Bethany, CT. – June 17, 1939

Bethany, Connecticut – June 17, 1939

     On the afternoon of Friday, June 16, 1939, two male youths, one 13, and the other 14, went to the Bethany Airport to watch planes take off and land.  According to a worker who remembered them, they reportedly stayed until later in the night before leaving. 

      Shortly after 2 a.m. on Saturday, June 17, 1939, they returned with the intent of “joy riding” in some airplanes.  The airport was closed at this time, so they broke into a hangar through a window, and opened large doors from the inside.  They then wheeled one of the airplanes outside and broke open a gasoline tank and fueled the plane. 

     The 14-year-old sat in the pilot’s seat and started the engine and taxied in a westerly direction until he struck a wooden marker damaging the plane. 

     The boys then pulled a second plane from the hangar and repeated the process.  This time the plane crashed into a fence along a roadway at the edge of the field.  Neither youth was injured, but decided that the noise they’d created might have attracted someone’s attention, so they fled the area taking with them leather jackets flying helmets, and aviator sun glasses, as well as handgun and some cash they found in a drawer.  The spent the rest of the night hiding out in a wooded area.      

     The following day the 13-year-old youth surrendered to police and related what had taken place. The other youth, who was known to have a criminal record, remained at large until captured on June 22.  Both were sentenced to serve time at the Connecticut State School.  


     Waterbury Democrat, “Search Still On Fir Air-Minded Youth”, June 19, 1939, pg. 5.

     Waterbury Democrat, ‘Naugatuck Boy Still Missing”, June 20, 1939.

     Waterbury Democrat, “Naugatuck Boy Caught In Woods”, June 22, 1939.

     Waterbury Democrat, “Youths, 13 and 14, Go To State School”, June 23, 1939

Bethany Airport Advertisement – 1945

Bethany, Connecticut      

Click on image to enlarge.

     In December of 1934, The Waterbury Democrat announced that Bethany Airways Inc. had filed for a certificate of incorporation with the Connecticut Secretary of State office.  The owners were William and Winifred Russell of East Haven.  The corporation would have an authorized capitol of $50,000, and would commence business with $1,500.  Shares of stock in the company would be five dollars each. 

     It is unclear what took place with Bethany Airways between 1934 and 1946.     

     In February of 1946, The Waterbury Democrat announced that the Bethany Airport and Bethany Airways Inc. were under new ownership.  The new owners were Robert Halpin and  Ben Shiffrin. who had purchased the corporation from Walter Reynolds of the Reynolds Flying Service on February 1st.  

     Robert Halpin first flew as a naval reserve pilot in 1936.  Prior of the United States entering WWII in 1941, he helped establish the Connecticut Flying Club at Bethany Airport.  In September of 1941 he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a private, but was later promoted to sergeant-pilot, and served in England with the RAF.  In 1943 he transferred to the U. S. Army Air Force and served with the 8th Air Force in England.  He then flew 33 missions on a B-17 Flying Fortress attached to the 303rd Bomb Group.      

     Ben Shiffrin enlisted as a flying cadet in December of 1940, and after earned his wings in August of 1941.  After the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, he was assigned to anti-submarine patrol off the New England coast.  He later served in Greenland before returning to the United States in June of 1944.    

     It was reported that the company planned to purchase three new Aeronca “Champion” aircraft, with hope to purchasing more planes in the future. 

     The men immediately opened a flying school which was to cater to ex-servicemen.  

     For more historical information about the the Bethany Airport, click on links below. 

     Bethany Airport March 2, 1932

     Bethany Airport June 17, 1939 

     Bethany Airport January 24, 1942


     Waterbury Democrat, “Bethany Airways Files Certificate”, December, 4, 1934, pg. 4. 

     Waterbury Democrat, “Bethany Airways Inc. Takes Over Airport”, February 7, 1946, pg. 3.


Bethany, CT. – March 2, 1932

Bethany, Connecticut – March 2, 1932

     On the afternoon of March 2, 1932, Elliot R. McCune, (27), took off from Bethany Airport in a Cairns Airplane, (Ser. No. X-329V) for a test flight.  (He has been mistakenly identified as Ellis McKeon in some newspaper accounts.)

     The aircraft belonged to the Cairns Aircraft Corporation of 62 Rubber Avenue, Naugatuck, Connecticut, and was registered as experimental.   It was of a sleek mono-wing design, built entirely of metal.  The airplane was originally fitted with a 90 h.p. motor, but that had recently been replaced by a 165 h.p. motor.

     McCune was an experienced pilot and well known throughout New England having flown as a stunt-pilot and “barnstormer”.   He’d observed the experimental aircraft during several recent visits to the airport and was granted permission to fly it.  Prior to the flight he’d been informed that the airplane had been flown several times the previous day where it had been subjected to stunt flying without any negative results.

     While high over the area of the airport, McCune began putting the airplane through a series of aerobatic maneuvers, during which one of the wings suddenly broke away.  As the aircraft plunged towards the earth McCune appeared to bail out, but at the time he left the plane he was barely 500 feet from the ground and his chute didn’t have time to open.  The airplane was destroyed on impact, and McCune’s body landed several hundred feet away.   It was further reported that he may have been struck in the head by a portion of the wing when it separated from the aircraft. 

     Bethany Airport closed in 1965.

     Updated May 14, 2019

     The Cairns Aircraft Corporation was established by Captain Edmund B. Cairns in 1928, and between 1931 and 1932 the company manufactured five experimental aircraft which were tested at the Bethany Airport. 

     The aircraft were all-metal mono-planes with radial engines.  They carried two people, seated in tandem, in pen cockpits.  The landing gear was equipped with wheel fairings for better aerodynamics.     

     The engines were designed by the Kimball Aircraft Corporation, founded by Leo B. Kimball of New Haven, Connecticut.  The Kimball Corp. was in operation from 1927 to about 1932.   Kimball and Cairns reportedly collaborated on the five experimental aircraft. 

     What happened to the other aircraft is unknown.

     Source: Atlantic Flyer, “Connecticut Historian looking For Cairns Aircraft”, July, 1993, page A-20 

     Other Sources:

     Unknown newspaper, “Pilot Killed In Plane Crash At Bethany”, unknown date.

     Waterbury Republican, Scene Of Air Tragedy In Bethany”, (photo and caption.)  

     New Haven Journal-Courier, “Wing Torn From Plane In Dive”, (Photo), March 3, 1932    

     Naugatuck News, “State Investigating Bethany Air Crash”, unknown date.

     New Haven Evening Register, “Wrecked Plane That Cost Wallingford Man’s Life”, March 3, 1932, page 1

     New Haven Evening Register, “Girl sees Flier Plunge To Death”, March 3, 1932        


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