Monadnock Profiles: A life spent patrolling the skies

  • Harvey Sawyer of Jaffrey has been fascinated by flying since seeing the first plane land at the Jaffrey Airpark Silver Ranch at the age of two. And in the 74 years that have passed since that day, Sawyer has always had his eyes pointed to the skies. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer of Jaffrey has been fascinated by flying since seeing the first plane land at the Jaffrey Airpark Silver Ranch at the age of two. And in the 74 years that have passed since that day, Sawyer has always had his eyes pointed to the skies. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer of Jaffrey has been fascinated by flying since seeing the first plane land at the Jaffrey Airpark Silver Ranch at the age of two. And in the 74 years that have passed since that day, Sawyer has always had his eyes pointed to the skies. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer of Jaffrey has been fascinated by flying since seeing the first plane land at the Jaffrey Airpark Silver Ranch at the age of two. And in the 74 years that have passed since that day, Sawyer has always had his eyes pointed to the skies. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer of Jaffrey has been fascinated by flying since seeing the first plane land at the Jaffrey Airpark Silver Ranch at the age of two. And in the 74 years that have passed since that day, Sawyer has always had his eyes pointed to the skies. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer. Staff photo by Tim Goodwin—

  • Harvey Sawyer Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Harvey Sawyer at his Jaffrey airport. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/21/2020 4:45:54 PM

There’s an indescribable feeling that occurs when Harvey Sawyer climbs into the cockpit.

Even though he’s logged more miles flying through the clouds than most people have driving down the road, that moment when he’s about to fire up the engines is something that still sends a jolt of excitement through him.

It’s been 60 years since his first solo flight at the age of 16 as a high school student; a year later, he got the pilot’s license that allowed him to carry passengers, and as Sawyer puts it, “I’ve been flying constantly since then.”

Yet the Jaffrey native still marvels at the experience every time he gets behind the controls for another take off from the runway at Jaffrey Airfield Silver Ranch. The small country airport was built by his grandfather Roscoe in 1946, and Sawyer has run it with his wife Lee since the early 1970s, along the way adopting the motto “Monadnock is Our Beacon.”

“It’s just a magnificent way to see the world,” Sawyer said, describing his thousands of flights that have afforded him a unique perspective of some of the most recognizable landmarks both in New Hampshire and across the country.

There’s a photo of Sawyer sitting horseback with his dad Alfred at the age of two watching the first plane land on the airport’s dirt runway; it was around that age that the seed for his love of flying was planted. His father and uncle David both had a passion for aviation and it quickly got passed on to a young Sawyer. In one of Alfred’s logbook entries from the late 1940s, when Sawyer was three years old, it read: “Took Harvey up – He’s always anxious to fly.”

He spent his childhood around both planes and horses. He enjoyed both, but it was clear at a young age that Sawyer felt a unique connection to flying.

“I gravitated to airplanes,” he said.

That’s why he took his first solo trip to the skies shortly after getting his driver’s license and completed the necessary requirements to acquire his pilot’s license.

When he was a young boy, Sawyer greatly anticipated hearing that discernible sound of a plane overhead.

“When we heard an airplane we were up and out seeing if it was going to land,” he said.

He took countless flights with his father and uncle and couldn’t wait to pilot his own. He credits his love of flying to the two male role models in his life.

“My dad flew and loved it and couldn’t understand why everyone wasn’t doing it,” Sawyer said. Sawyer couldn’t agree more.

And that’s why he’s spent so many years helping to foster that love of flying in anyone willing to pursue it. He has taught more people to fly than he can count and taken even more up for a scenic ride, which as Sawyer puts it, can make quite an impression on someone of any age.

“It’s really nice to see young people get into it,” he said.

Until recent months, Sawyer said he flew practically every day. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sawyer said not as many people are flying for business or hiring him to take an hour ride to see a different view of the region they call home.

It’s always interesting for Sawyer to learn what people want to see on a flight. Some want to fly over their home, see their downtown area or a popular sight is Mount Monadnock, especially this time of year.

“And I still see something on every flight I’ve never seen before,” he said.

Cruising over the most climbed mountain in the United States is something he never takes for granted, and the unique characteristics and historical importance of the region still makes him appreciate what he can see from high above.

