For decades, pilots headed to Bay Bridge Airport in the Chesapeake Bay for scenic coastal flying and great seafood. However, some pilots are intimidated by the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA), which starts less than 4 nm west. I have heard pilots talk about why they won’t fly near that area lest they end up flying in formation with an F-18 jet or Blackhawk helicopter. This is unfortunate, because they are missing out on some really great flying around the world-famous Chesapeake Bay, and the chance to replace the $100 Hamburger with wonderful crab. Fortunately, the procedures are easy to follow and the FAA provides an online course to explain SFRA procedures to pilots. While the airport traffic did decline almost 50% in the years after 2001, it has resurged to previous levels as local pilots have gotten comfortable with SFRA procedures.
Bay Bridge Airport (W29) is on Kent Island, about 10 nm east of Annapolis, Md., directly across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on Maryland’s historic eastern shore. At the foot of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, the airport is 6 nm inside and beneath the eastern edge of the Washington Tri-Area Class B Airspace and just 4 nm east of the edge of the Washington D.C. Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). The Class B floor is 3,500 feet MSL directly over the airport, and rises to 4,500 feet MSL 1.5 nm to the east.
You can fly to Bay Bridge without following special procedures as long as you remain clear of the SFRA; however, FAR 91.161 requires completion of an FAA online course on SFRA procedures to fly within 60 nm of the Washington VOR (DCA 111.0 MHz). Furthermore, the GPS approach to Runway 11 begins within the SFRA, so you may need to penetrate the area if you’re on an IFR flight plan. You can take the course online. You should use the Baltimore-Washington VFR Terminal Area Chart that provides far better detail than the Washington Sectional for flights in the area.
The approach from the south contains a handful of restricted areas to circumnavigate, but the contours and inlets of the Potomac River make for easy pilotage. Use of these visual references along with the Patuxent VORTAC (PXT 117.6 MHz), or better yet a GPS, makes for relatively simple navigating. Contact Patuxent Approach on 120.05 MHz (above 3,000 feet) or 121.0 MHz (3,000 feet and below) for flight following in the area.
For noise abatement, pilots are requested to fly a downwind to Runway 29 two miles from the airport. On departure from Runway 29, maintain runway heading until reaching 700 feet, turn crosswind, and don’t turn downwind until you are two miles from the airport. On departure from Runway 11, turn left about 10 degrees after takeoff and follow the highway eastbound. Watch out for ultralight and light sport activity in the area. Gyrocopters also operate here; they fly a right-hand pattern at 600 feet, while airplanes fly a left-hand pattern at 1,200 feet.
The transient ramp and FBO are at the southeast corner of the airport. Full-serve 100LL and Jet A are available 8 a.m.–5 p.m.; 24-hour self-serve 100LL is available from the pumps just east of the FBO. When the FBO is closed, you can use the code 1227 as the door combination for access to the pilot lounge, telephone, and weather computer.
The early 1600s brought British explorers who established the New World’s earliest settlements in the Chesapeake Bay area and set up the first trading post on Kent Island. With easy access to the Atlantic Ocean, Kent Island evolved into a major center for fur trading, fishing, and seafood packing and processing. As the area grew, so did the need for better access between the eastern shore and the mainland. The first proposal to build a bay bridge was made in the early 1900s. A combination of political troubles, the Great Depression, and World War II halted progress until Gov. William Preston Lane, Jr., for whom the bridge is named, finally implemented construction, which was completed in 1952. A second span was added in 1973.
In 1945, inventor, father, entrepreneur, and pilot Bill Morris and his wife Lill began flying their blue Stinson around the East Coast searching for property on which to build an airstrip. The property they eventually settled on is now the Kentmorr (Kent Island and Morris) Airport, five miles south of the bridge. In the late 1960s, with a track record of developing the Kentmorr airport, marina, and restaurant, Bill and some partners bought a piece of land at the foot of the bridge, intending to create the Pier I industrial airpark. The airstrip was immediately designed, built, and paved, but the airpark idea didn’t draw the commercial business they had hoped. Not a group to be easily discouraged, the partners drew on their Kentmorr experiences, developing a marina and resurrecting a motel, both adjacent to the airport. The Pier I venture thrived for many years, but eventually the motel was replaced by an overpass and the marina was sold. As for the Pier I Airport, it exists today as Bay Bridge Airport, owned and operated by Queen Anne’s County.
The second best thing to do on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay is to be outdoors. The first, of course, is to eat crab. Luckily there are many opportunities to do both together. Running for 5 1/2 miles from Terrapin Nature Park on the north side of the Bay Bridge past the Kent Narrows (on the east shore of the island) to Wells Cove is the Cross Island Trail. Completed in 2001, the paved hiking and biking trail winds six miles through wetlands, coastal forests, tidal ponds, and even passes by the hotels, pubs, and restaurants of the Narrows. For information and trail maps contact Queen Anne’s County Department of Parks and Recreation, 410-758-0848.
