July 10, 2022
“I had high expectations for Top Gun Maverick…and it did not disappoint!”
Mike motions his hands through the air, talking about how the fighter pilots weave through canyons in the movie. He has a glint in his eye that tells me this is a man that loves flying. Today's adventure is billed to take our breath away with views, as opposed to the adrenaline pumping runs of Top Gun, but it seems just as exciting to Mike, and in turn to me.
Mike Wolford is co-owner of Adirondack Aviation Academy, based out of the Saranac Lake Airport. He and his business partner Michelle Smith started Adirondack Aviation Academy last year with the dual mission of showing people the beauty of the Adirondacks from the air and inspiring a new generation of pilots to take to the skies.
One sunny day last month myself and a fellow adventurer were lucky enough to take to the skies in Adirondack Aviation’s Piper Cherokee. We signed up for a scenic flight over the Adirondacks but got a bit more hands-on experience.
Scenic flights over the Adirondacks
Adirondack Aviation Academy offers two different experiences. The first is a scenic flight in their beautiful Piper Cherokee. The plane sits up to three passengers comfortably and they offer flights as short as 25 minutes which will take you over the Saranac Lakes, Village, and nearby mountains; or you can go up to 80 minutes which will take you all the way over Lake Placid and the High Peaks to Lake Champlain and back.
If you’re thrilled at the thought of a pilot with over 40 years of experience giving you a beautiful birds-eye view of our mountains but the idea of getting anywhere near the controls of an airplane send shivers down your spine, you can stop reading here and head on over to their site to learn more and book a flight!
For the intrepid adventurer … read on.
My 'Intro to Flight' Lesson… a little more than scenic!
The second option is just as scenic, but a bit more … involved.
“Which one of you wants to fly?” Mike asked as we headed across the pavement.
My co-adventurer Matt and I thought we had signed up for the scenic flight over the mountains. We knew Adirondack Aviation offered flight lessons....we just assumed those were for 'other people'…now he was going to make one of us put our hands on the yoke of a plane?! Matt was more than a little bit nervous about the flight in general. I on the other hand, have had a pilots license on my bucket list for years, so I volunteered to fly … which now that I think about it I’m not sure made Matt feel any better about the adventure, but he was a good sport.
Matt made his way into the back while I climbed into the pilots seat and Mike took his place at the matching controls next to me. “Take your hands off the yoke; until we leave the ground we control everything with our feet.” Mike motioned to the set of pedals on the floor which brake the wheels and allow you to turn. His teaching style is informative and friendly and we took a couple laps around the taxi area in front of the airport before heading to the runway.
With a gentle push of the throttle Mike took us down the runway and into the air. "Now you can grab the yoke." For the next 30 minutes we flew with fluffy white clouds and blue skies above and the beautiful green of the Adirondack mountains below. We flew over the Saranac Lakes and towards the High Peaks in the distance. “Check that out!” Matt pointed to the little dots, people on the top of Mount Marcy.
The entire time, Mike was able to seamlessly point out landmarks while also applying his decades of flying and flight training experience. “Keep the horizon lined up with the nose of the plane,” “adjust the trim here,” “keep the speed up while you're banking.” With almost entirely verbal instruction (and I’m sure silent vigilance), Mike had me flying over the Adirondacks! After turning around Mt. Marcy (pictured above) we headed towards the Great Range. The breathtaking beauty of the Adirondacks laid out before us. As we circled back around towards Saranac Lake we could just make out the afternoon Cape Air flight making its way into the airport, on its way from Boston. A quick radio check to let them know we were up here too and well out of their way (safety first) and we headed on back to the airport.
With a few more instructions and a check on the wind conditions, we banked around the runway and Mike had me line the plane up for landing, his hands hovering over the yoke but directing me to bring the plane down towards the runway, taking control only moments before we touched down. "That wasn't nearly as bad as I thought," Matt said as we made our way down the runway. Mike gave me a few more pointers and a chance to get the feel for the throttle as we pulled back up to the hanger, parking the plane neatly in front of the door to the aviation lounge. Possibly the closest I'll ever get to 'door to door' flight service. First ever training flight success!!
Adirondack Aviations intro flight is nothing short of exhilarating and if you have any interest in flying whatsoever I’d give Mike and Michelle a call. If you're lucky enough to live here or are here for an extended stay, be sure to ask about their pilot training program! They have several different packages that can get you well on your way or all the way through to a full private pilots license in a matter of weeks!
“We even have a woman who was so taken with her scenic flight that she’s booked a month long vacation back to the Adirondacks this summer solely to try and get her pilots license!” Michelle told me, “We’d really like to see more locals and visitors like that signing up for a full month. It really gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself and learn.”
Fall colors from the air
Although I took my flight in peak summer, fall is just around the corner and I can't think of a better place to get the best view of the foliage than from the seat of this plane!