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Airport History

Today

Suffolk County's Francis S. Gabreski Airport, is a general aviation facility, which enjoys a 9,000 foot runway (among Long Island's longest after JFK International). The airport was named after Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski in 1991, a decorated WWII and Korean War veteran who also commanded the Suffolk County Airport late in his career.  Learn more about Colonel Gabreski below.

The Airport is utilized by corporate businesses, private aviation and air taxi services. Fixed based operator (FBO), SheltAir Aviation, phone number 631 288-9866 fax number 631 288-5453 provides aviation services to the airport users.

Gabreski Airport is also home to the 106th Rescue Wing of the Air National Guard which operates and maintains the only rescue aircraft in the northeastern United States. With long range flying capabilities the 106th operates over-water search and rescue missions, from the Azores to the Bahamas. The unit also assists in disaster relief and other state emergencies. The 106th Rescue Wing, New York Air National Guard, is the parent organization of the Oldest Air National Guard unit in the Country, the 102nd Rescue Squadron tracing its roots back to the 1st Aero Squadron which was formed in 1908 in New York.

History 

In 1943 the United States government built the airport for use as an Air Force Base during World War II.  After the war it was given to Suffolk County, but it was reclaimed in 1951 for the Korean War National Emergency.  In 1960, it was leased by the US Air Force for an Air Defense Command (ADC) base that served as home to the 52nd Fighter Wing from 1963 through 1968.  The base was deactivated in 1969 and released back to Suffolk County.

 On July 12th, 1972, the federal government, acting by and through the General Services Administration, signed a "Quitclaim Deed" with the County of Suffolk, which conveyed the former Air Base property to the County "for the development, improvement and operation and maintenance of the airport" under the oversight of the FAA.  The covenant and restrictions are enforceable through a reverter clause contained in the deed.

 The following excerpts were extracted from the Airport Compliance Handbook (Order 5190.6A) which is used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine and enforce compliance with the terms and conditions of surplus property transfers and grant obligations - both of which apply to Gabreski Airport.

Section 1-3 - BACKGROUND OF AIRPORT OBLIGATIONS. The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 and the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 which preceded it charges the Administrator with broad responsibilities for the regulation of air commerce in the interests of safety and national defense and for the promotion, encouragement, and development of civil aeronautics. Under these broad powers the FAA seeks to achieve safety and efficiency of the total airspace system through direct regulation of airman, aircraft, and the airspace. The Federal interest in promoting civil aviation has been augmented by various legislative actions, which authorize programs for granting property, funds, and other assistance to local communities for the development of airport facilities. In each program the recipient assumes certain obligations, either by contract or by restrictive covenants in property deeds, to maintain and operate its airport facilities safely and efficiently and in accordance with specified conditions. Commitments assumed by airport owners in deeds or grant agreements have been generally successful in maintaining a high degree of safety and efficiency in airport design, construction, operation and maintenance. The Airports Compliance Program embraces the policy and guidelines of the FAA for monitoring the performance of airport owners under its obligations to the Federal Government.

Section 1-5 - AUTHORITY. Responsibility to ensure compliance with airport owner obligations is vested in, or imposed on, the FAA by law or through FAA contractual authority.

  a. Surplus Property Transfers. Surplus property instruments of transfer were, and are, issued by the War Assets Administration (WAA) and its successor, the General Services Administration (GSA). However, Public Law (P.L.) 81-311 specifically imposes upon FAA the sole responsibility for determining and enforcing compliance with the terms and conditions of all instruments of transfer by which surplus airport property is or has been conveyed to non-Federal public agencies pursuant to the Surplus Property Act of 1944.

Section 4-13 - The owner of any airport developed with Federal grant assistance is required to operate it for the use and benefit of the public and to make it available to all types, kinds and classes of aeronautical activity on fair and reasonable terms and without unjust discrimination. A parallel obligation is implicit in the terms of conveyance of Federal property for airport purposes under the Surplus Property Act. Land transfers under Section l6, Section 23, or Section 516 are authorized by the same statutes and for the same purposes as grants under FAAP, ADAP, and AIP and the same obligations will apply.

Section 4-15 - The prime obligation of the owner of a federally assisted airport is to operate it for the use and benefit of the public. The public benefit is not assured merely by keeping the runways open to all classes of users. While the owner is not required to construct hangars and terminal facilities, it has the obligation to make available suitable areas or space on reasonable terms to those who are willing and otherwise qualified to offer flight services to the public (i.e., air carrier, air taxi, charter, flight training, crop dusting, etc.) or support services (i.e., fuel, storage, tie down, flight line maintenance, etc.) to aircraft operators.

