A Different Reality above the World

Peter Thompson of Fletcher Mountain Aviation Finds Reasons to Fly 

“When you take up flying, you have to have reasons to fly,” says Peter Thompson, owner of Fletcher Mountain Aviation on the shores of Moosehead Lake. 

When he first got his pilot’s license, Peter, 60, said he would regularly fly from Gilford Municipal Airport in Laconia, New Hampshire, where he worked as a physician, to Norrigewock in Maine. Then he would drive 30 minutes so he could build a cabin on some land that he purchased. The land is near his family’s farm in Bigham, close to Fletcher Mountain, which is the inspiration behind his company’s name.  

For Peter, flying to Maine “was better than the four-hour drive.” 

But his love for floating planes eventually led him to purchase a Cessna 182 float plane in 2009 after he, his wife, Mary, and their two daughters, Evelyn and Blake, had relocated to Hampden in 2006. Peter was working as an anesthesiologist, as one of four physicians at Northeast Pain Management in Bangor, and flying was still just a fun hobby.  

But it wasn’t long afterwards, when Peter began taking people out for scenic tours of Moosehead Lake, the Great Maine Woods, and Mount Katahdin, that he decided to form Fletcher Mountain Aviation in 2013. “This is my retirement gig,” Peter said. 

Peter explained that he is the sole pilot and Mary helps him manage the business. He flies all season to generate enough revenue to cover the insurance and to pay for fuel and maintenance. To date, he has logged 2,600 flight hours, 1,000 of which were in his float plane. In 2019, Peter took 275 people out for scenic flights, and while requests in 2020 were a little less because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is looking forward to a busy summer season. 

Peter offers Moosehead Lake Region tours, aerial photograph tours, and sportsmen’s wildlife tours. He customizes those trips as much as he can to give his customers an unforgettable experience. He often takes couples, families, and hunters up in his aircraft. Passengers are always amazed at how vast and beautiful places look from above—areas such as Moosehead Lake, the Maine mountains, and the Great Maine woods. 

He gets requests from people to fly them out to their summer camps and then pick them up when they are ready to return to Greenville. He can often use Google Earth to pinpoint where they want to go and where he can safely land his plane. In many cases, first-time customers become repeat customers who can’t get enough of the experience. 

In the age of COVID-19, Peter said he will wipe down the headsets and seats inside his aircraft with Clorox wipes. Passengers are welcome to wear masks if they wish, but they are not mandatory. “It’s a personal choice.” He usually takes up to three passengers per trip. He said the aircraft has ample ventilation. 

When passengers head out with Peter, he meets them at the dock, goes over safety procedures with them, and then the floating plane taxis out on the water to prepare for takeoff. The plane will accelerate to 50 miles per hour on the water before it generates enough speed to lift up from the water. 

“We climb out of the East Cove or West Cove and go out to the lake. At first you see five percent of Moosehead Lake. On a good day, you get spectacular views of the lakes, mountains, and Mount Katahdin, which is 45 miles away,” Peter explains.  

The trip will take passengers over Spencer Bay, Spencer Pond, and the Spencer Mountains. They will also see the beaches around Lobster Lake. “You see a lot of moose up there.” They will also fly over the township of North East Carry on the northeast shore of Moosehead Lake and see Mount Kineo, and Little Kineo. They can also see Rangeley, the east and west outlets of the Kennebec River, Sugarloaf, and Bigelow Mountain.  

“You really get an appreciation for how big Moosehead Lake is and how remote it is,” Peter said. 

So, when did a lifelong anesthesiologist first discover his love for float planes? It was 1965. Peter was about five years old when his parents brought him to Long Lake in Naples, and he went on his first float plane ride with pilot Jim Build. Peter grew up in Hollis, and his family had a camp near the Sebago Lake region. He loved that first flight so much that he drew a picture of the float plane and the dock that he still displays in his man cave at his home today. 

Peter also visited the Kennebec River Valley region a lot during his childhood. His family has deep roots there that go back to the late 1700s, and he said he was also fascinated by the area. Peter toyed with the idea of joining the service to learn how to become a pilot. But he decided instead to pursue a career in medicine. 

He attended Boston University and later attended the University of Vermont Medical School where he graduated in 1987. He and his girlfriend and soon-to-be wife, Mary, traveled out west, but returned to northern New England because Mary was homesick. 

Dr. Peter Thompson settled in Laconia in 1992 and would be an anesthesiologist for 35 years. His love of flying never left him, and he learned how to fly at the Sky Bright Aviation at the Laconia, New Hampshire, municipal airport. He has come to see a lot of similarities between how he approaches flying and being a physician.Much like a doctor treating patients, Peter said a pilot must do a great deal of planning and preparation. There is also a similar level of risk management and risk assessment involved. He said that, like a doctor, a pilot has to earn the trust of his passengers during every flight “and I respect that. That means a lot to me.” 

But Peter doesn’t view flying around the “mini-Alaska” of Moosehead Lake as stressful. He enjoys what every pilot does. “I think it’s the freedom. I fly airplanes to relax. It takes your focus. It takes your attention,” Peter added. 

That attention to detail is especially important when landing a float plane, Peter said. Pilots must pay close attention to the water and wind conditions when they land. “You can read the water and you can read the situation by looking at the ripples,” Peter said, “and you can usually pick out the best spot to land.” 

He said some pilots have accidents when they attempt to land on glassy water. It can make it hard for them to know if their aircraft is five feet or 50 feet above the water when they land. Peter said the tree line is always a much better indicator to judge this factor.  

Flying literally elevates a pilot and his passengers to a different reality above the world. As people seek new outdoor recreational adventures, taking a scenic flight over Moosehead Lake gives them a chance to unwind, relax, and get a real break from the stress that has engulfed much of the world. 

If nothing else, experiencing Maine’s incredible natural beauty high above Maine’s mini-Alaska may be just one more reason to fly.

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Robert Cook