One of the world’s most popular airplanes for sightseeing, used from Alaska to Africa, is now available for scenic tours of Acadia National Park and the surrounding area. It’s called the AirVan.
Acadia Air Tours, based at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport in Trenton, added the plane, as well as a helicopter, to its fleet this spring.
“The AirVan has large windows for panoramic viewing, and the windows are convex, so you can lean against them and look straight down,” Acadia Air Tours owner Steve Collins said. “It has air conditioning and automotive-style seats. It’s like you’re in a minivan.”
Everyone has a headset, so passengers can hear the pilot’s narration and ask questions.
Pilot Mike Allen said the AirVan handles beautifully.
“It’s very docile, very smooth, very responsive,” he said.
A review of the AirVan in Flying Magazine put it in the category of “ungainly looking airplanes whose great utility and flying manners bring with them a kind of charm that belies their looks.”
Acadia Air Tours also offers scenic flights in two open-cockpit biplanes, each of which seats two passengers, and a two-passenger glider. The helicopter seats three.
The AirVan can carry seven passengers, which means the cost of a flight can be spread among more people.
“It brings affordability to the air tour business,” Allen said. “Everybody thinks air tour rides are too expensive. Well, not now.”
The company offers several different tours in each of the airplanes and the helicopter. The shortest, 12-15 minutes, provides views of the northern part of Acadia National Park and the coastline of Mount Desert Island (MDI) as far south as Bar Harbor.
The Acadia Tour, which lasts 20-25 minutes, goes around the entire eastern half of MDI, offering views of the rocky coastline and some of the island’s tallest mountains and largest lakes.
On the 40-45-minute Lighthouse Tour, passengers see everything they would on the Acadia Tour plus the western side of MDI, the Cranberry Isles and the Schoodic Peninsula. This tour flies past seven lighthouses.
The hour-long Discovery Tour expands on the Lighthouse Tour, going farther up and down the coast and past several more lighthouses.
Collins said air tours have at least one advantage over ground tours or even traveling around on your own.
“When you’re in the air, you don’t just see one place and then another. You can see the whole mosaic and have a much better appreciation for the entire island and where everything is in relation to each other.”
Collins said some people find the idea of sightseeing from a helicopter especially appealing.
“With our helicopter, you’re essentially in a Plexiglas bubble, so you have outrageously good views and unrestricted photography opportunities,” he said. “And the helicopter has the potential to pause and look at things as you go around the island.”
Acadia Air Tours’ helicopter specialist Matt Hallet said that for anyone who has never flown in a chopper, the lift-off is a special thrill.
“It’s an interesting experience to pick up into the air without any forward air speed,” he said. “It feels like you’re levitating.”
The views that passengers see on the glider flights is much less predictable than on the powered flights because where the glider goes depends so much on atmospheric conditions. An airplane tows the glider into the sky and then releases it to soar upward on thermals, swoop with the wind and settle back down to earth.
“It’s the closest thing to being bird-like you’ll ever experience,” Collins said.
Acadia Air Tours is located at based at 968 Route 3 (Bar Harbor Road) at the Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (667-7627). To make reservations, call 288-0703. The company also has a sales office at Harbor Place — On The Pier, 1 West St. in Bar Harbor. For more info, visit www.acadiaairtours.com.