Flying pooch a popular prop for Ocean City air-tour outfit POSTCARD FROM THE BEACH

June 08, 1994|By Dail Wil | Dail Wil,Ocean City Bureau of The Sun

Over Ocean City -- Greg von Rigler is everything a beach pilot should be: tan, barefoot, shirtless, deceptively casual about flying his Cessna 172.

And he flies with his 6-year-old chocolate Labrador, Mate, when the plane isn't filled with paying passengers.

"If it's a single, the dog always goes," he says with a grin. "But she doesn't go near the plane while the prop's spinning. I figure, in a prior life, she got hit by a propeller."

Mr. von Rigler is the owner of Skytours, a two-pilot, two-plane, one-dog enterprise that offers air tours of Ocean City and environs.

"Little kids love the dog, and they love the flying," he says. And Mate loves the flying too, although she shares her owner's insouciance 6l about it: She only looks out of the window when they're coming in to land, he says.

He flies tourists of all ages over the 10.5-mile stretch of development that's Maryland's beach resort for $17 a passenger. Or, there's a deluxe tour: $33, and he'll fly around Ocean City, the 37-mile sand spit called Assateague just to the south, and offer a running commentary on the shifting ecology of barrier islands.

"It's evolved into an educational thing," he says. "They don't walk away from Ocean City with just empty pockets and a hangover. The longer rides, I'm working on a whole educational thing -- people from Kansas who've never seen the beach."

His own beach education began when he was a member of Ocean City's Beach Patrol for several summers. "I kept staying later and later every year," says the former Baltimore resident, the son of a doctor.

He doesn't remember when he felt the pull of the sky -- "I just always wanted to do it." So one summer, he saved his Beach Patrol money, put it in a certificate of deposit and cashed it in that winter for flying lessons.

The laid-back attire and manner can't mask the training imposed by thousands of flight hours and a commercial pilot's license.

"Up in the air, we're all real professional about what we do," he says. "There's not a lot of room for screwing up."

Now 35, he's owned Skytours since 1991 and also runs a flying service out of Crisfield. Work brings obvious pleasure, and a continuing education.

"You can develop as a human being," he says.

"I just keep learning more and more. Today it was porpoises, yesterday it was a whale. There's always something to learn . . . always something to look at."

Indeed, the view is spectacular from 1,000 feet. The ocean's green hues deepen into the horizon. To the south, Assateague is a bone-white sliver of sand bleaching in the afternoon sun.

"What do I like about it?" he asks after a short flight. Glancing down at his bare chest, he looks complacent. "Hey, I'm at work right now -- I'd never get away with this in Baltimore!"


Skytours operates out of the Ocean City airport. For information and reservations, call (410) 289-8687.

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