Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Maine (Seaplane) Event!

Is this the best, most in-your-face float-flying event in America?

Get That Seaplane Rating!
I've had the good fortune over the years to fly in many water-worthy airplanes. I've manned the controls of everything from a Lake amphibian to Cessna 182s and Caravans on floats, to a quick-launching Searey amphib, to float-equipped LSA, like the Legend AmphibCub and Flight Design CTLS, not to mention soloing in the '80s in an ultralight on (inflatable!) Full Lotus floats.

The freedom you feel landing into the wind—no matter where it's coming from—or carving racy arcs across a sunlight-shimmering smooth body of water is not to be missed.

So how to get the Single Engine Seaplane (SES) rating? Assuming you've already got your private, just add water, a few hours' training, money of course, stir, take a checkride with an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner, and you're good to go.

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Jon Brown, son of the late legendary pilot who founded the now-famous Brown's Seaplane Base near Lakeland, Fla. He told me the operation he inherited from his father Jack has trained 17,000 seaplane pilots since 1963. That's a lot of webfoot flyers!

Here's what Brown's prescribes for those afflicted with the desire to land a perfectly sound airplane on water:
  • The SES rating takes two days and involves basic water handling, including idle, plow and step taxi procedures.
  • Training includes normal takeoffs and landings from water and advanced maneuvers: crosswind, rough water and glassy water techniques; maximum performance procedures; emergency operations.
  • Docking and "sailing" (working with the wind—the airplane keeps moving after engine shutdown!)
  • Brown's offers the ground, preflight (1.5 hours) and dual flight (around five hours) instruction needed. The flying also includes basic air work, including slow flight and stalls, to get a feel for how planes with that pendulum of float mass behaves.
  • FAA practical test standards are adhered to, and students take an FAA practical flight test at the end of the school. Brown's has two designated examiners on staff.
One recommendation from the school: "It's a good idea to be current with your flying when you arrive to train." 'Nuff said.

Contact for more information.

On my walkaround, I find classics like an immaculately restored SeaBee in Canadian livery, a DC-3 (which often flies on floats), and aviation historical and art exhibits.

And parked right in front of the Greenville FBO is the only Piper Apache on floats in the world. Something wonderful happens to the overall visual appeal of most airplanes when they strap on pontoons. The Apache is a stellar example. This particular early-model twin, dressed to the nines with a gorgeous paint job, draws admiring spectators every time I glance its way—which is often.

Another certified attention grabber is the Fire Boss, a modified Air Tractor AT-802A, single-cockpit AG (agricultural) plane rigged for water drop on fires. A turbine-powered behemoth, it stands fully 12'9" above ground on amphibious wheels—it looks like 20'— and is a wonder to behold.

And that's sitting still. When the jet-hearted powerplant whines the prop up to speed, it's awe-inspiring. As it taxis for takeoff, I act on a hunch and hop a shuttle in time to make lakeside just before the big bird whistles by at 50 feet AGW to drop a full load of lake water (and is that a fish I see falling with the cloud of white spray?) right in front of the cheering thousands. By "right in front," I mean maybe 150 feet away, right over the center of East Cove.

It's time to sing the praises of what I consider the singular brilliance of the Greenville meet: the East Cove venue itself. This north-south elongated rectangle of water lies at the south end of Moosehead Lake, right in the center of the picturesque town of Greenville.

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