Originally published April 1998
On the New York sectional itís listed as a seaplane base. Thatís fine most of the time, but for three months of the year youíd better have something more conventional in the way of gear on the undercarriage. Iím referring to Alton Bay Sea Plane Base, Bravo 18, located on a picturesque lake in the heart of New Hampshire, where in February the Aviation Association of New Hampshire holds its annual fly-in and the runway is any direction you want, nicely frozen, and available for ice fishing.
I admit I was a little leery about the prospect of going to a fly-in at a resort Iíd visited a few months back when the lake trout were biting. But like the Mounties of Canada, the Project Police always get their fly-in, or some such nonsense. Anyway, this was my first opportunity for a fly-in since moving to New England and the winter was getting a little oppressive for a former desert rat. With my official Project Police T-shirt under about five layers of clothing I set out to give them a proper inspection.
When I arrived, about 200 aircraft were already parked. The weather was clear, visibility 20 miles plus, temperature about 10į Fahrenheit, and the wind was right on the center line at around 15 knots. (Figure the wind chill at about minus 24.) The runway, which was actually a stretch of 24 inch thick ice at the center of the bay, was blue-white, running for about 3500 feet. An overrun of about 10 miles provides a margin of safety, but is subject to hazards like bobhouses (those fish huts in Grumpy Old Men, not Waldmillerís place) and pickup trucks. Surprisingly, the runway surface was a little rough. I later learned the area is also a favorite drag strip for snowmobilers who compete with airplanes, ice boats, and fishermen for space on the bay during winter.
Unfortunately, the Project Policing was a little on the light side. Most of the aircraft were small production Cessnas and Pipers, with an occasional Saratoga or Navajo thrown in. At one point a National Guard Huey landed and eight guys in green suits headed for the coffee in a hurry. Metal and rag are preferred coverings, and I didnít see one canard the entire day. In spite of being rather conventional about their airplanes, I found most of the pilots to be genuinely friendly and very much interested in general aviation as a recreational pursuit. Theyíd just rather buy than build the planes.
The fly-in has been held at Alton Bay for about 10 years and the turn out varies with the weather as you can imagine. It can actually get too cold even for these folks who think anything in the twenties in mid February is damn near a heat wave. Besides the cold, a blizzard is a good excuse to not fly, but little else keeps this event from happening. Itís all rather official too. The place has an airport manager, is operated by a chartered flying club, and is approved by both the Feds and the state of New Hampshire. Thereís a Unicom frequency and one of the flying club members has a snow plow for grading the runway surface periodically. And since itís a sea plane base too, it operates year round. In what looks like a long string of boat houses on the shoreline are quite a few planes on floats.
As you can see from the pictures, I was in uniform, but I assure you I was back in my multi-layers of clothing about as soon as the camera clicked. If I hadnít, I soon would have been as blue as the Cessna I was standing beside. I did get asked about the Project Police, but since they didnít offer proper snacks (at least any that werenít frozen) or have any readily available sprinkler heads to mangle, I just gave them the party line on our activities. So, if Chapter One ever gets to the point where they donít squirm and wiggle enough come February when you threaten to arrive en masse, you may want to plan a trip up my way as an alternative. You might want to add Cabin Heat to your checklist and review cold start procedures before you set out. Bring a fishing pole too.
Contents of The Leading Edge and these web pages are the viewpoints of the authors. No claim is made and no liability is assumed, expressed or implied as to the technical accuracy or safety of the material presented. The viewpoints expressed are not necessarily those of Chapter 1000 or the Experimental Aircraft Association.
Revised -- 24 November 1999