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Saturday
Feb092019

Favorite Airports

By Eric McCarthy

I’ve still got a lot of this country to explore, but now that I’ve had a chance to fly on both coasts I thought I’d talk about a couple of my favorite airports – so far! In some cases it’s location, location, location – in other words, just where the airport places you, what’s nearby. In others, it’s the airport itself – the atmosphere, if you will. This may turn into an ongoing thing, and I’d love to hear suggestions from you – I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to visit your favorites, but it’s nice to have a list of recommendations.

Since I spent most of my flying life there, let’s start on the East coast.

To learn more about the mission of the Katama Airfield Trust and to support the preservation of the airfield, please go to the Katama Airflield Trust website: www.katamaairfieldtrust.org. (Photo courtesy Katama Airfiled Trust)First up: Katama Airpark (1B2)– I know I’ve mentioned this one before but it’s really one of my all-time favorites! Katama Airpark on Martha’s Vineyard scores on both points – a great little airport and a fantastic destination. Just a short hop from almost anywhere in southern New England, the airport is located in the southeast corner of the island, just south of the picturesque town of Edgartown. Its offers three well-maintained, grass runways, although in all the times I flew there I only landed on other-than runway 21 once. Runway 21/3 is a 3,700-feet turf runway always maintained in excellent condition. The approach to 21 brings you right over Edgartown Harbor and all the beautiful homes and yachts that line Edgartown Harbor and Katama Bay. There’s usually some interesting planes parked there, and they’ve got a nice restaurant at the airport that often requires a wait to get in, but the real attraction is what’s nearby: the beach! Upon landing and paying your tiedown fee, you can taxi to a parking area literally across the street from one of the best beaches on the island. And when you’ve had enough surf, sand and sun, walk back to the road and a trolley will take you to Edgartown for shopping and restaurants. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to get to Katama, but it’ll be high on my list when I get back to the Boston area. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer day!

While we’re ‘at sea’ on the East coast, there are a couple of other island airports that make my list: Nantucket Memorial (KACK) and Block Island State (KBID)

Nantucket is a playground for the wealthy and in the summertime this becomes very apparent at the airport. Gulfstreams, Falcons and Learjets crowd the ramp as they jockey for the premier parking positions. Smaller aircraft trail off to the south, out of sight from the terminal building. There seems to be a natural progression, with the larger jets yielding to smaller Citations; King Airs and Pilatuses (Pilati?) to TBMs and Meridians; and Barons, Bonanzas and Cirruses finally leading to pedestrian Pipers and Cessnas relegated to the back of the lot. But that’s okay – we’re still on the right side of the fence! 

Depending on the winds, the approach into Nantucket will either bring you out over the Atlantic to the south for a landing on runway 6, with a low approach over the beach, or, if the winds favor 24, you’ll get a great view of the Nantucket Harbor as you pass to the north. You’ll be told to report Third Point, the third of the five or six scalloped ‘points’ on the barrier sandbar that creates Nantucket Harbor. It’s a beautiful sight. There are two other runways but the prevailing winds favor these two.

While the airport’s interesting for the heavy metal that gathers there, it’s the charm of the locale that makes it one of my favorites. Just a short taxi ride away, the town of Nantucket is a charming brick and cobblestone village harkening back to the days when it was the whaling capital of the world. Handsome old hotels, inns and restaurants cater to the tourists and summer residents, while quaint shops beckon with their wares. Many will be seen in their Nantucket Reds – faded brick red shorts all in-the-know wear (authentic ones come from Murray’ Toggery on Main Street). And it’s not just in the summer that the town is hopping - we flew in there one December for their annual Christmas Stroll, an event started in 45 years ago. Designed to keep islanders local for their Christmas shopping, it has morphed into a major island social event drawing thousands from the island, the mainland and even internationally. Shops ply patrons with hot chocolate and mulled cider, cookies and fruitcake, while they shop. Streets are lined with decorated Christmas trees, and Santa arrives by Coast Guard Cutter. Many will come out in their best winterwear sporting mink stolls, the latest Burberry fashions and the like. It was a bit comical the year we went as an unusual warm front pushed temperatures well into the sixties, when they’d usually be in the thirties or forties. We peeled off our layers to get down to t-shirts, while the locals dressed to impress in their minks; bet they were hot! Nonetheless, Nantucket is a special place, well worth a visit, just twenty minutes or so from Martha’s Vineyard in a 172.

The last of the southern New England islands on my list is Block Island. A tiny island about a dozen miles off the coast of Rhode Island (which is notan island…), the harbor is just a short walk downhill from the airport, and there you can find a restaurant to serve a clam or lobster roll - yum!! I remember getting an ice cream somewhere near the harbor… Walk a little further to get to Block Island State Beach. There’s not a whole lot to do there, but it’s always nice to get away and explore. Bring a bike if you can, and enough gas to get back home – no gas at the airport…

What can I say - I’ve got a thing for islands! I think part of it is the beautiful scenery – the azure water, the white sand coastline, the beachfront homes, and yachts – mesmerizing! And part of it is knowing that we’re able to do something only possible by air: the ferry to Nantucket takes over two hours, and that’s after you get to Hyannis; which can take hours itself in the summer. Yet it’s an hour, or maybe a little more, flight from most of southern New England, making a day trip possible.

