Collecting Delaware Books

Delaware Aviation History

George J. Frebert, Delaware Aviation History, 1998, Dover Litho Printing Co., Dover, Del. 372pp. $40.
Reviewed by Jane Reid in January 1999

George J Frebert
Author George J Frebert

Drive down U.S. 13, and you'll go by the New Castle County Airport, busy with corporate jets, private planes and military reserves training, Dover Air Force Base with giant C-5s passing low over the highway, and lots of little airports dotting Delaware.

George J. Frebert of Smyrna is a retired printer and a private pilot who soloed in 1945 at the age of 16. He has compiled an expansive report on aviation in Delaware. In fact, his book goes far beyond Delaware to put developments there in a national and world context.

One lengthy passage, for instance, outlines Charles Lindbergh's struggles to get a suitable plane. One plane he sought was designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca — but before Bellanca came to Delaware.

Frebert also offers a detailed history of Bellanca, an Italian immigrant who designed planes that broke world records, and whose plant near New Castle employed 3,000 workers on three shifts during World War II.

Frebert has done a thorough job of research. Equally impressive is his collection of photos and other illustrations. The book is generously furnished with black and white illustrations, including two fold-out Aeronautical Sectional Maps (1932 and 1947). Aerial photos by Frebert supplement the older material, sometimes providing "before and after" views.

From the first balloon flight over Delaware in 1834 to today, the book gives a comprehensive look at Delaware airfields, pilots, aviation industries and private aviation. Here are the names of many prominent Delawareans, histories of Bellanca and Atlantic Aviation, the development of New Castle County Airport, the demise of earlier private fields, the rise of Dover Air Force Base. Here, too, are some fascinating asides. For instance, before his Delaware days, Guiseppe Ballanca operated a flying school in Garden City, N.Y., about 1914,. Among his first students was a young lawyer named Fiorello LaGuardia.

Even more welcome to aviation buffs is the information on where the records cited can be found, and especially on where notable old planes can be seen today.

In view of the prodigious amount of information provided, it is easy to forgive that the writing sometimes lacks grace.

If the book has a serious flaw, it is the absence of an index, making specific information difficult to retrieve. Still, the information is there, and the collection of photos is magnificent.

Only 2,000 copies of the book were printed. It is sold through New Castle County Historical Society, Wilmington Dover Litho Printing Co., Dover the Dover Air Force Base Museum, and Sussex Visitors Center, Bridgeville.

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