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Flying overhead to see fall's best foliage

Christopher Rose

A view of fall foliage in Bar Harbor, Maine, from a Waco biplane.

A Maine aviation firm has given traditional leaf peeping an exhilarating twist.
Instead of coasting on a country road, Acadia Air Tours offers fall foliage tours at 200 mph.

The 30-minute Bar Harbor-based flight includes barrel rolls, loops and other belly-churning stunts hundreds of feet above the foliage. Passengers enjoy the splendor strapped into the cockpit of the two-seater World War II T-6 "Texan."

The $475 flights are the brainchild of Steve Collins, a 65-year-old entrepreneur who was CEO of American Dental Plan until 1990, when he sold the company and pocketed $4.5 million. He founded Biplane Rides Over Atlanta in Georgia the following year and opened Acadia Air Tours in 2005.

The company is one of a handful of aerial tour operators in the state. It averages about 400 flights a month during its five-month season, which starts Memorial Day and ends on Oct. 15, though Collins says trips continue as long as the weather permits.

Flights soar directly above the 35,332-acre Acadia National Park, offering a one-of-a-kind view of changing fall colors, but Collins isn't sure that's always the main draw.

“To be honest, I’m not sure anyone’s ever taken that flight and did it because they really like looking at leaves,” he says. “But it’s a heck of a ride for adrenaline junkies and retired military guys who want to relive their past.”

Scott Jones of McMurray, Pa., said the leafy backdrop does elevate the high-altitude experience.

“To see the Acadia [National Park] upside down and pulling 3Gs is something I’ll never forget,” says Jones, who, along with his wife, Vicki, spent a day at the Bar Harbor airport sampling three different flights offered by the tour company: fighter, the glider and the biplane. The operator also offers flights on a Cessna that can accommodate four people in addition to the pilot.

Collins recommends the biplane – a slow, low-flying aircraft – for its nostalgic appeal. “It’s like flying a station wagon through the sky,” he says. “There’s just something about being in an open cockpit traveling a few hundred feet above the countryside, just low and slow, at about 85 mph that’s impossible to beat.”

Flying has been a lifelong passion for Collins. “I’m 65 and still dreaming of one day becoming a fighter pilot,” he says. “And all these people who keep showing up to fly tell me I’m not alone.”

Sarah Spagnolo, of Travel + Leisure magazine, spotlights five locations perfect for taking in Mother Nature's autumn beauty.


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Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at www.EightDaysToAmish.com.