I’ve been dreaming about flying float planes for most of my life. Especially after sore knees and hips made it increasingly hard to reach the silent lakes of my youth via canoe and hiking boot. I always remember that time on a remote lake in Algonquin Park where a park ranger dropped into our lake in a deHavilland Beaver and paddled the plane ashore. He was there to set up some toilets at a new campsite that wasn’t on our map, but he stopped over to check our permit and make sure we weren’t cutting down live trees.
Since then, I’ve often thought how cool that would be, to fly a Beaver into a lake that was only known to a few paddlers, and after the engine stopped making pinging noise as it cooled down, just listening to the loons and the breeze in the trees. I got to experience some of that on the Alaska cruise as we stood on the float of our Beaver for a few minutes.
Vicki and I were talking about it the other day, and she suggested that when I retire (or it becomes impossible to find my sort of work anywhere outside of Asia), I could fly floats as a second career. A little research shows that there are a couple of hitches to that:
- Nobody will hire a float plane pilot without hundreds if not thousands of hours of float time.
- Nobody (with the possible exception of Twitchells Seaplane Base in Maine, but that’s a long way to go before starting your flight) will rent you a seaplane except with one of their instructors sitting beside you.
- Probably most importantly: float plane flying is strenous work, since the customers will expect you to do all the loading and unloading and dock work.
But before I throw out the dream entirely, I did some more research, and some more dreaming. On the dreaming side, there is Georgian Bay Airways, which as well as initial and advanced float plane training, also has a Career Bush Pilot Program where you get 50 hours of training, including 1 in their Beaver. I wish I’d known about this when I was 20 years old – they hire one or two of the students from this program to be dock hands for the summer, and you’ll get some more time flying both their Cessna 180s and Beavers. They tell me that last year’s two dock hands got an additional 50 and 80 hours flying time.
But on the more pragmatic side, I’m probably not going to be able to do that. But I could at least get prepared – I need two things: a commercial rating and a float plane that I can put a lot of hours into. So I’m looking around to see if there are any other local pilots interested in a small partnership on some sort of float plane. I can’t afford one of my own, but I might be able to swing 1/2 or 1/4 of a sufficiently old Cessna 180 or similar. These new Light Sport Aircraft are tempting, but the only LSA ambhibian is a boat-hull flying boat rather than a float plane, and none of the commerical operators seem to use flying boats so I doubt the flying time would count for much. I’m not sure if I’d even fit in a CubCrafters Super Cub on floats.
Before I get the commercial, though, I’ve got to fly a lot more. I’ve got the minumum hours for the requirements, but frankly, I consider myself a safe pilot, but not a great pilot. I have always flown “good enough” instead of “as good as I possibly could get”. I just don’t fly enough, and because of that I don’t nail my airspeeds and altitudes, I don’t use the rudder enough, and I’m not totally smooth. But I know I can do that stuff with practice. So that’s my goal this year – to get 50 or more hours of flying, and some of that time going out to do real airwork to get more than just proficient at the normal Private Pilot maneuvers before I start thinking about learning the commercial maneuvers.