As a writer, it’s not often that I drive to an interview with butterflies in my stomach. However, last Wednesday morning, I was smiling a bit nervously as I approached Sanford Airport to meet Dave Truckness, owner of Atlas Aero Scenic Biplane Tours.
Mostly, though, I was just plain excited – no pun intended – to have the chance to take a biplane tour of southern coastal York County. It was a beautiful, slightly humid morning, and the weather conditions seemed perfect.
Sanford is a small regional airport and is rather untouched by the era of strict regulations, so I simply drove up, parked, and walked onto the tarmac. Dave greeted me warmly and introduced me to his plane.
His plane is a 1933 biplane that was fully restored in Pennsylvania in the 1990s. Dave has owned the plane for three years, but he has been a pilot for over 30 years. He served in the Navy for five years, and then flew commercially for 28 years.
Looking at the plane is a bit like looking at a museum exhibit. Biplanes date back to the earliest years of aviation – the Wright brothers’ era, but the plane meets all current safety standards.
Dave has loved airplanes and flying since his childhood, a time, he recalls, when airports had more in common with playgrounds than with Fort Knox.
As he grew up, his fascination with aviation did not disappear. “I understand why Charles Lindbergh once said, ‘Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life?’” Dave told me, adding, “Some people can work inside, and some people have to be outside. I’m one of those people who has to be outside.”
This venture, then, suits him perfectly. He has been giving rides to friends and family members for years, but this is his first season offering tours to the public. He has given tours to “kids” from ages 8 to 87. His plane is a WACO F-2, a model that was originally built as a recreational aircraft and is widely regarded as biplane pilots’ favorite aircraft to fly.
I love to fly, and small planes have never frightened me, so I had no trepidation as I climbed up onto the wing and into the front seat of the open cockpit. Dave has a good sense of humor, though, and as I got buckled in, he reminded me that we wouldn’t be doing any acrobatic maneuvers or loop-de-loops.
Dave is as good a tour guide as he is a pilot. The take-off was smooth, and once we were airborne, he was quick to identify points of interest as we headed east toward Kennebunkport.
We sailed along at about 95 miles per hour and quickly climbed to 1000 feet. It took me a few minutes to get my bearings and begin to recognize local landmarks. I had never really appreciated how heavily wooded this area still is until I saw it from the air.
Dave took me over the Bush compound at Walker’s Point at an altitude of 1500 feet. He says federal regulations would allow him to fly as low as 1000 feet over the Bush family compound, but he likes to be a little higher than that, and he is careful not to circle the spot more than once.
“I don’t want anyone to get nervous,” he says with a smile, explaining that this patch of airspace is monitored closely by radar.
From there we continued south at an altitude of about 1000 feet, hugging the coastline as we flew past Kennebunk Beach, Drake’s Island and Wells Harbor. We took one a brief detour inland to fly over Laudholm Farm, and then it was on to Ogunquit, where we had a great view of the Marginal Way.
Again, I was amazed by the bird’s eye view of the coast. This aerial perspective gave me a new understanding of what people mean when they refer to Maine’s rugged, rocky coastline. We flew over Short Sands and Long Sands beaches in York and got a spectacular view of Nubble Lighthouse and Cape Neddick.
From there, we headed inland again, over Mount Agamenticus and then over North Berwick and back toward Sanford. Imagine my delight when I located my neighborhood in Wells. Then Dave treated me to a couple of passes directly over my house.
The landing was perfectly smooth. Dave says mornings and early evenings are usually the best time to fly, because the air is cooler and less bumpy. Up to two passengers can ride in the plane’s very comfortable front seat.
It is evident that Dave loves giving these tours, and the rates are very reasonable. For two people, a half-hour ride is $150 and a one-hour tour is $235. He is also happy to customize tours based on his client’s interests. His is not a walk-up business, but he is flexible and available for tours most of the time, weather permitting, through the summer and fall.
For more information and to arrange a flight with Dave, call 207-332-4174 or visit www.AtlasAeroLLC.com.
I cannot imagine a more exciting way for locals and tourists alike to see the unique beauty of southern Maine’s coast. As for this writer, I drove home from the airport with a grin plastered across my face and the windows of my car rolled down – all the way down.http://www.touristnewsonline.com/amusements.html