He loves to take pictures of what he sees from a cruising altitude, whether it be downtown Jaffrey on a sunny summer day or simply a beautiful cloud formation.

“I enjoy showing that to people,” Sawyer said, noting he has boxes and boxes of photographs that he hopes to catalog one day so it can be shared with others.

He got his first plane at the age of 23, and during his final year at UNH, got clearance to fly back and forth to go home to Jaffrey on the weekends with Lee, using one of the school’s agricultural fields as his makeshift runway. He also helped revitalize the school’s dormant flight club, teaching others how to fly. He’s even flown military jets and World War II vintage aircrafts like the B-17, B-24, and P-51.

These days, Sawyer and Lee own two planes: a twin-engine 1974 Piper Aztec, which Sawyer describes as a very capable airplane and a workhorse since the day he bought it, and a single engine Cessna Skyhawk that they bought brand new from the Wichita, Kansas Cessna factory in 1972.

“I still use it and it’s the same airplane they make now,” he said.

Both planes hold a special meaning to the couple that have been married more than 54 years. While they don’t get to go out together all that often, considering Sawyer’s somewhat packed flying schedule and Lee needing to be on the ground to manage the day-to-day operations, when they do it’s a special time that the two trained pilots enjoy more than anything.

“The unique thing for us is to go for a drive,” Sawyer joked.

Sawyer has flown to places like Pittsburgh, Washington D.C. to transport and drop off business leaders for meetings, and some often question why he decides to make the return trip the same day.

“In the time it would take me to get a room, I’d be home,” he said.

For Sawyer every flight is enjoyable, but the ones with Lee as his co-pilot are some of the most memorable. They have seen Mount Washington in all its glory and in 1972 took a cross-country trip by plane. They went the southern route on the way out, flying over and through the Grand Canyon, and were eye-to-eye with the country’s historical leaders at Mount Rushmore.

While aviation has given him so much, it also took away one of the more influential people in his life. His uncle David passed away with two others in a crash during a trip destined for Alaska in August of 1972. It took a year for the family to learn what happened on that flight and it left a huge void.

“That changed three families forever,” Sawyer said.

His family’s history in the area dates back centuries, Sawyer said, and four generations called Sharon home.

His grandfather Roscoe moved to the farm across the street from the airpark around 1915, where the family raised cows, chickens, pigs and horses. His father, Alfred grew up on that property, but when Sawyer was seven the family moved to the other family farm located just up the road on Route 124.

So as someone who has spent his entire life in Jaffrey, outside of year in Army basic training and his time getting his degree in civil engineering at UNH, Sawyer has a deep appreciation for the town and the area.

“I’ve always felt a connection, a strong connection to the town, the land, the country,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty nice corner of the earth and I want to pass it on better than when I got it,”

His father and uncle eventually bought out the family dairy farm and opened the ice cream stand adjacent to the airpark, which is now Kimball Farm.

Sawyer remembers delivering milk before school and later on waking up early to make ice cream for the family stand. And it was at that ice cream stand where he met Lee, who was an ice cream scooper during the summers when her family would come to their Jaffrey summer home.

The house they live in now and have for many years is on the airpark property and was built by his uncle in 1949. Together they had two sons, Tyler and Kent, who also got engineering degrees, and along the way also took in foster children. Over the years the family has grown to include three grandsons.

Sawyer has ben involved with many organizations that further the importance of aviation, including serving as a member of the NH Aeronautics Commission. He was a founding member of the Granite State Airport Management Association and has been involved with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for more than 50 years. In 2016, he was awarded the Master Pilot Award from the Federal Aviation Association.

“But in the end, the most interesting thing is the people I meet,” Sawyer said.

In addition to his aviation interests, Sawyer was one of the founding members of the Jaffrey Chamber of Commerce, and earned the 2018 Business of the Year award. He is an active member of the Jaffrey Civic Center and trustee of the Jaffrey Historical Society and past trustee of Cathedral of the Pines.

It’s time spent in the air that has meant the most to Sawyer, carrying on his family’s love for flying.

There’s a quote that Sawyer often refers to that reads: “Once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward.” And for Sawyer, he couldn’t say it better himself.




Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

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