The Mass Mass Airport Tour

Each day this week, we’re running one of the winners of EAA’s Pilot Your Own Adventure Contest, supported by Flight Outfitters. This entry placed second, out of 267 entries received. While all stories have been edited for grammar and style prior to publication, they were judged as submitted, with no editing of any kind. — Ed.


My boyfriend, Reid, loves to collect things. I don’t necessarily mean physical things, but for as long as I’ve known him, he’s always had a to-do list. Sure, the list has mundane things on it like “buy eggs” or “get haircut,” but that’s the easy stuff. Below the housekeeping items, he’ll have bullets that say “Antarctica trip?” “Grand Canyon rim to rim?” or “Everest climb?” The question marks mean that the idea is there, brewing in his brain, but he’s still got to determine the logistics, figure out the timing, and find the unwitting companion to bring the idea to completion.

It’s this love for collection that has made Reid a bit of a unicorn in all of the fields he chooses to pursue. He became a 50 Completer, reaching the highest point in all 50 states at age 21, one of the youngest completers in the official Highpointer’s Club, and became the first member to achieve the newest gold standard of highpointing: all 50 states plus the six U.S. territories. Reid is a certified master parachute rigger and has collected all of the rigger ratings available, even the ridiculous ones that only a handful of people possess nowadays. Reid is also, obviously, a pilot, collecting thousands of hours to date over his (relatively) young flying career as a CFII and an ATP, and, most recently, collecting a DC-3 type rating because, well, why not?

It’s also this love of collection that inspired the “Mass Mass Airports Tour?” to show up on the to-do list: a visit to all 39 of our home state of Massachusetts’ public airports in 24 hours or less, way back in the summer of 2014, with me, two months away from my private pilot checkride, as the unwitting companion.

Our chariot for the day was Reid’s trusty Piper Tomahawk, N9873T, a lovely T-tailed two-seater trainer that I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of lovely nicknames for. N9873T had previously taken us up and down the eastern and central U.S., zigzagging to air shows and skydiving adventures, and now it was going to show us a view of the Massachusetts aviation scene in a hurry.

We started out getting a list of all of Massachusetts’ public-use airports and roughly mapping out our course. For me as a student pilot, it was a master class in flight planning. Which airports have fuel? What about shorter runways? Those would need to be spaced out from the fuel stops. Which airports have lights? Soft fields would need to be completed earlier in the day. All available data came into play for this ambitious collection.

Our first stop was Plum Island airport, an unassuming 2,105-foot paved runway by the ocean on the North Shore of Massachusetts. For as rare as Tomahawks are nowadays, we saw a sister bird sitting at the tiedowns, as if cheering us on. We landed on Runway 10, turned right around at the end, and took off on Runway 28. Airport  No. 1 of 39, done, in the books. Airport No. 2, Lawrence Municipal Airport, is a beautiful field with some of the nicest air traffic controllers. We landed on Runway 5 and then hightailed it out on Runway 23. It was early enough that the controllers were still sleeping, so we had the place to ourselves! Airport  No. 3, Marlboro Airport, is a barely 1,700-foot paved runway with fences on either end of the runway. At 700 feet, the halfway point of the runway, there is a stripe of paint to indicate to pilots, “I hope you’re making progress here!” It’s an exercise in precision, to say the least, and thankfully we’d been flying for a bit, so our ship was a bit lighter and not full of fuel!

We continued this way throughout the morning and into the afternoon, zigging and zagging throughout the state, constantly reevaluating our fuel stops and available runway landing lengths, making friends along the way as we shared our goal and our latest progress with fuelers and airport managers. Almost, if not more important than the main goal, we needed to decide which airport restaurant we’d visit for lunch (we ended up having our $100 hamburger at the amazing Airport Grille at New Bedford Airport). We explored depths of western Massachusetts I’d never ventured to unless driving straight through on the highway, followed by the beauty of Cape Cod and its beachy airport infrastructure. For firsthand experience of the struggle of uneven grass strips on a very hot summer afternoon, visit Myricks Airport in Berkley, and for a beautiful 10-foot view of some of the coolest cargo planes our military has, talk to the controllers at Westover.

Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, we had just three airports left on our list: Bedford-Hanscom Field, Beverly Regional Airport, and you guessed it, the class Bravo biggie, Boston-Logan International Airport. We completed quick touch-and-gos at Bedford and Beverly, and headed south for our journey to the landing pattern for Logan. We called ATC to let them know we were on our way. The controller got us cleared for landing 22R, advised us to watch for wake turbulence from the Southwest jet on the parallel runway, and gave the instruction to “fly maximum speed,” which for us was a thrilling 135 knots. The radio call for the jet landing behind us was, “Cleared to land 22R, No. 2 following aircraft in front of you.” After a pregnant pause, the controller radioed again to the jet. “It’s a Tomahawk.”

We landed halfway down the runway and still taxied for what felt like a very extended length of time. We reached the general aviation terminal, incredibly excited for the terminus of our latest collection. We’d flown long and hard, and at around 10:45 p.m., checked off our 39th airport by celebrating with those famous cookies from Signature and hot chocolate from a Starbucks vending machine.

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