In 1990, after two initial studies in 1971 and 1980, the Suffolk Legislature and County Executive in Resolution No. 1145-1990 approved the Airport Study and Master PLAN as being in "the County's best interest."  That plan provides the policy and guideline for determining short range needs as well as the consideration of long range forecasts for the future use and development at the Suffolk County Airport, including existing and potential use of the airport for aviation purposes, Air National Guard purposes and industrial purposes.  It further specifies that the primary purpose of the County's airport property is aviation, with its essential operating surfaces such as runways and taxiways, to provide maximum operational efficiency and safety.  The plan further states that the itinerant aircraft apron will need to be expanded beyond its present parking capacity on the flight line in order to meet forecast demands.  Hangars were proposed adjacent to Taxiway W but could be placed in areas other than depicted on the plan.  The current proposed action is for aviation purposes and is in conformance with the FAA deed covenants and the 1990 Airport Master Plan. 

Colonel Francis S. (Gabby) Gabreski

Colonel Francis Stanley Gabreski had his first war time assignment with the 15th Fighter Group in Hawaii and was at Wheeler Field when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. In November 1942, he went to England and flew 20 combat missions in a Spitfire before transferring to the 56th Fighter Group in England flying P-47 Thunderbolts.

In July 1944, Colonel Gabreski was on furlough awaiting transportation directions to the United States when he volunteered to lead his squadron into Germany. Returning, he elected to hit a German air field that had many planes parked on it. In a low level attack on the airfield, his propeller tips hit the ground causing him to crash land. He fled from his aircraft and eluded the Germans for five days. He was captured on July 20, 1944 and spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft I prisoner of war camp and was liberated by the Russian Army in April 1945. He ended the war with 28 enemy fighters destroyed in air combat - the joint highest score for a USAAF pilot in Europe. During his tour in the European Theater of Operations, he flew 166 combat missions.

In June 1951, Gabreski was back in combat during the Korean War, flying F-86 Sabres, where he once more excelled becoming the eighth 'Jet Ace' on April 1, 1952. He ended up with 6½ Mig 15s to his credit.

In August 1949, Colonel Gabreski was reassigned to the 56th Fighter Group at Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan, as Commanding Officer. In June, 1951, he was assigned to the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing in Korea and later as Commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. While with the 51st, Colonel Gabreski became history's eighth "Jet Ace" on 1 April 1952.

Colonel Gabreski returned to the United States June 16, 1952, and was assigned to the Office of Inspector General, USAF, at Norton Air Force Base, California, where he was Chief of Combat Operations Section.

In 1954, Colonel Gabreski was chosen to attend the USAFAirWarCollege at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, graduating in 1955. He was then assigned to Headquarters, 9th Air Force, Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, as Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations. In the summer of 1956, he was assigned to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina, as Commander of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing.

After 4 years at Myrtle Beach, Colonel Gabreski was assigned to command the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, F-100 unit at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.

In 1962, he was selected by General Emmet "Rosy" O'Donnell to be his Executive Officer at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. In the summer of 1963, the Colonel assumed the post of Inspector General for the Pacific Air Forces. His last assignment before retiring from the military was Commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at Suffolk County Air Force Base, New York, from August 1964 to November 1967.

Colonel Gabreski accumulated over 5000 hours flying time, with 4000 hours of this being jet time and has a combined score of 37.5 enemy aircraft destroyed (34.5 aerial victories) during World War II and the Korean Conflict.

Tens of thousands more who served in World War II are buried in Calverton National Cemetery, including Francis S. Gabreski.

Gabreski’s tactical skills and courage earned him the title, “America’s Greatest Living Ace,” according to the National Cemetery Association. In 1944, awaiting leave, he volunteered for one more mission, crashed and was captured and held prisoner until March 1945. He briefly left the service in 1946, but reenlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1947 and served in Korea. Highly decorated and respected, he retired in 1967.

Gabreski died January 31, 2002 and is buried at Long Island Calverton National in Section 14 (grave 724).

Gabreski Gravesite


More information can be found at these links: 

http://www.thisdayinaviation.com/28-january-1919/

https://youtu.be/oQIeRxA_fA0

Suffolk County Government

H. Lee Dennison Bldg

100 Veterans Memorial Hwy
P.O. Box 6100
Hauppauge, NY 11788

Riverhead County Center

County Road 51
Riverhead, NY 11901