Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Screen Savers

Small airports have personalities that big ones can’t hope to match

AEROFLEX-ANDOVER. The rural beauty of 12N, with parallel grass and paved runways, is an eye pleaser.
Screen savers are a terrific invention—15-20 images of people, places and things that are dear to me rotate through mine like an automated scrapbook. There are two images, however, that make me want to press “hold” and just sit and stare at them because my day is instantly brighter when they pop up on the screen.

The first is a close-up of Baby Alice, my six-month-old granddaughter. The camera caught her midlaugh, and I defy anyone to look at that shot and not smile. The pure joy she conveys is almost heart stopping.

The other puts me back on final to the airport I called home for over 20 years: Aeroflex-Andover (12N) in Jersey. It was shot on one of those razor-sharp autumn days when the foliage colors overpowered what little haze was bleeding over from the metro area (if you looked down the right wing, the N.Y. skyline and its attendant haze bubble was clearly visible on the far horizon). The ridiculously beautiful rural setting makes me smile almost as much as Baby Alice does. Pristine rural airports have a way of doing that to most pilots.

Although a hard-core westerner, I have to admit that one of the things I do miss about the East as compared to Arizona is the unbelievable number of small airports scattered around the hinterlands, e.g., just over the ridge to the left about a half mile is Jump’s little runway, and a mile or two behind us in the photo is Trinca. Even better, many of the East’s little runways offer the almost obscene luxury of grass, and it may be that it’s the grass that I miss as much as the airports. Out here, in Arizona, grass runways don’t exist because we don’t have grass. There’s something sensual about grass, plus, when it’s located in the boonies, it has a carefree feeling to it as if every landing will be followed by a picnic. Out here, we have lots of hyper-rural runways (read that as being so far out in the toolies that, from pattern altitude, you can’t see even a hint of civilization in any direction), but they’re all dirt. And, even though I love plunking down on a backcountry dirt runway just to see what there is to see, it’s not the same as grass.

Another not-so-minor difference is that the majority of Eastern grass runways are surrounded by rural civilization—farms and such—and may actually be regular airports, albeit tiny ones. They’ll have a small, local flying population attached to them, hangars and all. Those kinds of airports often turn out to be some of the most interesting. They house people and airplanes that don’t exist to the rest of the world because most of the pilots see no reason to venture very far from their little corner of paradise. Even though the surrounding area is dotted with scattered farmhouses and maybe a small town, the airport exists as an island unto itself. And because of that, its lineage often goes back generations; there’s a piece of history or an unusual aerial artifact to be found around every corner.


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