Back on the mainland (sort of…), there’s Chatham (KCQX)located right at the ‘elbow’ of Cape Cod. Chatham’s one of the quaintest of the Cape’s towns, drawing many tourists in the summer, but still exuding old-world charm. The Chatham Bars Inn is a classic beachside New England resort with a stately, shingle-sided, colonial main building and impeccably maintained grounds. There are great beaches there as well – Harding Beach on Nantucket Sound (think warm waters in the summer) and Lighthouse Beach on the Atlantic, outer Cape side (cold water and lately, with a thriving population of seals, sharks…). Hurricanes regularly reshape the sandbars there, so things may not be as they were when I was there last. 

The airport’s a short drive from downtown, but, like the islands, the scenery getting there is worth the trip by itself. The airport also has an old-world feel, with the main building being an old Quonset hut. In the summer it’s fairly busy and, while there are tiedowns on the tarmac, there’s also plenty of parking on the grass next to the runway. One caution: fog can roll in quite quickly; be prepared to move quickly at the first sign of it.

Moving up the coast, Plymouth (KPYM)is another of my favorites. I took my Private Pilot exam there; gave my extremely excited/nervous future wife her first sailplane ride there (I wasn’t flying, although I’d sure like to get my sailplane rating someday!); same for my Dad, when he was suffering failing health (an MIT-trained aeronautical engineer and private pilot, and a brilliant man, he died of complications from Alzheimer’s – very sad; I miss you Dad…).

We used to fly to Plymouth for lunch at their restaurant – nothing special, but a great place to plane-watch - there was always something happening there! Sailplanes, biplanes, homebuilts, helicopters – Plymouth had ‘em all – and probably still does!

Ok, one more, then we’ll call it quits for this installment. 

Flying in the Boston area, I migrated from south to north after I graduated from college, started a career, and started a family. After graduation, I moved back home and lived with my folks south of Boston, and flew out of Norwood Municipal (KOWD). When I move out on my own a few years later, I lived in Lexington, MA and flew out of Hanscom Field (KBED). When my wife and I finally settled down ‘for the duration’, we lived in North Andover and I flew out of Lawrence Municipal (KLWM). These airports will always hold a place in my heart, but not as destinations, but rather, as homes. 

Prior to moving north, almost all of my flying forays had been to the south, to places like Cape Cod and the islands. Oh, I’d venture north to various New Hampshire airports, or west to one of several good airport diners, but for the most part, I went south.

Plum Island Airport has a long history dating back to 1910. (Photo courtesy Plum Island Aerodome, Inc.)When I moved to the north, the previously unexplored North Shore awaited me. Following the Merrimack River from LWM to the ocean, you’ll eventually pass over, or at least near, Plum Island Airport (2B2)in Newburyport, near the mouth of the river. Plum Island Airport has a long history dating back to 1910 – just six years after the Wright Brothers achieved powered flight at Kitty Hawk. The airport sits at a crook in the road; it’s small, with a 2,100-foot asphalt runway and a 2,300-foot grass runway. In the summertime, gliders and ultralites fly from the grass while Cessnas and Pipers use the pavement. It’s a very accessible airport – a great place to sit with an ice cream cone and watch the planes come and go. The security fence is a split rail fence along the parking lot; let’s hope it stays that way.

There’s not much there at the airport – no restaurant, just a small office – but a go mile or so east and you’ll be at another great beach, this one on Plum Island – and a decidedly relaxed, beachy atmosphere. There are a couple of very casual restaurants, but the real action is just a mile or so to the west of the airport: the town of Newburyport. It’s a charming old town that looks like the Hollywood set of a bustling, turn of the century (19th, not 21st…) seaport city – the main road even curves between old brick and granite warehouse buildings (renovated and converted into condos and retail establishments) in such a way that you don’t see ‘off the end of the set.’ Lots of fine dining options and shopping await, many along the water; in the summer there are concerts and other entertainment in the park and on the sidewalks. You can also go whale watching if you’re so inclined. With so many options, you can see why it’s another of my favorite places to visit.

Well, this was harder than I had anticipated! So many interesting places to fly to – rummaging through my old logbook brought back many fond memories of places visited and adventures shared with friends and family. I notice now that all of the favorites I’ve shared here are within a mile of the beach; I’m not sure what that says about me, but I do find the coastline beautiful! I’ve got a few more favorite destinations, and I haven’t even hit the west coast yet…

That’s all for now; until next time: fly safe!

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