Gaudy yellows, reds, and blues; noses pointed towards the sky; 48 bush planes and one little RV-4 waiting for the fog to clear at Wentworth. The pilots ate eggs and bacon for breakfast. Isaac played with Travis and Maura, his annual Wentworth friends. Around 8 AM an airplane circled overhead. We all stared up, trying to see the plane above the fog. No luck, they flew away. Around 9AM the fog started to break and Mike from Brookline circled in through a hole overhead. We held our pilot’s briefing and by 10AM, the host was in the air.
First went the slow planes — Cubs, experimental Cub-likes, and Super Cubs, then the fast group — Bearhawks, 180s, Huskey, Helio Currier, and me in the RV-4. All that was left of the fog was scattered white clouds floating here and there. They highlighted the bright sun on the red and orange and green leaves below. Northbound from Wentworth we flew through a valley on the west side of Mt Moosilauke. A large cloud clung to the peak above us, made all the larger by gray smoke from a wildfire on the other side.
North of the Whites, NH changes to rolling hills, each one in vibrant fall color. Tyson and I caught up with George and Heather for some photos. Then we regrouped at a grass strip in Colebrook. It had a few dilapidated hangars with airplanes tied down inside. Sad to see an airport in that shape, but the grass runway was well mowed. I did find a squished skunk three quarters of the way down. With the fast group now all collected together, Bill took off and led us to Dicksville Notch.
Dicksville Notch is the briefest of the notches. Crawford and Franconia Notch are a mile or two long gulf. Dicksville looks like a river cut through a single band of granite forming two flat topped cliffs on either side. Bill wasn’t sure how much down draft the wind would create in the notch. He flew first and slightly over the notch to test conditions. I intended to fly second, enough behind to hear his report, but I overran him and had to pull off to the north. Behind me, I heard some of the others fly through the notch and some over.
Next we were to land at Errol or the U strip, but lobster rolls beckoned us from the Maine coast. Tyson pulled off and headed north to the U strip where some of the slow group was still playing. I throttled up and flew ahead to Bethel ME for gas. East of Errol is Lake Umbagog and Maine. I wish I knew how to photograph the scenery around Lake Umbagog. Instead, I satisfied myself with admiring the red maples rimming the deep blue lake, the green hardwoods and pines coloring the hills, and more maples spilling out into red and orange pools in the swamps. The Mahoosuc Range, still mostly green leafed, rose between the lake and Bethel.
Normally I would have just flown straight over the Mahoosuc Range at three or four thousand feet, but in the spirit of the weekend, I decided to follow Rt 26 through the valley. Much like the difference between hiking the straightest route along a road vs following a meandering woods trail, flying the valley was much more engaging. I thought to myself, “you know, I may not like the same airplanes as the others, but flying low and slow sure is fun.”
I arrived at Bethel just as a large twin engine was starting to pump gas. By the time the twin’s two giant tanks were full, the other airplanes from the fast group were stacked up behind me. Tyson skipped the fuel stop and flew direct to lunch. I chose to stay with the group for more low and slow flying.
Bill led the way again playing tour guide to the four of us in our little flock — Bill in the Husky, Mark and Andy in their Bearhawk, 3 old southern gentlemen in the Helio Courier, and I. We regrouped at Maple Ridge, a thin raised strip of gravel with a lip too steep even for the super cubs to taxi off. Being tail draggers, we spun in place and took off one in front of the other trying not to blast each other with sand. We ducked under Portland’s airspace and toured around to Casco Bay east of the city. As we turned south, we spotted thin chalk lines of clouds over Portland. Their eyebrow-arches glowed in the sun under the higher dark overcast.
Spurwink was busy with bush planes flying in and out. I caught up with Isaac and Tyson for lobster roll lunch. Mark, the other Bearhawk pilot who had flown in our group, was already researching the afternoon flight plan on his tablet. It was raining west of Wentworth — a big line of rain in Vermont about to sweep across New Hampshire. A lot of the Ohio and southern pilots left Saturday morning because of the tropical storm heading north. If they hadn’t left Saturday, they would be stuck until Wednesday. Our weather wasn’t from the tropical storm, but it was still a problem.
Everyone came up with their own plan for flying back to Wentworth. Tyson needed gas, so we flew to Concord, anticipating the weather migh pass by while we fueled. I took off first. Spurwink and over the ocean was fine, but at the coast line, the overcast dropped to a thousand feet. Already it was looking grim. I did not want to skud run all the way to Concord. But just as I was thinking of turning around, 5 miles in from the coast, we flew out from under the gray band into a region of high overcast. The radio was all achatter with pilots navigating back to Wentworth.
To the west, Mike was departing Plymouth. He said the clouds closed in behind him as he left. This agreed with the radar showing rain arriving at Wentworth and neighboring Plymouth. To the east of us, I heard pilots trying to escape the coastal clouds.
“The ceiling is too low this way,” said one voice.
“Follow us north” another voice answered, “around Portland. Someone said it’s better north.”
And then from someone farther inland, “I’m at Moultonborough and it’s clear here. We should be fine getting to Wentworth.”
I doubted that last statement given Mike’s report and the radar showing the rain had not yet reached Moultonborough.
Tyson and I flew under one brief rain shower and landed at Concord. There we ran into Thor, a friend from skiing. We chatted while waiting for the weather to pass, about an hour. Then we flew up the back side of the front.
The ceiling was high and visibility was good, but there were wispy clouds wandering around high and low. It looked like the valleys might suddenly fill with fog, or a group of clouds in front of us form a solid wall.
Neither happened. We made it safely back to Wentworth. Not everyone did. Jenn said the conversation at dinner sounded more like a glider convention, “who made it back? who needs a rescue by car?” Three airplanes left the coast too late. Fog and clouds surrounded them on the ground at Biddeford. Bill, Mark, and Tom all parked their planes at Tom’s place near Concord and drove up. Dave from eastern VT and other locals flew home and drove back, anticipating the weather would deteriorate Sunday.
John and Jenn invited local Wentworth families to the giant Alaskan seafood feast since so many pilots had left early. There were fewer airplanes than tents and not many tents. That night, Wentworth was quiet except the drip drip of rain.