COVID-19 has Americans yearning to fly planes

By Jared Gendron

Almost 50 years ago, David Vroom’s brother bought him a flying lesson at Taunton Municipal Airport in Massachusetts. Since then, Vroom has never looked back — just up.

Vroom, his wife, Vicki, and their business partner Dennis Ouimette co-own Scenic Flights of Acadia on Route 3 just north of the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton. From early May through mid-autumn, the outfit offers flying lessons and sweeping aerial tours of Acadia National Park and beyond. Passengers can go up in either a four- or six-seat Cessna, a five-seat Cirrus or a newly acquired biplane. They can choose from a selection of tours — from seven Maine lighthouses to fall foliage — lasting for as little as 30 minutes and for as long as one hour and 15 minutes.

Vroom had a wide-ranging career as a pilot. The aircraft he has flown vary from a 184-passenger Boeing 757 to a two-seat, single-engine plane. He obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 1979 and joined Scenic Flights of Acadia as a flying instructor that same year. At the time, the former Bar Harbor Airlines ran the aerial tours, which is where he met his wife. A year later, he started piloting the company’s commuter flights to and from Boston and eventually for national and international air carriers. 

During his career, Vroom has flown in South America and Europe. Memorable sights stick out in his memory such as the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) over Alaska and seeing the day dawn over the Atlantic and Europe.

Through the years, the pilot has forged many friendships through flying. 

“Being a flight instructor, one of the things is you usually end up making lifelong friends,” he said. “I have friends from way back from the 1980s that I’m still friends with. You make a lot of contacts with people on the way.”

The Vrooms and Ouimette acquired Scenic Flights in 2006. Now retired from the major airlines, Vroom devotes his time to helping others become pilots and earn their certificates.

Vicki Vroom says demand for the scenic flights has increased since 2019. So has the number of people who want to learn how to fly planes. 

“It’s definitely busier now than even 2019,” she said. “People just want to get out. They’ve been inside for a while, and now they’re making up for it.” She also noted that a lot of their newer customers are coming to Maine for longer periods of time. “Now, we’re seeing people from farther away — they’re coming from Pennsylvania and New Jersey.”

At the airfield in Trenton, Scenic Flights of Acadia’s flying students learn about the four-seater Cessna 172 Skyhawk from front to back. The instructor explains how the wings work, where to check the fuel and oil and how to safely board the plane. First introduced in 1956, the light sport aircraft has the notoriety of being the best selling, most widely flown plane of all time. It also is said to be easy to fly. 

Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport is too small to have its own air traffic control tower. So, before taking off and landing, pilots communicate via radio with one another in the air. 

“We kind of treat [the runway] like a stop sign, versus a traffic light; a traffic light would be like at an airport with a control tower,” David Vroom says. “There’s an airplane that just took off on Runway 35. [The flight instructor] just talked to them, and now he’s taking off on the next runway here. So, we just talk to each other.”

Once settled in the cockpit, the instructor goes over the aircraft’s instrument panel and how to check the altitude, wind speed, direction and air temperature. He also shows how to use the control wheel once in the air. Wearing a headset and with safety belts secured, students practice using the foot pedals. The pedals steer the aircraft left to right and start the brakes. They also control the rudder, which directs the plane’s rotation or yaw just like a boat. 

A caution for first-time fliers in a small plane: brace your stomachs. As the Cessna Skyhawk taxis down the runway, it gradually accelerates. Then, the plane thrusts forward like a pinball cracking up a ramp. The aircraft’s nose rises, and the wheels lift off the ground. The craft shudders mightily during the ascent as its weight transfers from landing gear to wings. At the desired altitude, the plane cruises at 2,000 to 5,000 feet. At that altitude, the Downeast region’s forests, lakes and islands reduce in size visually and look like elements in a diorama.

Taking the wheel, beginner pilots learn the fundamentals of turning, descending and air speed. They also get to see plenty of coastal scenery and freshwater bodies resembling puddles on a finely groomed golf course. The Acadia National Park’s ridges and great peaks resemble one emerald-green dune. Mountains off to the east fade into the atmosphere. Beyond, the Atlantic Ocean’s glistening surfaces merge with the clear blue sky.

For first-time flyers and passengers: don’t let the flood of information — or sensory load — overwhelm you. It’s alright to be tense. Pilots will tell you that if you loosen up, so will the aircraft. Like wielding a sword, think of the plane as an extension of yourself. 

Research has shown riding in a plane is considerably safer than driving an automobile. At the wheel of a car, you must maneuver through traffic, navigate irritable drivers and look out for squirrels with death wishes. But in the air over Acadia, nothing stands between you and the edge of the world.
Scenic Flights of Acadia operates seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The company offers tours and lessons from May to mid-October. Those interested learning to fly must provide proof of citizenship; noncitizens beforehand must notify the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Scenic flights range from $99 to $229 per person and 25 to 75 minutes. Flying lessons are $150 per hour for the airplane $55 per hour for the instructor. To reserve your flight, go to https://www.scenicflightsofacadia.com/.