Wednesday, March 1, 2006
See Italy By Seaplane
Talk about fantasies on floats…
Cesare Baj dropped the first notch of flaps on the Lake Buccaneer as we circled Castelli di Cannero, a castle from the 13th century. The amazingly intact structure was built on a rocky outcrop in the middle of a lake 600 to 700 years ago as a means of discouraging unwanted visitors. That philosophy can be evidenced today as this late-medieval castle remains virtually inaccessible to almost all tourists who visit Italy. " />
Many pilots are drawn to Aero Club Como by its unmatched legacy as one of the world’s great repositories of seaplane talent, along with its idyllic setting at one of Europe’s most beautiful locations, Lake Como. Julius Caesar was one of the first dignitaries to visit the lake, and even today, descendants from families who came during the height of the Roman empire still live in the terra-cotta houses and villages that surround the region. Hollywood luminaries frequent the restaurants and villas, and activities around the lakeshore regularly appear in the international press.
To the locals, activities at Aero Club Como don’t seem unusual. Float flying began on the lake in 1913 and residents are accustomed to seeing seaplanes taxi across the narrow street from the club’s hangar and continue down into the water. The club has an extensive collection of photos and information about the history of flying floats on the lake. That heritage alone makes Aero Club Como worth visiting.
Pilots of all skill levels, even those with zero seaplane time, take advantage of the club’s stable of seaplane instructors. “Many pilots come here just to learn how to fly on the water,” Baj says. Before arriving, an interested pilot must fax a copy of his or her license and medical to the club for validation to fly in Italy. A local instructor will acquaint the new arrivals with the Italian flight rules and regulations before the lessons (on flying a Skyhawk or the 180 hp Super Cub on floats) begin.
Pilots who have made Aero Club Como their entrée into float flying report that the club’s time-tested approach is more comprehensive than the garden-variety seaplane courses, which are often scheduled over a couple of days. “If you just want to get a signature in your log book, you should do the two-day course,” Baj says. “If you want to be a seaplane pilot, you should come here.”
Experienced seaplane pilots may only have to complete a single-engine aircraft check-out before they are signed off and good to go. However, that doesn’t mean carte blanche access to all of Europe’s waterways. Though Aero Club Como’s pilots log an aggregate of more than 4,000 hours of yearly float flying, the group has an outstanding safety record and intends to keep it that way. Newcomers, even high-time pilots, are encouraged to first visit any number of highlights along Lake Como’s shoreline, and must work their way toward earning any serious cross-country privileges.
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