Katama Airfield, the country’s oldest continuously-run grass airfield, is situated behind South Beach in the southeastern part of the Island. It is bustling with activity: Biplanes and other small aircraft take off and land constantly; nearby kids seem content to watch them drift into the clouds. To truly experience what the airfield and pilots have to offer, I thought, I might have to get up in the air on one of the planes. I’m jittery around heights, but I decided to do it anyway.
On Saturday, veteran pilot Bob Stone, who has been flying out of Katama for decades, took me up in his glider. A glider is a heavier-than-air craft that uses the air against its lifting surfaces to drift through the sky. A little supplemental engine helps with the liftoff. We twisted and turned through the air over Edgartown and Katama, circled a few clouds, and continued to climb. Once we reached an altitude of about 4,000 feet, Bob Stone cut the engine. An eerie, yet beautiful, calm seeped into the plane as the usual thrum and hum of the engine were replaced by the sound of wind and the occasional crackle from within our headphones.
At an altitude of 10,000 feet in the middle of the Island, Bob said, passengers would be able to see the Prudential Center in Boston. I was not so lucky, and ever-growing clouds prevented us from climbing that high.
As he turned the glider back toward Earth, Bob started having fun, dipping his wing, at one point, toward the ground at a 90° angle, eliciting a scream from me, before he jovially leveled off. Once the engine is cut, the plane is designed to flit around the sky before eventually landing; once the plane begins its descent, there is no stopping it. The only time he turns the engine back on is directly after touching down on the runway, to help slow the speeding plane to a stop.
With shaky legs, I emerged from the cockpit, bursting with adrenaline. Martha’s Vineyard from the air is beyond words, more beautiful than I could have imagined.
I crossed an item off my bucket list, and would recommend you do the same. Here’s a video of several clips, stitched together.