Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Maine (Seaplane) Event!

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

Sitting out on a dock at one of the packed eateries on the south edge of the cove bestows a ringside seat in more ways than one. It's also right under the approach end for landings.

Why is that worth mentioning? One reason: excitement. The Cove is less than 400 feet wide for the first 800 feet of its length as it runs northward. That's just a bit wider than a football field and less then three times as long. All the takeoffs and taxiing take place right in that space. Naturally, spectators gather all around this peninsula of water to catch the flight ops.

And the action never lets up for long. The contest planes fly a pattern that puts short-short final right over the main street of downtown. They dive steeply down at the end of the approach, no more than 50 to 100 feet up, then round out to touch down on the water. The first time I see that stunt-worthy approach, I think for a split second I'm witnessing an emergency landing.

The competition includes takeoffs, spot landings, accuracy bomb drops...and the two-person bush-pilot canoe races. Meant to showcase both paddling and piloting skills, a lone canoeist paddles like mad out to a mid-lake dock even as the floatplane pilot taxis out behind him, gunning the engine at just the right moment to time the bird's arrival with the canoe's at the dock.

Seaplane Resources
2012 International Seaplane Fly-in
Forum For Seaplane Pilots
Seaplane Pilots Association
The Birches Resort
The pilot shuts down and leaps out to help the paddler tie the canoe to the floats at breakneck speed, then both jump into the plane to high-speed taxi the short distance back to the shoreline dock as the crowd cheers them on. The plane swings around fast in the tight space—wind gusts make things more challenging—dock the plane, shut down and untie the canoe.

The winner is the team with the fastest overall time. It may not sound all that exciting, but the frenzied paddling, choppy wavelets and tight maneuvering space ashore make for a real crowd-pleasing drama.

At day's end I drive back north to my rustic digs at The Birches, a quaint old-fashioned log lodge 20 minutes up the west side of the lake that draws return pilots and families for its quiet charms far from the madding crowd.

To the east, a rusty full moon glides just above the jagged pine-tree ridgeline. In the gathering plum-hued twilight, I remember to keep my eyes peeled. Moosehead Lake is well named for its dense population of ungulates, and they like to wander across roads.

Next morning before the final day of the event, The Birches owner John Willard takes me for a ride in his Super Cub, on floats, of course. We lift off the mist-blanketed lake to chase our rainbow-broken shadow across the tops of the gossamer thin cloud layer. Pure magic.

If you plan on taking in this jewel of a flying treat, don't delay. In-town lodging books out well in advance of the fly-in.

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