Flying in for fun at Belfast Municipal Airport

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 6:45pm

    BELFAST — Cloudy weather greeted attendees and guests of this year’s annual Belfast Municipal Airport Fly-In, though dispositions remained sunny. 

    Despite the gray weather, it remained a colorful day as dozens of different aircraft, ranging from a jet, double-seat experimental aircraft, to a Forest Service helicopter. 

    In addition to the many planes in attendance, and the frequent take-offs and landings, there was also music at the event, in addition to food trucks and sign-ups for the Young Aviators Club. Members of the club were offered free plane rides at the event. 

    The Forest Service helicopter proved popular with attendees of all ages, with adults leaning inside to peer at the intricate interior and children hoisted into the pilot seat. 

    Standing next to the helicopter was the Maine Forest Service’s Chief Pilot, John Crowley, who said the Forest Service has been to Belfast’s Fly-In at least once before. 

    Crowley said the primary duty of a forest ranger is fighting wildfire. 

    “We’re a mix wildfire [fighters] and natural resource law enforcement officers.”

    A large, weighted orange bucket lay next to the helicopter, which Crowley said is what they use to carry water to drop on the respective wildfire. The helicopter is transparent at the front bottom section to allow pilots to see below their craft. 

    The Forest Service doesn’t carry out Medevac, but they do participate in search and rescue missions, and if someone is unable to reach help on their own, or an injury emergency is time-sensitive, Crowley said they will locate them and extract them to a waiting ambulance or LifeFlight. 

    As a pilot of 33 years, Crowley said one big change he’s seen for the Forest Service is their use of a short-haul program, which began in 2012. 

    “We actually do rescues where we get a hundred-foot line underneath the helicopter and a rescuer off at the end of the line. In the past, we’ve been able to rescue people if we could land the helicopter, well now we don’t need to land it, so we’ve had 10 rescues this year, we did five rescues in 10 days,” Crowley said. There have been rescues in Baxter State Park and Acadia, among other wooded areas. 

    “Sometimes we’ll land if we can, but if we can’t the line goes underneath the helicopter with the rescuer on it and sometimes we have a paramedic from Old Town Fire Department with us, and we’ll actually go in right to the site where the patient needs to be checked out, and we’ll drop the rescuer right next to them.” 

    Crowley said when Forest Service helicopters are called in its usually because it would be more beneficial than a land rescue, which requires many hands and much more time. 

    “On Baxter, on Mount Katahdin, it takes about 40 people per mile to carry someone off of that mountain, ‘cause sometimes you’re shoulder to shoulder passing the litter and it’s like a bucket brigade, you run down to the other end and take him,” he said. 

    Carrying someone out from even a few miles into the forest takes a massive effort. 

    “If you’ve got a three-mile carry out of there you’re talking over a hundred people and probably 10-15 hours,” Crowley said. “So we’ll go in and pick them up, we’ll go right through the canopy .... and then we’ll bring them down to a spot where they can get to an ambulance or LifeFlight.”

    Belfast Municipal Airport is located at 22 Wright Brothers Drive. 

    Erica Thoms can be reached at