Wings and Wheels
If you are a fan of water aviation, spectacular seaplanes in particular, the Wings and Wheels in Hammondsport event might be for you. If you are a fan of classic, vintage, shiny automobiles, Wings and Wheels might be for you.
If you are a fan of the lovely Steuben County village of Hammondsport—638 residents strong according to 2016 figures and “The Coolest Small Town in America” according to readers of Budget Travel—Wings and Wheels might be for you.
If you are a fan of the Glenn H. Curtiss Aviation Museum, built to honor the famous aviation pioneer, inventor, speed merchant, and Hammondsport’s favorite son, Wings and Wheels might be for you.
In short, if you are looking for a family-friendly, fun event with lots of things to see and do, history to experience, and great food to eat on a late summer weekend in the picturesque Finger Lakes region, Wings and Wheels might be for you.
Check that: it is for you.
Wings and Wheels combines all of those things—and more—and is a major fundraiser for the Glenn Curtiss Museum. Evolving from an event known as the Seaplane Homecoming, it happens this year on September 15 and 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days.
Cam Dunlap was involved with the homecoming event, and when the two men who ran it for a number of years decided to step down, and no one else came forward to replace them, Cam looked in the mirror to find their successor as committee chairman.
“The Seaplane Homecoming was pretty much on the chopping block as far as the museum was concerned because there was no one to run it, and I said, ‘Gee, I can’t just stand by and see this thing get relegated to the trash can of history,’” says Cam, a member of the museum’s board of trustees and owner of a seaplane on Keuka Lake since 2008. “So, I jumped in and picked it back up. We started out pretty small and then got things moving along over the course of a few years.”
Moving along—no pun intended for an event that focuses on any number of things that move—is exactly what Wings and Wheels has done, especially with the addition of the car portion of the event. While the seaplanes are clustered at Depot Park on the shores of Keuka Lake, the cars—everything from American muscle cars like Mustangs to Porsches, Ferraris, street rods, and custom-builts—are lined up on downtown streets. Participants can enter their cars in three classes: American Classic, American Exotic, and Foreign Exotic; awards will be given daily in each class, including a Kids’ Choice Award, voted on by the youngsters attending.
“We used to do seaplanes on Saturday and cars on Sunday,” Cam continues, “but, in 2016, the committee, the board members, the marketing committee said, ‘Hey, why don’t we make a weekend of it and combine the two?’ so it became seaplanes on Saturday and Sunday and cars on Saturday and Sunday.”
As for those seaplanes, the primary stars of the event, Cam says he expects anywhere from ten to fifteen, more if the weather is good. The two major types will be represented—floatplanes, which are basically standard planes with the wheeled landing gear replaced with floats mounted on struts under the plane, and flying boats that have boat-like hulls on the bottom of the fuselage on which the planes land in the water.
Curtiss himself was instrumental in designing those types of hulls. “Glenn Curtiss is known as the father of naval aviation and effectively made water flying a practical reality right here on Keuka Lake in Hammondsport,” Cam says. “He was an absolute pioneer in aircraft engines and power flight.”
Those attending—and last year that was about 5,000—can meet the pilots, watch seaplane flying demonstrations, and even take a ride in one. There is no entrance fee, and just a nominal fee to go up in a seaplane for a half hour or so trip with Finger Lakes Seaplanes for that birds-eye view of Keuka’s pristine waters.
“They’ll be coming and going from Depot Park, and we encourage folks who are interested in water flying to experience it firsthand,” says Cam, noting that the rides are among the most popular activities of the weekend. “Oh yeah, my gosh, last year they went out full every trip, starting Friday afternoon until after the event was over on Sunday.”
Wings and Wheels also includes takeoff, landing, and fireboat demonstrations, food “bomb” dropping contests, and a “Seaplane Salute to Glenn Curtiss,” which is a seaplane parade around Keuka Lake with a loop over the Curtiss gravesite in the Pleasant Valley Cemetery. Activities for the kids include face painting and model aircraft building. There is a banquet Saturday night—fifty bucks will get you a great meal at the Pleasant Valley Inn that includes beer, wine, and a silent auction. Food vendors and Hammondsport’s restaurants and shops will be open and celebrating what has developed into a true community festival.
“We reached out to a lot of people in the community, and a lot of them were excited about it and really stepped up,” says Cam. “Now it’s a large community of folks who are all local and who care deeply about the museum helping to make it all possible.”
Sounds like something Glenn Curtiss himself—pioneer, inventor, risk-taker—would be proud of.
Open year-round, the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum is home to a priceless collection of items related to early aviation, motorcycles, and local history, and celebrates the life and accomplishments of Glenn Curtiss. For more information go to wingsandwheelshammondsport.com, curtissmuseum.org, or call (607) 569-2160.