A flight to remember over PEI
Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
SUMMERSIDE, PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND — The Cessna 172G Skyhawk I’ll be flying in today, affectionately known as Godzilla (G-DZA) by the people who fly her, is a light, single-engine, fixed-wing, four-seater hummingbird of a plane. I’m at Summerside Airport to meet Godzilla and Dick Lubbersen, owner and operator of FD Air Tours.
I admit the planes that I’m used to travelling in are Airbuses and Boeings, behemoths that take 20 minutes to load and two pilots to fly. It doesn’t escape my attention that Lubbersen is the only pilot around. Summerside Airport is one hour by car from Charlottetown along Highway 2, a meandering and relaxing ride past quiet hamlets and rolling green fields. The airport seems to be as quiet as the drive to reach it.
“Don’t you worry, it’s a great day for flying,” he says with a playful wink before asking my weight. After taking some notes and doing some checks I am helping him push the plane out of the hangar. Within minutes, I am buckled in, my earphones are on, and we are taxiing toward the runway.
I’m so accustomed to air traffic congestion when I head out from any airport — especially when I fly out of Pearson International in Toronto — that it feels odd to be the only plane moving around on an airfield. It feels like Lubbersen and I are the only ones using the airport except for the seagulls, and there seem to be billions of them.
“Have you ever hit one of those gulls,” I ask in my best macho, slightly worried voice.
“No, not yet,” Lubbersen says with a laugh and without showing even a hint of concern. “They’re smart enough to get out of the way.”
In a Cessna you feel the flight. Like a sailboat or a horse the plane has a life of its own as it twitches, jumps and vibrates in the air — a bit unsettling at times but invigorating. Free, unencumbered and magnificent, this is flying as it’s meant to be.
“It’s amazing, it’s gorgeous, I mean I’ve been up well over 5,000 times and every flight is different. I see new beauty every time I go flying,” says Lubbersen. “There are always different angles, different weather conditions, different people. I get new information all the time. I’m still learning, even though I’ve made over 5,000 flights. It’s wonderful.”
Our journey takes us south and then east over Confederation Bridge, a $1.3-billion, 12.9-kilometre fixed link that connects Prince Edward Island with New Brunswick. It truly is a marvellous piece of engineering, especially when you look at the bridge from above.
We surge past the Confederation Bridge along the shoreline past several beaches, lighthouses and windmills past jagged red cliffs and rich farmland before doubling back over land and heading for the airport. Lubberen points out several interesting landmarks, with several jokes thrown in between. At one point he asks if I would like to experience the roller-coaster effect. I politely decline.
As we prepare for landing back at Summerside we are greeted by hundreds of gulls. It’s an adventure all by itself watching Lubbersen navigate and weave through all these birds as he grumbles “shoo” under his breath. I’m not sure, but a couple of these winged varmints seem to be trying to fly in formation with us. I feel like I can actually see details in their feathers.
“Whoa, that was close,” chuckled Lubbersen as our wheels hit the ground. “Almost had my first run in with some seagulls.”
“Almost had our first run in with some seagulls,” I corrected. Just my luck to run into a band of seagulls that weren’t very smart.
Being in the air was only a part of what made the flight memorable. Meeting the pilot, helping him pull the plane out of the hangar, being able to speak with Lubbersen before, during and after the flight, being up close to the instruments even though I had no idea how to use them, landing safely and feeling like I had just flown the plane myself.
The natural beauty of Prince Edward Island is jaw-dropping and for me it was a dream come true to hop in a plane and see the landscape from a different perspective. You might assume it was just another day at the office for Lubbersen, but you would be wrong. For him, every flight is a new adventure, although there is one route he loves the most.
“I guess my favourite route is the bridge, and then to swing north crossing the island to show them some of the beaches on the north shore before returning,” says Lubbersen. “The Confederation Bridge is famous, and I know a little bit about it because I was able to spend some time on the ground during construction and some time in the air with the contractors and photographers so I can tell people a little bit of information about it. And also when we cross the island I get to explain about the million-acre farm that is Prince Edward Island, such a fertile land. We have all kinds of produce and animals. Then when we get to the north side I can show off the Cavendish National Park and our Cabot Beach Provincial Park.”
MORE ABOUT FD AIR TOURS
Update: Lubbersen had to take a leave from flying to deal with some personal health issues, but he is hoping to be flying again in September. In the meantime he is managing four pilots, who are keeping things going until he can return.
BRIDGE TOUR: Starting at $160
See Prince Edward Island’s Confederation Bridge in all its glory from the sky.
Tour Time: Approximately 35 minutes
BEACH TOUR: Starting at $160
Cruise above our beautiful beaches.
Tour Time: Approximately 35 minutes
BRIDGE & BEACH COMBO TOUR: Starting at $195
The Combo – See the bridge with a side order of beach (Cabot Beach).
Tour Time: Approximately 45 minutes
Optional Tour Extension: If you would prefer to see Cavendish Beach simply add $25 to above price
This option extends your time in the air.
ISLAND TOUR: Starting at $845
See all of Prince Edward Island in a fraction of the time.
Tour Time: Approximately 3 hours 15 minutes