photograph by Amy Germain
Piseco Lake’s Fly-In Breakfast
Most summer mornings on Piseco Lake, you’ll hear only natural sounds: lapping waves, twittering birds, the occasional plop-plop of a leaping fish. But on the penultimate Saturday of every August, you’ll hear repetitive, low rumbling as plane after plane circles the lake to land at Piseco Airport.
Once a year, 50 to 70 pilots in small planes—some antique, some state of the art—make their way to the airport for the annual Speculator Lion’s Club Fly-In/Drive-In Breakfast. Like many happenings in this still-wild corner of the Adirondacks, the Fly-In is a labor of love for the community.
By eight a.m. on the morning of the Fly-In, a line begins to form in front of the airport hangar, where more than 30 local Lion’s Club members, their spouses and other volunteers make and serve pancakes, eggs, sausages and fried ham, alongside huge carafes of orange juice and coffee. As you eat this hearty fare, planes land one by one on Runway 4/22, set against a backdrop of the rolling green Adirondack foothills. Local pilots Paul Beaudoin, Kirk Baur, and airport manager Chris Laver direct traffic as the planes park in the middle of a field. It’s a chance for aviation fans to get up close and personal with planes from different eras.
At the 2018 event, as always, the pilots were generous with information and many allowed kids to climb inside their cockpits. As three-year-old Hampton Holiat clambered up the wing of Mark Hampton’s 1993 Lake Amphibian, Holiat said, “I want to be a pilot.” Hampton, who has been bringing his plane from Fourth Lake in Old Forge for over 10 years, explained that his plane is also a boat and pointed out that its engine sits backwards, above the cockpit.
John Taylor, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, flew to the event for the first time in his bright yellow 1945 Aeronca Champion, complete with an original wooden propeller. He said his plane flies “low and slow” and was once used as a military trainer. He heard about the event from another pilot, Todd Beaudoin, who grew up on Piseco Lake and now lives in Castleton, New York.
Beaudoin, who flies a 1969 Beechcraft Bonanza V3SA, explained that a plane’s engine must be replaced or rebuilt after a specified number of hours of flying time, and he opened the engine compartment so that plane enthusiasts could observe his new Continental engine.
Not all of the planes were antiques. Tim Dwyer came from Caldwell Airport, in New Jersey, in a 2014 Cirrus, which he said can fly at 220 miles per hour, a speed that gets him up to Piseco in about an hour.
Another Fly-In attendee, Captain John Valenta, company commander of the Fort Drum Black Hawk Crew of the 2-10 Assault Helicopter Battalion, arrived in a Black Hawk. He was flanked by veterans as he described his battalion’s latest missions, explaining that the helicopter “is used in combat for troop transport, in tactical scenarios, to complete an objective.” In the months before the Fly-In, his battalion was deployed to assist Operation Atlantic Resolve in Europe, conducting aviation maneuvers in support of NATO ground force training. Valenta said, “We have an awesome time at the Fly-In.” Servicemen and -women from Fort Drum have also brought Apache helicopters in years past.
Approximately 847 people attended the 2018 Fly-In. This homespun fundraiser has come a long way since it was founded by local pilots Dan Wilt and Dick Newell in 1975. Newell, a pilot who, at the age of 90, is still integral to the event, said, “Dan came up with the idea to tie a FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] safety seminar to a pancake breakfast that would benefit the Lion’s Club charity fund. We started this with only 15 or 20 people in attendance!”
Wilt added, “The FAA was looking for places to promote its ‘Wings’ program. I saw this as an opportunity to promote safe flying and to raise funds for Lion’s Club charities.”
Back then, funding the event was a challenge, so the pair of pilots called on their community to make it happen. Pilot Henry Rogers, then supervisor of the town of Arietta and manager of Piseco Airport, allowed Wilt and Newell to use the old wooden T-hangar as a dining hall. Neal McGovern, former proprietor of The Inn at Speculator, provided all the food at wholesale (and new owner Michael Nalipi still does). The late George Swift, owner of the Melody Lodge, provided utensils and supervised food preparation. As attendance grew steadily each year, some of the Lions, with their own hands and funds, built an addition to the hangar.
The breakfast now takes place in a modern hangar and FBO (fixed base operations) office, both updated in the early ’90s. The money raised benefits a disaster relief fund, a college scholarship for local high-school students, a Halloween party for local youth, and other community causes.
According to co-founder Dick Newell, “If chickens continue to lay eggs for scrambling, if farmers continue to produce grain for pancakes, if maple trees continue to make sap for syrup, there will always be a Speculator Lions Club Fly-In/Drive-In Pancake Breakfast.”
If you go
The next Fly-In/Drive-In breakfast happens August 24, 8 to 11 a.m., rain or shine, though times may be altered in the event of ground fog. For more information visit www.speculatorchamber.com or the Speculator Lion’s Club Facebook page.