Bay State Challenge: On The Road

This is the second part of a multi-part post. If you're just joining us, you might want to start at the beginning.

A public airport straddles two worlds. It's a business, occupying a piece of land with its own history, within a community that has its own character. At the same time, it's part of a global network whose nodes grant privileged access to the most amazing mode of travel ever devised. Every airport, from the tiniest grass strip to the biggest international jetport, is a doorway between a specific patch of ground and a vast empire of the sky.

I decided to visit some more of my local airports - the ones inside that magical FAA-defined radius of 50 nautical miles - from the ground side. Trips to many of these facilities are actually faster by car, and it also gave me a chance to see them from the same angle - if not the same perspective - as the people who live around them.

Cops, Indians and ice cream

The first stop was the Open House on 20 June at 0B5, Turners Falls, MA. The area around the town was the site of a major battle in King Philip's War. According to the official story I learned in school, that was the bit of American history where a band of hardworking farmers defended themselves against the marauding savages who'd attacked them from the forests. Another interpretation is that a bunch of pale-skinned recent immigrants initiated a genocidal attack against families who'd lived on that land for generations. The one thing that's not in dispute is that a lot of people died violently there, and many of them probably didn't deserve it.

But on today's trip, my 9-year-old daughter Sophie was with me, and in Sophie's geography there is only one thing of note in Turners Falls: ice cream. She's not alone in that respect; the Country Creemee stand across the street from the airport probably draws over half the summertime air traffic at this little field.

Airplanes on the ramp at the Turners Falls Open House.

The Open House also gave me the opportunity to knock two more things off the Bay State Challenge list: an "aviation event" and one FAA safety seminar. The seminar was a good discussion of risk management. Besides a few dozen civilian pilots, the audience included a group of state troopers who'd arrived in a pair of the Commonwealth's high-tech choppers.

After the seminar, we walked through the little show. A small display of airplanes on the ramp, some booths featuring local RC flying groups, and a few antique cars rounded out the scene. Sophie enjoyed playing with a flight simulator one of the groups had set up. There was also a table with the blueprints showing the plans for some airport upgrades, a topic that's often touchy in communities near runways.

Nifty little ship at Turners Falls.

In Turners Falls, the controversy reaches all the way back to the area's ancient massacre. The airport planned a much-needed taxiway renovation a few years ago, but the plan got stalled by Native American tribes arguing that the taxiway in question crosses sacred land. From the blueprints, it looked as if the airport, town, and tribes had finally smoothed things over, and the project was ready to proceed.

After checking out the displays, Sophie and I sat at the picnic tables outside Country Creemee, enjoying the sunshine and a couple of enormous soft-serve ice cream cones. The state troopers performed a textbook departure, hover-taxiing over the contested territory to the runway threshold before climbing and leaving the pattern, all in a precisely flown two-ship formation. We got back into the car and headed home.

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