As pilots, we’re lucky to see the world from above. On the Chesapeake, the best view is arguably from the Bay itself—on a fishing boat. Captain Tilghman Hemsley and first mate June Paul are your hosts on the Breezin’ Thru, a pristine 47-foot custom Bay-built that has been running fishing charters on the Chesapeake since 1949. In addition to the classic boat and the entertaining crew, what makes this experience unique is the food. This is one of the few charters that provides home-cooked meals. June prepares an early morning breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, scrapple, and coffee, and her lunches range from gourmet salads to crab cakes, seared duck and wasabi, and oyster pie. As it turns out, Tilghman is the popular local artist who created the acclaimed Watermen’s Memorial on Main Street below the south side of the Kent Narrows Bridge. Charter trips run daily from Kentmorr Marina, 50 Allen Ave., Stevensville, 7 a.m.– 3 p.m., the morning trip for six people including two meals and costs $1,200, the afternoon fishing trip includes dinner, $900, 410-490-1370.
Just across the road from the airport and a mile down a private road is the historic Kent Manor Inn. The Inn and its rolling grounds along Thompson Creek have a rich history dating back to a land grant in the mid-1600s. Having served as a farm, private residence, summer home, and hotel, the Inn was restored to its original splendor in 1987, retaining much of its original 1820 design. The 24 guestrooms with Victorian furniture, hardwood floors, and Italian marble fireplaces make a romantic setting for a weekend away. Complimentary kayaks and paddleboats are available to explore the waterways behind the Inn, and there is a large swimming pool behind the glass-enclosed garden house. Guests may borrow a bicycle to ride the Cross Island Trail or to venture into historic Stevensville just two miles to the northeast. The cozy library and the grand wraparound porch overlooking the rolling grounds are great places to curl up with a good book and a glass of wine. All rooms have a modern bathroom, shower, and telephone, and a continental breakfast is included. Rooms are $180–$425, 500 Kent Manor Dr., Stevensville, 410-643-5757.
If you plan to spend most of your time outdoors exploring, the more economical Sleep Inn is a good choice. This clean, efficient chain hotel is two miles east of the Kent Narrows, a 15-minute drive from the Bay Bridge Airport. The 59 rooms have queen- and king-sized beds, free cable TV, HBO, and wireless Internet. A complimentary deluxe continental breakfast is included, rooms $94–$169, 101 VFW Ave., Grasonville, 410-827-5555.
Most centrally located to the restaurants, pubs, and nightlife is the Hilton Garden Inn. All rooms have views of the bay from private balconies, many of which face the bay directly. They also have a heated indoor pool, Jacuzzi, small fitness facility, and free wireless Internet. Their waterfront sun deck that overlooks the marina is a great place to watch the sunset, rooms $126–$319, 3206 Main St., Grasonville, 410-827-3877.
One of the biggest draws to the Chesapeake Bay area is to dine on crab. Specifically, blue crab is a mainstay for many of the restaurants. Kentmorr Restaurant and Crab House has been perfecting its blue crab recipes since 1954. The restaurant’s location—next to the marina and on Kentmorr Beach—makes it a favorite among locals looking to start a tab at the tiki bar and lay in the sand, while the deck seating and spacious indoor dining area provide some of the best views of the bay. It’s a five-mile drive south of the airport, but the great thing for pilots is that it’s just a quarter-mile walk south of the 2,400-foot grass airstrip at Kentmorr Airport (3W3). Crab-centric appetizers include the Kentmorr Famous Crab Pretzel, a soft pretzel topped with homemade jumbo lump crab dip and cheddar cheese, $14, and the crab cake sliders, jumbo lump crab cake sandwiches served with lettuce, tomato, and a dill pickle chip, $6–$16. The entrée list includes chicken, fresh-caught fish, and steak options, but from April to October, it’s all about crab. Order small, medium, large, extra large, or jumbo crabs (sold by point-to-point length, not weight), and don’t be afraid to make a mess, open 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., 910 Kentmorr Rd., 410-643-2263.
A 15- to 20-minute walk counter-clockwise around the east and north perimeters of the airport will take you to the island landmark Hemingway’s, with an outdoor deck overlooking the bay and the Bay Bridge. The house specialty is, of course, their famous broiled crab cakes; the appetizer is served with a roasted red pepper aioli, $17, and the jumbo lump crab cake dinner is served with mustard butter, chef’s starch, and vegetables, $34. A staff favorite is the fish and chips, a huge serving of beer battered haddock served with tartar sauce, fries, and coleslaw, $17. Also excellent is the cashew-encrusted mahi, pan-seared and served with pico de gallo and rice, $26, open 11 a.m.–10 p.m., 357 Pier One Rd., Stevensville, 410-604-0999.
Given the relatively small size of Kent Island, there are a number of options for transportation. If you plan to explore beyond the local area, a rental car is best. Enterprise in Stevensville will pick you up at the airport, $45–$129, Mon–Fri 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.–1 p.m., 1418 Main St., Stevensville, 410-604-6154. Kent Island Taxi is reasonable and flexible and will charge $15 to the Narrows, 410-643-1500.
Although some pilots may be nervous about flying so close to the Washington D.C. area, it can be done safely if you arm yourself with the appropriate information. Admiral Hopper told us, “A ship in a port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” The Chesapeake is a beautiful place to behold, both from the water and from the sky. A flight to the Chesapeake will remind you why we fly… And the crab cakes are fantastic.