Your Ideal Aircraft Can Make an Old Trip Seem New

After decades of traveling to the same spot in Maine, a family undergoes a transformative experience.

Annie shared the Bar Harbor ramp with jets including a Falcon 900. [Credit: Alexa Kemeny]

I clearly recall the day in 1999 when my wife, Alexa, and I were driving to Bar Harbor, Maine, for a kayak excursion. Before reaching the busy downtown area, we passed the airport—Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (KBHB)—and as the road drew nearly parallel with Runway 22, we spotted a Mooney on its takeoff run.

The airplane swept past us, lifted off, and climbed smartly before flying out of sight on a south-by-southwest course, essentially headed toward New Jersey, which is home for us. Who knows where the Mooney was headed, but I recall telling Alexa that it would be in Jersey in a couple of hours. I think that fleeting experience planted a seed. Someday, somehow, I thought, we are going to land there. 

More than a decade passed before I resumed flight training, which I had abandoned a decade earlier. And it took just about 10 more years for our wheels to kiss that lovely pavement this spring. Annie, our Commander 114B, was dealing with a headwind, so our flight took 2 hours and 20 minutes. Winds favored Runway 4 as we approached over the Mount Desert Narrows, but shifted, so we circled to 35.

This Lear also reminded us that there are still faster ways to get to Bar Harbor. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

Our son, Ben, worried aloud that the car rental desk would close soon and all this circling was eating up time. We had earlier flown a big 360 to lose altitude. But I was more than happy to draw out what probably was my most anticipated landing so far. Adding to the joy, Annie looked great among the jets on the ramp.

Almost anyone who has spent much time traveling in small piston aircraft will tell you to expect delays and always be prepared to drive in a pinch. This is especially true for VFR pilots like yours truly. But you should also remember that well-planned flights typically work out fine, and sometimes the stars seem to align in the making of a near-perfect trip. The recent Bar Harbor flight was one of those. It was as if the weather knew how long we had waited and gave us a break.

While we had focused for years on how much quicker the trip would be by air, that element took a back seat to the scenery and the small-aircraft point of view. You simply see so much more from above, including how close you are to the ocean most of the way, though you can’t really tell by looking out the car window. We traded highway monotony for a sightseeing tour. Unlike the airline experience, you can more easily identify points of interest on the ground from 5,500 feet. In the flight levels you lose the details.

Bar Harbor has a diverse airport population, ranging from gliders, vintage biplanes and this 1947 Republic Seabee to modern pistons, turboprops and jets. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

It was those details and their effect on my passengers that made the flight seem priceless. Alexa happily noted how quickly we reached familiar eastbound waypoints like Waterbury, Hartford, Boston, and Portland. She and Ben began an impromptu competition identifying islands, coastal towns, and other landmarks. Ben was thrilled to spot the Deer Isle Bridge and causeway that we have crossed every summer since he was born. It can take a lot to elicit such enthusiasm from a 15 year old, especially one traveling with his parents.

From the air we could see just how indirect the journey is on the ground. Roads meander and double back even more than we realize when driving. However, what stood out was just how stunning the Maine coast is. It was almost surprising. If anything we often wanted to slow down to avoid missing anything. No wonder Alexa and I have been vacationing there together for almost 30 years. It all made sense.

While we have been flying as a family for years, I feel this was a watershed trip. By the time we got home it seemed like everyone was solidly on board with no lingering donuts about the sensibility of owning an airplane. It’s never too late.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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