TETERBORO — Stephen Riethof, dressed in his U.S. Air Force uniform, stood at the front of a Martin 2-0-2 on Saturday afternoon and belted out a simple question to those aboard the 1950s-era airliner: “So, where are we going?”
“Is this plane really taking off?” one youngster responded, fastening his seatbelt.
“How about Africa?” one parent said, as the would-be passengers — a combination of parents and their young children — joined in laughter.
“Oh, ma’am, you’re on the wrong plane, then,” said Riethof, who explained to the group that the aircraft was built for much shorter trips, like Newark to Boston.
Not to mention the aircraft was nowhere near ready for takeoff. The plane, which is currently undergoing a cosmetic restoration to its cockpit, was merely an exhibit — one of several open to the public this weekend for the 40th anniversary of the Open Cockpit Weekend at the Aviation Hall of Fame and Museum of New Jersey at Teterboro Airport.
Despite the rain, dozens of families and children came out to the museum, which is a showcase for more than a century of Garden State aviation history.
“Everything you’re going to see here is ‘New Jersey,’Ÿ” assured Riethof, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and the museum’s associate director.
Young boys and girls toured the cockpits of several planes and helicopters parked behind the museum. There was a TWA Convair 880 jetliner, the rare Lockheed-designed Bush Plane, the Cobra AH-1 gunship helicopter, and the HH-52A Coast Guard helicopter, among others. Children were also able to learn how planes work through the “Little-Cut-Up” aircraft control demonstrator, and from other exhibit items donated from local astronauts.
Riethof spends most of his time answering questions from visitors, like those in the Martin 2-0-2. As he walked through the exhibits, guests stopped to listen to him tell stories of famous icons — like Amelia Earhart, who once flew planes at Teterboro, or Buzz Aldrin, a Montclair native and the second man to walk on the moon.
But for Riethof, himself an inductee of the Aviation Hall of Fame, the importance of the museum becomes evident when young children take advantage of the resources available to them.
“You are seeing exactly what I feel is most important,” he said, as he pointed toward the children exploring the cockpits of the various planes.
“It’s getting the youngsters and teens and showing them what aviation is, explaining to them that aviation is not just about pilots and a flight attendant,” he said. “Aviation is extremely interesting and it would make for a wonderful career.”
Open Cockpit Weekend continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and children under 12. Children ages 2 and under are admitted free of charge.