Place chart

A Quiet Place: Fly to Fishers Island in New York

While I have long since given up on telephone books and faxes, and more recently given up on printed newspapers and catalogs, I plan to keep my cutaway card subscription for the foreseeable future.

I love the tactile interaction and familiarity that a map brings to the cockpit. There’s also a healthy dose of nostalgia that comes with the section, protractor, kneeboard, and other analog gear I bought when I first started taking flying lessons. But what I like the most about the board is its spread out format on the kitchen table, which makes it easy to pick new airports to visit.

At this point I’ve been to most “big” airports within a reasonable radius, ie those with fuel on the ground. Lately, I’ve been focusing on remote, often unlikely locations that, for some generally interesting reason, have leads. This is how my wife and I landed at Elizabeth Field (0B8) on Fishers Island last weekend.

Fishers Island covers approximately 5 square miles in Long Island Sound, just off the coast of Connecticut, but is part of New York. We flew east from Sussex, New Jersey (KFWN), and had no trouble spotting the fishermen near the eastern end of the strait.

The island’s rich history dates back to the 1600s and involves members of the Winthrop family of Massachusetts Bay Colony fame. The Winthrops had owned the island for generations, mainly raising sheep and cattle there before selling the property during the 1800s. years to prevent the place from changing much.

Passage over Tweed/New Haven Airport (KHVN) towards Fishers Island. [Credit: Jonathan Welsh]

More recently, their main focus has been to discourage the kind of seasonal tourism that some say has made nearby vacation destinations like the Hamptons, Martha’s Vineyard and Block Island incredibly crowded. They succeeded. The island has no hotels, a grocery store, a bar, and a few cafes, but none of the trappings associated with “summer crowds.”

I wondered how such a place ended up with an airport, which seems more appealing to foreigners than the long ferry ride from Connecticut. We have the US military to thank for that. In the early 20th century, the federal government purchased land on the western end of the island to build Fort HG Wright, an artillery complex for coastal defense. During World War II, the army operated airships from an airfield which eventually got two paved runways.

After the war, the government decommissioned the base and sold its land at auction, so families now occupy what were clearly once officers’ houses along the main road. Today, private pilots and air taxi services use the airport, but you won’t find the ramp filled with jets as the runways, 2,345 feet and 1,806 feet long, keep them out.

With a steady 10 knot headwind, the 172 only needed about a third of Runway 30 – the longest – and easily made the turn back on Runway 25 to the ramp. For much of our stay, the island seemed deserted. We met maybe half a dozen people and heard a lawn mower in the distance, but never saw it. Everything was closed, either for the season or because it was Sunday, so we sat on the beach and enjoyed the beautiful scenery over coffee and glazed chocolate donuts we brought from home. The experience really couldn’t have been better.

We debriefed on the flight home, discussing what life on the island might be like while my wife searched for houses for sale, reading descriptions and prices aloud. We could definitely see the call, although Fishers is probably a bit too quiet for us. As I scrolled through the screens, my wife also reminded me that piloting – a point of pride for me – is only as good as the pilot.

“Can you see that airliner coming out of Sikorsky (Bridgeport, KBDR)?” I asked.

“You mean Tweed (New Haven, KHVN)?” she replied.

Indeed, I had completely overestimated our pace of progress and misinterpreted the coastline. We were clearly over New Haven, not Bridgeport. If his Google Maps can make me look bad, maybe I should finally subscribe to ForeFlight.