Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Water, Wind & Floats

At Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, getting wet is part of the fun

You’ll learn different types of takeoff and landing techniques, all dictated by water conditions. You’ll be taught how to taxi, sail (using the ailerons and rudder as wind devices), turn (the big danger here is wind getting under the wing) and make confined-area takeoffs, where you lift off in a spiral on one float—it’s a total blast!

Nick is forever patient and knows every one of the 50-some lakes in the area, which we pick at random for different kinds of practice. I learn a little about the “pirate mentality” that Frances told me about back at the base. It’s an attitude that sets floatplane pilots apart: a love for the combination of water and flying, and a bit of an independent streak that focuses on the fun of flying first. Like sailors, seaplane pilots share a certain joy in living that becomes obvious as you spend time with them.

Now, with 4.9 hours of float flying in my logbook, Nick deems me ready for the checkride. Jon Brown is physically intimidating but really is a gentle, soft-spoken man who cares about each student. He carefully guides me through an hour of oral questions, and I learn volumes just listening to him. The checkride itself is nothing scary and covers everything I’ve learned. “Let’s try that rough-water landing again, please,” Brown says, as my nerves get the best of me. Jack Brown’s isn’t a “ratings mill” where examiners pencil-whip logbooks. Jon demands excellence from each student. The base’s 48 years of success have taught him a thing or two about seaplane training.

Bringing It Home
Writing about maneuvers and checkrides doesn’t tell you why flying a seaplane is so much fun. That’s something you’ll have to experience yourself, but it has something to do with freedom. For me, the moment came as I was jumping from lake to lake with Nick. I used my freshly learned skills to land in a narrow canal on a deserted lake. I flew at treetop level, weaving in and out of mossy cypress trees and over alligators that looked like telephone poles in the water. I brought the J-3 in on the deserted lake as the morning sun warmed my face through the Cub’s open door.

With my floats churning the root-beer water, I tugged the stick and pulled the throttle, and my obedient Cub reared up and stopped gently. We “sailed” to the lake’s edge and beached the Cub on a pristine shore where we talked about flying and listened to the thunk of water against the floats. The wind, the spray, the sun and the heady feeling of flight all combined to form a powerful elixir. “Does flying get any better than this?” asked Nick. There was no answer, just the sound of another Cub off in the distance, its pilot reading the wind and looking for paradise. We had already found it.

To learn more about Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, visit, or call (863) 956-2243.

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