'I live right here, and I feel safe,' airport owner says

April 30, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Hoby D. Wolf may occasionally take flight from his Eldersburg home, but he has no plans to leave permanently.

The 71-year-old owner of Wolf Airport lives in a two-story sprawling Colonial surrounded by seven planes. He and other pilots often take off from a 2,200-foot grass runway several hundred yards from his driveway.

Mr. Wolf hasn't the slightest fear for his safety.

"I live right here, and I feel perfectly safe," said Mr. Wolf, owner of a 1976 Cessna and a smaller PA 20 that are parked in hangars at the airport.

But a fatal airplane crash about a half-mile from the airport has rattled the nerves of a few suburban neighbors.

"People get upset about crashes because they don't understand what keeps a plane up," said Mr. Wolf, a licensed pilot since 1945.

The Cessna 172 Skyhawk that crashed into the front yard of a home at 1994 Stillwater Road April 7 had flown over Wolf Airport minutes before but was not scheduled to land there.

Mr. Wolf has several theories about what might have caused the accident. He said he knew Jeff Burbridge, the 44-year-old instructor pilot who died in the crash and that he was experienced and capable.

"He had landed here the day before the accident," Mr. Wolf said. "He had 6,000 hours of flying experience and was a good pilot."

Mr. Wolf said the pilot may have been doing a low pass to "buzz" him on the ground. The plane carried four people, and their weight may not have been evenly balanced, a key safety factor in lightweight planes, he said.

"All air accidents are a combination of little factors," said Mr. Wolf, whose own plane is similar to the one that crashed. "He cleared the utility wires and then couldn't get his nose down. He went into a stall."

As in all fatal air crashes, the National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation. It may be several months before it releases its findings.

Carol Yaffe said she never was concerned about the airport until the crash.

"I never knew about the airport, when I moved here," said Ms. Yaffe, who lives on Frontier Road, a few houses away from the crash site. "I don't like the idea of planes flying so low over our houses. I would feel safer, if they flew higher."

Within hours of the crash, in which two passengers also died, residents were clamoring about closing the airport. Then, Mr. Wolf said, they learned that closing it could make it easier for the county to complete its plans for extending Monroe Avenue to Route 32.

"When they found out I am the only holdup to Monroe Avenue going through, I looked like the best of the alternatives," Mr. Wolf said.

Residents of several developments north of Liberty Road are opposing the proposed road extension, which they fear would significantly increase traffic through the community.

In the 42 years Mr. Wolf has operated the airport, there have been no accidents or injuries there.

"We have had three incidents that the FAA checked," he said. "But, they all involved minor damage to aircraft. There were never any injuries."

Only pilots based at Wolf Airport have reason to land there. Landings are most often restricted to owners whose planes are parked at the field.

"This field is perfectly safe," Mr. Wolf said. "Pilots are limited by the skill necessary to use this airport at all times. They know you have to land uphill and take off downhill regardless of the way the wind is blowing."

Mr. Wolf keeps no fuel at the airport. To refuel, pilots must fly to the Carroll County Municipal Airport in Westminster.

Several neighbors whose homes face the 71-acre airport on Oklahoma Road said they share Mr. Wolf's sense of security.

"That airport is absolutely no problem," said Kathleen Seymour, Mr. Wolf's neighbor for eight years. "They are all seasoned pilots who fly seldom. This is a really peaceful area, even with the airport."

The planes fly over Ray Murphy's house every time they come in for a landing.

"It never bothers me," said Mr. Murphy, a pilot for 20 years. "There really is little traffic, and the pilots who fly in here all know what they are doing."

A new middle school will soon open about a half-mile from the airport.

"When we fly, usually on weekends, the school will be closed," Mr. Wolf said.

Mr. Wolf said he maintains a professional airport where safety is always the top priority. To keep his pilot's license, Mr. Wolf must undergo a complete annual physical.

Zel,.5l "I know I can't fly forever," he said. "I will close the airport myself one day."

The planes are kept on a strict maintenance schedule.

"The planes are torn apart every year for maintenance," Mr. Wolf said. "They aren't like cars; they last years. I know of some built in the 1920s which still fly."

Mr. Wolf said several developers have offered him as much as $3 million for his property but that he is not ready to sell.

"They could build about 140 houses," he said. "I prefer the open space, and I feel an obligation to people fronting on this property."

If he does sell, he would like to work in partnership with the developer. But, selling the property would mean relinquishing a lifelong avocation.

"Where could anyone ever buy property now and get it zoned for an airport?" he asked.

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