By: Norm Goyer
I love to fly seaplanes. I love flying boats, airplanes with pontoons or floats and those with the added bonus of wheels, they’re called amphibians. What’s an amphibian? A creature who lives in the water and on the land. I guess a frog is an amphibian, at least some are. My ancestors come from France and French Quebec. Growing up during the depression in New England all nationalities had nicknames, French people were called “Frogs.” Why? I haven’t the slightest idea, but it probably answers the questions of why I like water flying.
Before World War II I would haunt the small seaplane base at the foot of the Calvin Coolidge Bridge in Northampton, Massachusetts. I would sit on the river bank, next to my Iver Johnson bicycle, and hope that some friendly pilot would feel sorry for the kid on the bank and give him a ride. I believe that I was the first to carry a sign that stated, “Will work for a ride.” Finally “truth in advertising” paid off and a kindly gentlemen gave me a ride in an Aeronca C-3 on tiny EDO floats. The Connecticut River is the home of many boats, even in 1939, there were a lot of watercraft churning up the water. The pilot, a professor at one of the local colleges, guided the tiny plane under the bridge turned it around and headed into the East wind. This was not an STOL float plane, in fact it took a long time to get it on the step with its little two cylinder Aeronca engine banging away up front. But fly it did, and I was off on the first of many seaplane adventures. Labor Day was a big success for me, thanks to a generous owner of a Staggerwing Beech on floats. What a difference between the little 37 hp C-3 and big radial engine powered D-17. I was hooked on water flying.
After the Navy sprung me to the Inactive Reserves I made it official, I added a water rating to my ticket. I took a few seaplane lessons in New Hampshire and passed the check ride in Concord, NH, on a little pond adjacent to the Concord Airport. The 65-hp J-3 was a rocket ship compared to the 50-hp Cub I had been flying. I returned home with a fresh new rating in my pocket, I was officially a seaplane pilot. I celebrated by buying part interest in a 1947 Taylorcraft on EDO floats based at the same little dock where I had had my first float plane ride. My future wife Tina was still in college in Lowell, Massachusetts which was located on the Merrimac River with an adjoining sea plane base. Every weekend during the summer I would travel to Lowell via my T’craft. The J-3 was a fun seaplane, but the T’craft was a useful one, It could cruise around 90 mph compared to 65-70 with the Cub on floats. Its water handling was superior to the Cub as well.
One of my flying friends, the late Roger Atwood, owned a Sea Bee and an early Super Cub on EDOs. Then he acquired a 150-hp Colonial Skimmer, the grand daddy of the Lake Amphibian. Another friend had a float equipped Cessna 180 and his friend had a Cessna 195 on EDOs, now that was a piece of machinery. I flew copilot many times wth Roger on trips to Canada carrying a fisherman or a hunter. Of course in New England, there is no shortage of water for seaplane operations.
What did I learn about flying seaplanes? They could be dangerous in unknown waters, an accident in an out of the way location could make it super difficult to repair your aircraft or retrieve it. When the ice arrived, you had to convert back to wheels, which was a bit labor intensive and expensive, unless you had an repair certificate. You also had to learn to read the wind from other than the radio or windsocks; smoke, clotheslines and horse’s tails became very important wind indictors.
After I relocated to California I rediscovered water flying in aircraft far different from what I had been flying. I found that a simple ultralight, such as a Drifter or Hawk, or even a Quicksilver, could be a real blast to fly, talk about being part of the environment. You were in the open, sitting on tiny plastic seat with your butt about a foot from dragging in the water. In all my flying, I still believe that a good ultralight on floats is about the most “real” flying fun a pilot can experience.
My last two seaplanes were both 200-hp Lake Amphibians. Trips to the Salton Sea and Lake Mead, above the Hoover Dam, were routine summer fun trips. Son Robert and friend Sparky both received their seaplane ratings in a Piper J-3 at Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base in Winter Haven Florida while attending Sun ‘n Fun. Consider this option, when it is time for your Flight Review, get your water rating, you will never regret it, it is just plain fun.