I stand here watching my son play on the beach, enjoying the water and sand…chasing frogs and ducks. I can’t help but flash back 45 years to memories of me playing on this same beach enjoying the water and sand…chasing the great grandparents of those same frogs and ducks. Some of the memories are hazy and come in very short clips lasting only a few seconds but a few of those memories are still quite vivid although still of a very short duration. No matter, I was only five so it’s a wonder I remember much of it at all.
But I do.
I have never forgotten the memories of those seaplanes, mainly Cessna 180’s at the time, coming and going seemingly nonstop all day long. There’s not a doubt in my mind that this was building the foundation for a love affair with the sky—an affair that would span decades and not dwindle in intensity but grow ever stronger as the years pass. I still see those red and white, and blue and white Cessna’s idling slowly away from the dock, then powering up to an ear splitting roar as they struggled to break free of the water’s grasp and climb grudgingly into the warm afternoon air—whisking the plane’s occupants to destinations throughout the north Maine woods and adventures that seemed unfathomable to a child’s mind.
These days I find myself behind the controls of a Cessna 206 idling off that very same dock, looking at those children’s faces on the beach watching my seaplane leave for those same adventures—and they ARE adventures. I can’t help but think of what they must be seeing, what it looks like through their eyes and what they’re thinking as I ease the throttle forward. I always take the time to smile and wave, and they ALWAYS smile and wave back. It warms my heart beyond words.
So as I pull away from the dock minutes after this photo was taken, I look over at my son standing knee deep in the water watching me depart and smile; is his imagination working the magic as mine did all those years ago? I believe so. Whether he flys planes, fights fires, drives heavy equipment, or writes books…it makes no difference. The point is to introduce him to the things during the formative years of his lifetime that help create the positive memories that could ultimately lead to a strong foundation for his hopes and dreams.
I sometimes wonder if those individuals that helped develop and guide me know just how thankful I am for them taking the time? Well I’m sure they do, but I’m going to ensure they do and honor them by paying it forward.
I give Nathan one last glance as I turn the plane towards open water…keep smiling son, rest assured I will devote my life to ensure you have the best chance possible at a long and joy filled life.✈️
Sometimes cars stop short of the strip for landing planes–sometimes they don’t
Silence in my headset, just the steady, comforting drone of the Continental purring in front of me and the normal vibrations felt on my fingertips through the airplane’s yoke and throttle. The radio had been totally quiet other than my position report when I was initially outbound from the airport at Owls Head, my home base. With no one else in the air this early in the morning I pretty much had the sky to myself which is the norm–one of the reasons I love the first and last flights of the day.
Having the sky to yourself is a joyful and fulfilling feeling. It’s as if for a few moments you are the only one alive and all the surroundings; such as the sky and clouds, the ocean and the mountains, are there for you, and you alone. This sort of feeling is a truly unique feeling that has always been very spiritual for me. Of course as the minutes tick away and others take flight, you realize there are other people joining you in your magical domain of the sky and it ever so slightly loses a bit of its allure.
So although I felt I was the only one riding on the gentle, coastal air currents this morning there were others. For example, there were the occasional seagulls down near the dark Atlantic waters floating effortlessly within a few feet of the waves. We had an agreement those gulls and I–they were to stay low and I had the rest of the sky above them to do whatever I please so long as I didn’t violate our contract. That was the agreement from last season anyway…when we had all sorts of altercations with them on Big Green Island (aka Large Green). All I had to do is look out at the end of my left wingtip for a reminder of what happens when a gull plays chicken (and loses) with the plane as one of our pilots found out while landing. No issues today though, they kept their end of the bargain and I planned on keeping mine at least until it was time to land…then I had to descend into their realm. When that time comes I will just have to be looking for them even more so than normal.
Right now though all is well and right in the world, I am in my element. As the power is being slowly pulled back in anticipation of landing at the Witherspoon’s Airstrip on North Haven, I see that I am just coming up on Thayer’s Boatyard, so I consciously slow the Cessna to the proper speed and descended to the correct altitude knowing I am only a couple of minutes at most from feeling the smooth grass and rumbling gravel under my wheels. I had been looking forward to this flight for months. Stuck at my home in Florida during the winter months, I was awaiting the day I’d have a load of mail on-board and be slipping across the bay to this island off the coast of Maine. As a pilot for our company, I get to fly to a number of interesting and challenging locations, but I enjoy this particular flight and destination for many reasons. It’s always enjoyable to drive the mail down to the post office after unloading the plane and gossip with Mary, the Post Master, on all the local happenings. It’s also a great way to ease into a busy day and she treats all of us at the company very well. It’s like visiting family.
