From the Right Seat
By Pete Rafle ATP CFII
In the early 1990’s my wife, Connie, was selling advertising for a newly established local newspaper,
U.S. 1. One day, she stopped by Princeton Airport to discuss advertising in the paper. That was the day
that Naomi Nierenberg, and 39N, became of part of our lives. Naomi and Connie discussed the advertising rates and the benefits of advertising to the Princeton market, and soon came to an agreement an ongoing plan of promoting the Raritan Valley Flying School.
After the business was concluded, Naomi coaxed Connie to tell her more about herself and the family.
She told Naomi about our three children, our recent move from Connecticut, my job with a local
company, and our experiences of two furloughs from Pan Am and TWA.
When Connie left Naomi’s office she knew she had found a new friend and encouraged me to check out
the airport and get back into an airplane. Not long after that initial meeting Connie bought a gift
certificate for me for a couple of hours of flight time. After a short checkout, I was declared safe for solo
and rented an airplane a couple of times. On returning from one of these flights, I saw Naomi standing
in the doorway of her office and she motioned for me to join her for a little chat at her desk.
“What are your plans for flying here”, she asked. I replied that I wanted to continue to rent airplanes.
“No, No, No,” she stated, “I need a commercially rated pilot to give rides and other duties. I want you to
work here. You are an ATP, and I don’t want you just renting.”
I knew she was right, and that I wanted to get back into aviation. I was assigned an instructor and soon,
a plan to add a Commercial single engine rating to my ATP was set up. Doug Fritz, the Chief Pilot, gave me the check ride, and my life was changed. I began to give rides, ferry airplanes, and once spread a deceased man’s ashes off the shore of Sandy hook.
During the next couple of years, I added my CFI, CFII, and instructed on weekends until my retirement
from my “day job”. In the spring of 2007, Naomi called me into her office again, a week or so before my
retirement. “ I heard that you are going to retire from that other job, and I need a Chief Pilot.” “Can you
start next Monday?” I said, of course, sounds perfect!
For over 25 years, I enjoyed going to work at the airport, accumulating 4300 hours as a flight Instructor.
Naomi, Dick, and Kenny and, later, Steve were great employers. Frank and honest when needed but
always fair and appreciative when a job was done well.
Naomi was a skillful businesswoman who created a place where people wanted to fly, an atmosphere
that promoted hard work and commitment to making Princeton Airport the best airport in the world. I will miss her great smile and laugh, her generosity, encouragement, sincerity, and trust.
Thank you, Naomi, for all the good times over the years at 39N.
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PS - Naomi was Pete's guest on episode 4 of the Princeton Flying School Podcast.
They had a great conversation on the history of the airport and the flying school.