things to do
Things To Do
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Things To Do
September, 2012, Page 108
Photos by Sam Nalven
3TV morning anchor and private pilot Scott Pasmore
Think driving across town for dinner is crazy? What about flying to Payson for breakfast? Take to the sky with the Valley’s $100 hamburger club.
et’s go to Sedona,” Scott Pasmore deadpans, opening the throttle on his two-seat, homemade airplane. After a brief taxi down the runway, we’re aloft, floating placidly over Deer Valley Airport like a fiberglass sparrow.
Pasmore has owned this propeller-driven RV-6 for about a year. It’s an “experimental” – i.e. not professionally manufactured – aircraft, the 3TV morning anchor tells me. “I bought [the plane] from a doctor back east. He builds them from a kit, flies them for a while, and sells them. It’s his hobby.”
Despite the newsman’s obvious piloting aptitude, it’s hard not to entertain worst-case scenarios while sitting in the snug cockpit of his hand-built airplane. It becomes even harder after reading the disclaimer bolted into the passenger-side instrument panel: “Warning. Amateur-built aircraft. May not meet FAA safety guidelines.”
But safety is the last thing on Pasmore’s mind – or mine – as we swoop past Sedona’s Cathedral Rock not 25 minutes after takeoff. Seeing the red rock giants eye-to-eye is a wholly different experience than viewing them from below. The panorama is enormously beautiful and empowering. “It’s almost like you could reach out and touch them, isn’t it?” the pilot says.
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: Pasmore opens the hangar where his plane is stored at Deer Valley Airport • Pasmore posing with his "experimental" propeller-driven RV-6 • Pasmore preparing to taxi the runway at Deer valley Airport • Sedona Airport
Sedona’s lone general-aviation airport sits atop a mesa – a short, bow-to-stern strip of asphalt with sheer drops on either side, like the deck of an aircraft carrier. Tucked to the side of the runway is the aptly-named Mesa Grill, an upscale Southwestern-cuisine dining spot that shares the airport’s astonishing views of the cathedral-like Sedona red rock formations. The food here is very good, but that fact alone does not explain why Pasmore and I have flown to Sedona on a Tuesday evening. After all, one can find a first-rate filet of sea bass with just the right amount of brown-butter caramelizing in the Valley, too.
What ultimately spurs Pasmore into the air is flying itself. He’s part of the so-called “$100 Hamburger” crowd – food-loving flyboys who gladly brave the dangers of small-aircraft piloting to enjoy some fantastic scenery and, yes, wolf down a plate of greasy-good diner fare in the bargain. In doing so, they help sustain a true pearl of Americana – the small airport diner, dozens of which operate in Arizona cities and towns, and some of which serve surprisingly polished food.
People are sometimes surprised to learn that Arizona leads the nation in per capita boat ownership; perhaps less surprisingly, the state ranks in the top five in airborne pleasure craft, too. According to figures provided by the Federal Aviation Administration, Arizona’s rate of one registered aircraft per 665 residents outstrips California (one per 1,046) and Texas (one per 795) – both considered major aviation states. (Alaska, with its robust backcountry economy, leads the nation with one plane per 66 residents.)
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor credits the popularity of private aviation in Arizona to the state’s stable weather, “uncomplicated airspace” and comparatively low population density. “You look at a place like California with all that urban sprawl – those flight corridors can be really problematic,” he says. “But when you get out of the Phoenix area, you’re essentially flying over open land. That’s un-towered airspace, and it’s really good for training.”
Maricopa County is home to six so-called “reliever” airports that divert small-aircraft traffic from the primary commercial airports of Sky Harbor and Mesa-Gateway. These reliever airports – which include Mesa’s Falcon Field and Deer Valley Airport, among others – are where most Valley-based private pilots train and hangar their Cessnas, Pipers, Beechcrafts and other personal-use flying machines. The flying experience is more hands-on than the bulk-rate bus travel of Sky Harbor and Mesa-Gateway, and so is the food culture. You won’t find Cinnabons or Burger King outlets at small general aviation airports, but sit-down diners tailored to an owner-operator culture. Hearty fare. Truck-stop food for the discriminating palate. And eating at these short-order palaces is something of a rite of passage for novice pilots as they explore the Valley’s aviation scene.
“I love these old-style diners,” Pasmore says between bites of strawberry-cheesecake pie at Deer Valley Airport Restaurant. “They have the comfort food. It’s like taking a time machine back to Mayberry.”
Private pilot Barry Caraway (left) and writer Craig Outhier on the tarmac in Payson.
Pasmore got well acquainted with this family-owned restaurant while earning his pilot’s certificate at Deer Valley, which according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is the busiest general-aviation airport in the nation. Novice pilots from around the world come here to become fluent in the complex procedural language of piloting – including many future Chinese airline pilots, whose halting English sometimes clogs the airport’s air-control chatter, much to the amusement – or irritation – of the hundreds of local pilots who frequent the airstrip.
If Deer Valley is where many international pilots first learn to pull out of a graveyard spiral, it’s also where they first taste that cornerstone of Middle American cuisine: the chicken-fried steak, here presented kiln-hot under a blanket of gravy ($10.99). “We get a lot of trainees in here, and a lot of locals, too,” owner Dmitri Papamatheakis says. “Especially for breakfast. They like to watch the planes land while they eat. Good way to start the day.”
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Pasmore enjoys a coffee at Deer Valley Airport Restaurant.
DEER VALLEY AIRPORT (DVT)
DEER VALLEY AIRPORT RESTAURANT
Newly refurbished and laboratory-clean, this family-owned eatery in the Valley’s northernmost airport is like a ’50s small-town diner brought to life – pie carousel and all. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it boasts an appropriately massive menu that hits all the expected beats – e.g. corned-beef hash ($7.99), chicken-fried steak ($10.99) – along with a smattering of Mediterranean offerings that reflect the Papamatheakis family’s Greek heritage, like the dinner-size Gyro Plate ($12.99). And you gotta love that spectacular view of the runway. 702 W. Deer Valley Rd., Deer Valley, 623-582-5454,
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