In the kitchen with Damian Del Grazio

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:50

At the age of 18, barely knowing how to drive a car, Damian Del Gaizo took his first flying lesson — a moment for which he had long waited. And when his time came, he never looked back and has been operating Andover Flight Academy for the past 24 years. “I was always fascinated by airplanes. I would ride my bike to Lincoln Park airport from my house in Towaco and just hang out and watched the planes all day,” said DelGaizo. His plane gazing eventually led him to a job pumping gas at the airport. He had a mentor in Ed Gorski along the way: “Ed was an aviation pioneer, and at one time a mechanic for Amelia Earhart. He instilled in me a love for old airplanes because he was from that era.” Del Gaizo’s first lesson was in a vintage plane from the 1940s. After two years of private lessons, he went onto become a flight instructor teaching people how to fly small four-passenger aircraft. After attending Aviation Career Academy and acquiring a commercial pilot license, he decided to try corporate airplanes. “With a commercial license you can fly for hire. I did this for about two years and realized that I enjoyed teaching more and wanted to specialize in the old planes. I like the nostalgia, romance and most importantly the challenge of flying vintage planes,” he said. “It’s very difficult, but the reward is greater.” So in 1987 after purchasing a restored 1946 Piper Cub, Del Gaizo opened Andover Flight Academy at Andover- Aeroflex Airfield. He created a niche teaching people how to fly vintage planes, which requires a unique set of skills. The airplanes are older, and therefore engines are configured differently. And nothing is computerized. “It takes a greater skill set to fly these planes and carries a certain cache,” said Del Gaizo. As a result, many of his students are licensed pilots. “I teach pilots who know how to fly and transition them to a vintage which takes about 10 hours.” Lessons average about $165 per hour. Andover Flight Academy will teach the novice also. In fact, that’s how DelGaizo met his wife Jill. “She was a student of mine about 14 years ago who came to me because she had a fear of flying. Turns out she liked it,” laughs DelGaizo. But she keeps her day job as a dental hygienist. Another attraction that Del Gaizo offers are rides in his vintage biplanes. For $120, you can get a ride in a World War II navy training plane. He often flies over Lake Mohawk in Sparta. Appointments can be arranged and walk-ins are welcome. Gift certificates are available for the lessons or the rides. Andover Flight draws locally, but has a large Manhattan clientele. The proximity to New York also draws Europeans. For the past three years, Del Gaizo has trained two pilots who come from France. “There are 20 flight schools between here and New York City, but none offering what we do. In fact there are only a few places in the United States that do this; and in Europe this is not really available and is cost prohibitive.” His job has brought Del Gaizo a few celebrity interactions. “Harrison Ford came out in 1995 in preparation for a movie and remained a client for many years. And also, James Brolin." Del Gaizo has been featured in many aviation publications. But mostly, his business relies on word and mouth recommendations. He learned quickly that operating a flight school in the Northeast has its weather challenges: “The biggest nemesis is the weather. Any serious rain, you cannot fly. We have three unreliable factors in this business: people, machines and weather.” So with that in mind, he quickly came up with ski flying — putting the planes on skis so people learn how to take off and land in the snow. This winter-only option is another unique feature that Del Gaizo considers a selling point at Andover Flight Academy. For the past 24 years, he has seen his share of ups and downs. “It’s taken me 20 years to be an overnight success,” Del Gaizo joked. “I really don’t know how to do anything else and that’s what’s driven me to last this long.” to contact the Andover Flight Academy visit or call 973-786-6554. Pasta & fagioli 2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained 1 can crushed tomato Half onion chopped 2 cloves of garlic chopped 1 lb elbow pasta or ditalini 3 cans of chicken broth Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Cook pasta about 8 minutes and drain. In a separate pan, sauté garlic and onion in olive oil until tender. Add tomatoes, broth, and beans to the garlic and onions. Add salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Simmer for 45 minutes and add pasta to combine.