SOMEWHERE ABOVE GORHAM — Despite all the talking that Shawn Moody had to do while he ran for governor two years ago, he doesn’t recall his penchant for flying ever coming up in conversation.
“Nobody asked, and I didn’t offer it,” Moody said into a headset over the rumble of the two-seat Flightstar experimental aircraft he was piloting about 1,500 feet over his hometown.
It’s no secret around Gorham that Moody, founder and president of Moody’s Collision Centers, and a group of his buddies get up in the air whenever they can. Neighbors out on their lawns wave when they see the small planes passing, and some even keep landing strips on their property for the pilots to use.
“Landing and taking off is the most exciting part,” said Moody, explaining why the pilots like having various runways where they can practice.
He has one on his property on Elkins Road, but after a look at it, he said, “you’re going to question my intelligence.”
The landing strip leads directly toward his house.
Moody recently got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration — a process that took about a year — to build a longer runway off to the side of the house. It will be one of about 150 private landing strips that criss-cross Maine, according to the FAA.
Like a couple of other local men, Moody, 52, and his friend John Pompeo, 43, got into the sport after seeing another friend’s father, Steve Berry, flying ultralight aircraft around town.
“I was the instigator,” said Berry, 68, who took up flying about 40 years ago after seeing a television program about a 70-year-old pilot.
Twenty-three years ago, Berry suffered serious injuries in a crash, and his nephew, who was with him, decided to give up flying.
Moody bought his ultralight.
Pieces of material cut from T-shirts bear Moody’s and Pompeo’s names and a date — Aug. 27, 1989.
The material is from the shirts they wore that day, when each pilot made his first solo flight. The mementos hang, framed, in a hangar at Pompeo’s house in Buxton, where they keep the two planes they share.
In addition to the Flightstar, they fly a two-seat SeaRey, known as an amphibious plane because it can land on water.
Experimental aircraft are a step up from ultralights, many of which don’t require a license to fly. Moody and Pompeo got their pilots’ licenses in the ’90s after taking lessons at the airport in Biddeford. That was around the same time they got the two planes they fly now.
Both planes weigh about 450 pounds and have weight limits of about 900 pounds. They’re about 20 feet long with 32-foot wingspans. Their engines, the 114-horsepower Rotax 914, can also by found in drones used by the military, Moody said.
Moody, who ran as an independent in Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial race, said flying is a great sport for people who are self-employed, as he and Pompeo are. Pompeo owns Pompeo Sand and Gravel. Because they make their own hours, they can take advantage of good flying weather whenever it comes.
Plus, it’s a good way for the businessmen to unwind.
“You’re so focused on flying, you kind of forget about everything else,” Moody said. “For me, it’s relaxing.”
It’s also Moody’s favorite way to see the state. Passing over Gorham on a sunny morning this month, he flew over his flagship body shop, with what looked like toy cars arranged in perfect lines.
He passed by his house, and his wife, Christina, waved from the yard.
Looking out across a sea of green trees toward the ocean, he pointed out National Semiconductor in South Portland and the smokestack of the Sappi paper mill in Westbrook.
“Isn’t that something? This is southern Maine right here,” he said.
What strikes Moody most about the view is how much of the area is still undeveloped – something one might not think, driving on its busy roads.
“Everything looks so different from the air. That’s the biggest thing,” Moody said. “You really see it for what it is.”