I flew to Maine on Saturday to support a grass airport in the town of Dover-Foxcroft, north west of Bangor. In small town politics, some townspeople want the airport shutdown. Their latest proposal is to replace the grass airstrip with a solar farm. The resident pilots got wind of the plan a month before the selectmen were to vote. The pilots set up a Facebook page, sent out emails to the local flying network, and scheduled a fly in for the Saturday before the vote. The RAF got involved, AOPA wrote an article, and plenty of local news coverage. I figured I should lend my support too since I had stopped in last year when I attempted to fly to all the airports in Maine.
Diane, a local non-pilot friend, joined me for the trip. We met up with Peter Brown and John Meade at Bethel Maine. For the rest of the flight, we traded jokes about who was faster and slower. I landed first at the airstrip. Diane was impressed by all the planes. She had never been to a fly in before. Said it looked somewhat like a car show. She was also impressed by Jim Crane’s short takeoffs and landings with his Carbon Cub. Several non-pilots commented that he didn’t even need an airport. Jim spent all morning giving rides and demonstrating his airplane’s capabilities. I got interviewed by someone putting together a video of pilot testimonials about the airstrip. The one thing I didn’t do was take photos.
Lately I have felt that my aviation photos all look the same and boring. Our friend Bill Brine was there taking photos — Bill with his foot and a half long telephoto lens; Bill whose photos always place in the SuperCub.org calendar competition. How could I compete with that? In retrospect, I wish I had taken some photos. They wouldn’t have been great, but at least they would have documented that I was part of such a big gathering of pilots. Someone said they counted 30 airplanes on the field, but within the following five minutes I saw three planes depart and three more arrive to fill their parking spots. The arrivals and departures continued all morning.
Neither Diane nor I felt like eating lunch in the cold, so we skipped the food truck at the event and instead got a ride into town from a supportive local. She recognized me from my visit a year ago. We discovered, after Diane pointed at a Piscataquis County sign and asked, “how do you pronounce that?” that Diane had never before been more than a mile into Maine. I decided to show Diane the Maine coast on the way home. Our host agreed, though she said it was a shame it wouldn’t be as pretty this late in the fall compared to mid summer. After lunch, we had a different driver. He told us more of the small town politics and the history of the airport and the family that had donated it.
We flew down the Damariscotta River and I told Diane about the geology of the drowned river valleys and the reversing tides that you can ride upstream and downstream in a kayak. We flew past Casco Bay with its 100+ islands and I told her about the many islands where you could camp and the sights to see: Jewell Island with WW II bunkers and gun towers, and Fort Gorges, a civil war fortress covering an island. We circled my favorite island airstrip and Diane exclaimed over the seals on the neighboring ledges and the sheep on the island. I didn’t say anything. I was evaluating whether we could depart into the strong westerly wind descending from the hill in the middle of the island. Once convinced, I turned my circle into a descent and concentrating on making a perfect landing.
I secured the controls on the RV4 and headed straight for the island’s rocky point. I love to watch the waves crash on the rocks and feel the wild wind blow to the endless horizon. Diane admired the rock formations and the low sun streaking the clouds. I promised to bring her back in the summer time when we could have a picnic and hike around the whole island.
Before leaving, I checked gas, winds, flight time home and sunset time. I wanted to hurry home, but we had a headwind the whole way back. I would be flying into the sun which isn’t fun. Flying to New York state for the day is nicer than flying to Maine. The sun is behind your back both ways. I concluded I had better take the time to stop and get gas. If I was quick, I would get home a half hour before sunset and well before dark.
I taxied all the way to the beach end of the runway. The takeoff went kind of as I expected. The first 100 feet of the runway has a significant uphill grade and the RV barely accelerated. The rest of the strip continues modestly uphill. It took the RV a long time to get airborne, maybe half the 900 foot long runway. Once in the air, we rose into the 10 kt headwind like a Carbon Cub. For future reference, I think my performance numbers were approximately:
- takeoff weight: 1,400lb
- wind: 10kts headwind
- density altitude: -800 feet
- runway slope: 4° to 2° uphill (per Caltopo)
- takeoff distance: at least 400 and probably more like 600 feet
Tyson says I could have gotten off the ground sooner with more flaps down.
We flew past Goose Rocks Beach where Isaac did his first balance brace in his skin on fame kayak. Diane was impressed by the large exposed tidal sand flat. I saw water between West Goose Rocks and sand. The tide wasn’t as low as when we had to portage our kayaks across. Ten minutes farther south, I pointed out Isaac’s crossing of the mouth of the Piscataqua River, the Portsmouth Light, and the Wood Island Life Saving Station. With no airline traffic in sight, air traffic control let me descend through Portsmouth’s airspace down to Hampton.
While I fueled up at Hampton, I only saw two other planes. One of them, a yellow RV 6 or 7 taxied by the tanks on his way to go fly. I waved and then went back to my flight preparations. I warned Diane that I wouldn’t be very chatty on this last leg home. I needed to fly through Manchester’s airspace, and I was going to be half blind from the sun directly in my face.
As soon as I cleared the Hampton traffic pattern, I contacted Boston Approach for traffic advisories. When I signed on, ATC said there was traffic to my four o’clock. I did a cursory scan for the traffic, but I was still busy stabilizing at my cruising altitude. The usual chores of checking engine, heading, trim, and radio settings were twice as hard as normal. I had to alternate using my left hand to change a setting, and using it to shade my eyes so I could see the panel. ATC called back again sounding rather alarmed and said the traffic was converging on me. I looked up and saw the yellow RV to my right waggling his wings. I immediately called ATC to reassure them I had the traffic in sight. I didn’t tell them what I was thinking which was “idiot, showoff.” The yellow RV rocked his wings one more time, did a barrel roll, and then flew away.
Later, when I had time to think, I realized he was trying to share the joy of flight with another pilot, the same sentiment Peter, John, and I had shared by clogging up the radio waves with our chatter in the morning. I like flying best when I get to share it with other people. In retrospect, I wish I had still been on 122.9, Hampton’s frequency, to say hi, or had rocked my wings back. The following morning, I posted the equivalent of a wanted ad on the online Vans forums — “Blue RV pilot looking for Yellow RV pilot after missed connection at Hampton.” No answers yet.
The following Tuesday, the Dover-Foxcroft board of selectmen voted to consider other sites for the solar farm.