Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
TA-DA! Here it is. In the center ring, ladies and gentlemen, the world’s most famous Cessna 150, which made headlines a few years ago when it blew through the Washington, D.C., ADIZ and the press had a field day.
The 150 is still at little Smoketown Airport (S37) in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and still at work for the Vintage Flying Club, according to a member who didn’t want to be identified.
“We try to keep out of trouble now,” said the poor guy, grimacing, just trying to get a little flying time on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, referring to the misadventures of this airplane and the two pilots who busted the ADIZ.
AOPA’s Phil Boyer didn’t defend these errant aviators. After an honest mea culpa with the media, Boyer called one in for a frank chat. (They had been forced down at Frederick, Maryland.) Amazingly, another pilot from Smoketown did about the same thing a year or two later. What is it up there?
What it is is a wonderful country airfield and a great place to stop. In easy walking distance are some restaurants and motels, including the Spruce Lane Lodge and Cottages that abut the airport. Park your plane near your own cozy cottage and relax. Or if you’re solo, save a few bucks and sleep in the barn house of rustic but comfortable individual rooms. Down the road, there’s always the modern Country Living Inn with quaint décor your wife will enjoy. Then there are the “outlets” on nearby Route 30, but you’ll need wheels.
The surrounding area needs no introduction for those in the East. For others, this is Amish country. Throughout Lancaster County, the Amish live in 19th Century peace and quiet, eschewing the horseless carriage for the horse-drawn. From the air, the place is magic. I can’t explain why those endless neat farms and white barns reflect a special light, but they do. You know you’re someplace different.
There are other attractions, like the Strasburg steam railway and the Pennsylvania railroad museum. (You’ll be stunned by the size of steam engines that conquered the Allegheny Mountains to link Philadelphia with the Midwest.) In fact, the PRR mainline runs right next to Smoketown, still hustling commuters from Harrisburg to Philly. On Base to Runway 27, you’ll think for a second about the catenary wires over those tracks near final. You’ll think more about the highway up-ramp off the departure end of 27, but neither is a real issue.
Both the big Lancaster Airport (with its control tower and restaurant) and free-and-easy Smoketown are inexpensive cross-countries for area pilots. In little more than a half-hour on the Hobbs, you’re in a different culture. I got my last drops of 80 Octane at Smoketown before “L-16-friendly fuel” disappeared from the East. And I got AOPA’s surrogate 1996 Sweepstakes 182 repainted there by Lou at Lancaster Aero. But for whatever reason or no reason at all, it’s worth a stop.
For some, it’s home. Bill Kalin just came back from his IBM career in the Carolinas. He’s happy now just to fly his little Grumman American in retirement. The AA1B looks lonely in the grass parking, though. Like many airports, Smoketown seems too quiet.
At least the Vintage Flying Club guys are tooling around after work on nice fall afternoons. And they’re on their best behavior! No more ADIZ-busts, please, just some good basic fun flying at a great little airport in a special part of our world.
Photo and story © Drew Steketee 2010 All Rights Reserved