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30
Apr-2015

Experience coastal Maine from the air

PHOTO COURTESY ACADIA AIR TOURS

An unforgettable journey over the rugged shores, mountain peaks and isolated islands of the Acadia National Park area awaits visitors to Acadia Air Tours. Whether by quiet glider, roaring Cessna or open-air biplane, time spent in the air over Mount Desert Island and the surrounding environs is sure to be an exciting, memorable highlight of anyone’s trip to this little corner of Maine.

“It’s the unrestricted views, the wind in the hair, the rumble of that old-style radial engine that just takes you back to the golden age of aviation in the 1920s and ’30s,” Acadia Air Tours company owner Steve Collins says of his biplane flights, by far the company’s most popular offer. “People tell me that it’s a lifelong experience that they never forget.”

Since his flying career began nearly 25 years ago, Collins has logged over 8,000 hours flying vintage-style planes. He still gets a rush out of flying, but it’s the rush that his customers get from their flight experiences that makes him happiest these days.

“You can read 126 back-to-back reviews on Trip Advisor of all the nice things people say about it,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard to give people a first-class experience, and I think it shows up in those reviews.”

PHOTO COURTESY ACADIA AIR TOURS

PHOTO COURTESY ACADIA AIR TOURS

The flying company’s two Waco YMF Classic biplanes are by far their most popular vehicles. The modern craft are reproductions of a 1930s model that Collins said “get back to the distilled essence of what flying should be.”

Passengers on biplane flights sit up front, two at a time, while one of Collins’ dozen pilots operates the craft from the back. Passengers gain unimpeded views and unlimited fresh air — there is no cabin on the Wacos, so no glass, fiberglass or plastic lies between the passenger and the unmitigated experience of the skies.

Pilot Mike Allen says that when hitting the skies in a Waco one immediately leaves the world behind and that the shift in perspective is just astounding.

“I explain right when we take off that there’s no need to strain your necks, ’cause what you don’t see on the way out you’ll see on the way back,” Allen said. “And I love the great big bear hugs I often get at the end of the flight. That’s the cool part about it, when you can make someone that happy.”

Collins said he especially likes flying vintage-style craft like the Wacos because of their unique balance structure. Known as “tail draggers,” planes such as the Wacos have their third landing wheel on the back, rather than under the nose like most other planes. This arrangement changes the center of gravity of the plane, and makes it much more challenging to fly, he said.

“To fly an old tail dragger takes and entirely different sort of skill level,” Collins said. “The thing that keeps flying these types of airplanes interesting is that you can’t take them for granted. You always have to be ahead of the airplane.”

The second most popular flight at Acadia Air Tours is the glider ride. Quiet, serene and effortless, Acadia Air Tours’ gliders are towed to heights as high as 5,500 feet before they are released to travel thermal currents and soar on the wind. The experience, Collins said, is like no other.

“You ever see an eagle up there soaring effortlessly, riding the thermals? The glider is the best attempt that I have ever seen to mimicking a bird,” Collins said. “You’re up there, you have no engine, and on a good day you could fly around as long as you want to, working the free energy that is in the atmosphere. It’s the one of the closest things you’ll do to experience the effortless flight of a bird.”

Acadia Air Tours is open from 9 a.m. to sunset, every day of the tourist season. Their menu of flight options is broad enough to suit just about any taste. From quick, 15-minute tours over Bar Harbor to hour-long discovery tours and romantic sunset flights, there is something for everyone at Acadia Air Tours.

Acadia Air Tours

Where: Hancock County Bar Harbor Airport,

968 Bar Harbor Road, Trenton

Contact: 667-7627

Bar Harbor office: Harbor Place-On The Pier, 1 West St., 288-0703.

More information: www.acadiaairtours.com

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]