The Blue Plane in Darby

The famed blue plane perched on Skiles Fielding Montague’s roof in downtown Darby, PA.

“Taking Flight Lessons from Darby’s Skiles Fielding Montague” in Main Line Today (March, 2013).

It sat there for years — one of those oddities that gives a place character and becomes the stuff of legend: the tiny powder-blue plane inexplicably perched on a roof in Darby.

Parked atop a historic Queen Anne-style home on Main Street, the plane has commanded attention and demanded explanation for decades. It remained a mystery to me throughout my youth. Pre-Blue Route, it was the highlight of any trip to the stadiums, the Walt Whitman Bridge or the airport.

More recently, I penned a short letter expressing wonder over the landmark. I addressed it simply to “The House with the Blue Plane on the Roof,” Main Street, Darby, PA.

Two days later, a letter came from one Skiles Fielding Montague, flight simulator salesman. That blue plane, he said, was a GAT-1 single-engine simulator, and he’d placed it on his roof in 1977 to help advertise his business. The explanation was followed by an invitation: Would I like to fly one?

And so it was that I found myself on Montague’s doorstep. A giddy sense of fear overcame me. What if it’s all a farce?

When the door opened, I was greeted by a bearded guy who could’ve easily passed for Burl Ives. Montague ushered me into the backyard, pointing to a small building in the corner. “That’s where the flight simulator is,” he confided.

We opened the door, and there it was: a working model of the very plane over which I’d marveled. Montague opened the door of the tiny simulator. I climbed aboard, and he sat down next to me. The space inside was exceedingly tight, much like an enclosed roller coaster or one of those fancy four-quarter sit-down arcade games you’ve seen other kids play.

All the windows — including the windshield — were spray-painted white. “Anyone can fly when they can see where they’re going,” said Montague. “The trick is to learn to fly by using the instrument panel. This, my friend, is what it’s like to fly through clouds.”

For the next half-hour, Montague gave me my first flight lesson. Explaining the various gauges on the instrument panel, he taught me how to steer the plane using the foot-pedal rudder, while also keeping  an eye on the speedometer and altimeter. I proceeded to buck the simulator left and right, frontward and backward.

Had we been 5,000 feet above Darby in a real plane, we’d have crashed on someone’s roof within seconds. I was a truly terrible pilot, but Montague was patient and kind, reassuring me that the coordination necessary to fly takes time to develop.

Coordination or not, I was on cloud nine. I’d uncovered the mystery of the blue plane.

8 Comments

  1. What a great story! I drive by there all the time and always wondered what the story was behind the blue plane. Now I know!

  2. That’s very strange. I thought I had memories of that plane being there much earlier than 1977. We moved out of Darby in 1960 and I thought I remembered passing by it when on my way to school in the 50’s.

  3. I lived in Collingdale and was an operator of the trolleys that went to Darby for many years. I knew what the plane was because I was in the Air Force and we had simulators. So I enjoyed it being on the roof.
    Retired in 1996 and now live in Wisconsin.

  4. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for writing this. I just got real curious about the plane and went googling to find my way here.

    One thing I’m curious about…

    You visited them in 2013, but there’s a news story I found from 2011, in which a fire destroyed a part of the house. In the article, it says Montague sold the place and the new owners kept the plane there. (link: http://www.delcotimes.com/general-news/20110127/darby-fire-victims-family-looking-for-answers)

    So, did Montague buy the place back from them? Or is your blog retelling a story that happened years prior to its publishing?

    Thanks again! My decades-long curiosity can finally rest.

    • Thanks for the comment, Coz. You are correct, Montague sold the place years ago. The story does retell a visit from many years prior to the posting date – sorry for the confusion.

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