Well, it’s time to pay attention and step up my game, this airstrip at Witherspoon’s is known as one of our hardest to land in and takeoff from due to it being extremely short and with significant obstructions on each end. One of the ends is also bisected by a major road on the island and cars are notorious for not stopping at the flashing lights when planes are landing. The locals are very good at stopping for us but the summer residents are oftentimes unaware of the airstrip and its low flying planes or they are just too caught up in the freedom of their vacations to care of such minor annoyances as landing airplanes landing over their roads withing feet of their cars. Either way, the gravel airstrip is in sight and as I line the airplane up for landing I can’t help but notice a big bird out ahead of me. Not a seagull like we were speaking of earlier mind you, this is a BIG bird I’m seeing and he appears to be circling right where I will be coming down over (through) the trees for landing. He is enormous…looks like a turkey buzzard if I didn’t know any better. Obviously he is not aware of the agreement the gulls and I have, or he’s unconcerned with said agreement given his rather large size.
In order to get down and stopped by the far end of the runway we have to fly very close to the trees, nearly brushing them with our wheels, in order to land safely. In doing this we don’t get much room for error and cannot attempt to avoid birds and other objects nonchalantly–there is no room for such luxuries. Just as I think he’s given me some room to work with and will be out of my way, he turns sharply and lines up on a path that will surely intersect mine at the worst point in my landing profile. I have but a second or two to determine if this new flight path of his will miss me sufficiently to be an acceptable option, if not I am triggered to initiate a go-around which will allow me to fly past the field and start the whole landing process over again.
In less time than it took you to read that last sentence I determined there was going to be just enough room for me to safely get by this big pile of feathers providing he didn’t do some erratic maneuver that turned him back towards me, so I continued towards my destiny of meeting the ground–hopefully in a very smooth and controlled fashion. Thankfully the enormous bird continues on his way and I see him pass easily off my left wing about twenty feet away and opening that distance by the second. With him no longer a concern I concentrate fully on the landing and get the plane down safely and in a reasonable distance allowing me to pull off into a parking area mid way down the thousand foot long strip.
As I step out of the plane and prepare to unload my cargo of boxes, letters, newspapers and flyers, I can’t help but look back down towards the end of the runway and think of what all of that landing approach looked like from the birds perspective. Did he even notice me? I’m sure I will never know about his specific concerns, but I do know of a seagull on another island not far from this one that surely wishes he would have dived towards the ground rather than climb upward into the flight path of this airplanes wing!
The plane I usually fly while at work–Sierra Golf–is ready to go on her last flight of the day
The last flight. Anyone that I work with or takes the time to read my ramblings know I truly enjoy the last flight of the day.
Quite often the last flight is given to a “volunteer” of sorts. We tend to alternate the days flights as much as possible in order to maintain a level of fairness amongst the pilots but by the last flight that fairness system can change a bit. For instance, one of the pilots may have a prior commitment outside of work and by seven in the evening we are winding down because we cannot legally fly over fourteen hours and of course we start the duty day by six in the morning at the latest so we are rapidly approaching the end of our duty time (there are exceptions but we rarely use them because they have a duty time cost on the following day which can really throw off scheduling). Well if that pilot has an engagement that he cannot miss and he would have been next in line for the last flight oftentimes we will assign it to someone else to try and help the affected pilot out. In this case the dispatcher will ask if someone will take the last flight. This is where I will usually step in–I love that last flight even when I’m completely exhausted.
To me the completion of the last flight is a symbol of “another successful day of challenging flying” safely completed. Nearly as important, is the last flight of the day is my chance to reflect and unwind…it’s my opportunity to cap off a rewarding day with the proverbial cherry on top. It’s totally therapeutic and allows me to soak in some amazing views because the lighting is usually at its best this time of day, the sun is setting and the flight will happen in a time photographers call the “golden hour”.
This day being no different, what I originally thought was to be my “last” flight was completed and before I could tie the plane down I was asked if I could do one more flight for some friends/frequent flyers that just showed up and were dying to get to their small, remote island to spend the weekend in their cabin.
It only took me a nanosecond to jump at the opportunity to fly again even after having completed a long, grueling day. This flight was all set to be a sunset trip on a beautiful evening and the potential to see a great sunset was there given the atmospheric conditions–so I offered the copilot’s seat to a friend and the four of us made the ten minute flight out to Green Island in silky smooth air while watching a beautifully deep red sun slip below the horizon leaving behind an afterglow that was breathtaking.
The landing among the seagulls was anticlimactic and we were greeted by an entourage of nearly two dozen folks who were already started on their weekend party…it was an amazing site to say the least. Now understand, this island is extremely small with no trees, three cabins, a flag pole and a grass airstrip. Seeing that many people out waving and greeting the plane as the engine shudders to a stop made for a great atmosphere…sort of festive as if we were celebrating the last ten minutes when we were enjoying the sunset flight.
Before long I had to say goodbye to all those friends and quickly make the flight back to our home airfield before I timed-out. By timing out that meant I was coming up on my fourteen hours and I had to have all my work completed; including securing the plane, fueling as needed and the associated paperwork. I love the final flights of the day…many times they will stick in my memory for years and often top off my day…exactly as this one has done. In terms of legality I cut this one kind of close though, it was exactly eight in the evening when I finished everything so I was right at my duty time cutoff and I legally satisfied the regulations…
…well that’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it,