Coming Full Circle On The Passion For Seaplanes
Guest Editorial written by Tricia Dunham — To say that I was proud of my dad owning a float plane is an understatement. So, at age 20, when I found out that he decided to sell his 1968 Cessna 180 on floats, I was filled with mixed emotions. I knew that the costs of maintaining a plane were high – payments, fuel, insurance, general maintenance and upkeep – but I was sad to see that beautiful 180 go. As Dad was getting older I could tell it was more difficult for him to take care of the plane than when he was younger.
At this point in his life he and my mother were operating a set of sporting camps in Rockwood, Maine. Dad had his commercial pilot’s license so he would sell rides to their camp guests. The summer I was home from college, I was staying at the camps with my parents and helping around the grounds where I could. One of the things I would help with was when he would give plane rides. Dad would call me his “swamper” and I would help him pre-flight by pumping out the floats, helping customers into the plane, securing their lap belts, untying the plane from the dock, and the shove-off. When I heard him coming back I would go down to the dock and wait. When he came back I would catch the plane as he floated in and tie it to the dock. I would help guests back out of the plane and listen to their stories of the flight. A good time was had by all.
I hated the idea of him selling his floatplane but I had no say in the decision. Though Dad was 61 at that time, I secretly thought he’d probably buy another floatplane. He never did. Through the years, he has said he’d like to go for another ride but that never happened. My mother even made some attempts to schedule a ride in a floatplane in Greenville, Maine with one of the local pilots in the town. For one reason or another, the rides never happened.
Skip ahead 20 years. It was September 2018 and once again one of the greatest events had come to the area. The International Seaplane Fly-In was taking place in Greenville for the 45th consecutive year. The Greenville Fly-In, as the locals call it, is a weekend-long event that occurs in early September every year on Moosehead Lake. It is an event that has grown much larger over the years to include planes at the local airport in town as well as floatplanes. Needless to say, the Greenville Fly-In is the one even that I look forward to every year. I have attended nearly all of the fly-ins that have occurred in my 41 years. The fly-in has become more of a tradition to us rather than just a thing to do on a weekend. My parents wedding anniversary is September 8th and the fly-in always falls on or near their anniversary.
As is customary at the Greenville fly-in, there were several unique floatplanes there for us commoners to drool over. In years past there have been appearances from such planes as the locally owned DC-3 on amphibians, a 1954 Grumman Albatross, and a spectacular flyby from a 1943 Douglas C-47. This year, the centers of attraction were two planes: a unique looking Quest Aircraft Kodiak 100 and a beautiful Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. They were on the grounds by the hangar for everyone to walk around and admire and they were definitely gathering attention from the onlookers. We were no different; my parents, my husband and I spent our share of time appreciating the beauty of these two waterbirds.
As we were walking around the grounds watching the seaplane competitions and looking at the wares of the vendors we heard over the intercom, “Would the people who paid for a ride in the Caravan please gather near it. It will be leaving soon.” My head snapped toward my husband, Jim, and with my eyes wide with excitement I said, “Did he just say people can go for a ride in the Caravan?” Jim said, “That’s what I heard.” I wondered aloud how much the rides were. “I bet they’re at least $100 a seat.” Jim thought they would be more. (Let’s just say I was remarkably close.) I told my mom what we had just heard and she got on board the excitement train.
She and I went over by the Caravan where some lucky floatplane enthusiasts were getting ready for their ride. Mom wanted to find out about the rides because it was September 8th and today was their 56th wedding anniversary. She thought it would be a wonderful anniversary gift for Dad. Mom found the man, Kelly, to ask about a ride and he said how much it was. Kelly told us how much the ride was, made as a donation to a charity, and that there was room on their next scheduled flight. They had only planned on doing two rides and they hadn’t booked the second flight yet. I asked Jim if he wanted to go for a ride and he said yes (of course!). I told Mom we would go so she went to talk to Kelly again and said she wanted to surprise Dad for their anniversary and to her shock, he told her the ride was ‘on them’ as an anniversary gift. She was nearly speechless but was able to ask Dad if he wanted to go for a ride in the Caravan. He quickly said yes assuming it was a rhetorical question. She then told Dad it would be free and he didn’t believe her! We both had to convince him that it was for real. Once he agreed to go for the ride (which I think he still thought was a joke) we went back to the man to say we’d love to go!
We went with Kelly to the AOPA booth where he was signing up people for the flight. He took Mom and Dad’s info then as I was gathering all my credit cards to make my ‘donation’ I told Kelly that this means so much because Dad used to fly a 180. He told me that Mom had told him that then he leaned close to me and whispered in my ear “I’m going to try to get permission for him to sit in the co-pilots seat.” I gasped in surprise and smiled an enormous smile to him and thanked him with much emotion. I walked away, giddy with excitement and Mom asked me what he had whispered to me. I told her that Dad might get to sit in the co-pilots seat and she and I both got tears in our eyes.
We had about two hours before our flight so we milled around until it was time. When the time came, we went back over to the Caravan which was back on land near the hangar. As we were loading into the stunning aircraft Kelly told Dad where to sit; right in the co-pilots seat! Dad obeyed and for the first time in over 20 years he was once again in the cockpit of a floatplane. It was a heartwarming moment for me. Mom sat behind the pilot and Jim and I sat a couple seats further back. The plane was loaded, the doors were closed, and the engine roared to life. We taxied off the shore and into Moosehead Lake and my emotions got the better of me. Small tears welled up in my eyes as the memories came flooding back to a time when Dad and I would taxi on the water in his floatplane. It was a wonderful feeling!
The pilot maneuvered the Caravan further down the lake preparing for takeoff. The waves licked the floats as we bobbed along the water. Finally, the engine revved up and the thrust of the prop pulled us as we accelerated down the lake. Faster and faster until we were on the step and then the nose tipped upward and we lifted off the water.
Once again, I finally had that feeling that only comes from taking off from water. Watching as the 40-mile-long lake got smaller and further away, I remembered why I love flying so much. We circled around the lake and made a couple passes over Greenville. The pilot had given Dad a headset so they were able to talk to each other during the flight. I’m sure Dad was telling him about all the times he had flown over, around, and to Greenville in his Champs, his 170, and then his 180. I loved seeing Dad in the cockpit of such a magnificent aircraft. I could tell he was truly enjoying the experience.
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. We started to decent toward downtown Greenville, over the shops, the patrons, the one stop light in town, and Moosehead Lake started getting closer. We glided toward the lake with such ease and as Moosehead was getting closer and closer I watched the floats, just like I always used to do. The pilot eased the Caravan down until the floats just skimmed the lake then settled comfortably onto the water. We touched down with barely a bump. It was a picture perfect landing. The flight was only 15 or 20 minutes but I’m pretty sure I was smiling the whole time.
The Caravan slowed until we were bobbing on the lake again. The pilot taxied the magnificent floatplane across the lake toward shore. He got to the edge of the lake and gave it the thrust needed to get up the ramp and back on shore. The plane came to rest and the pilot cut the engine. We unfastened our lap belts and exited the plane. That was it. That was our once-in-a-lifetime flight aboard a Cessna Grand Caravan and it was amazing! I can’t fully explain how much that flight meant to me and to have my parents go on it as well was so special. I may never get to fly in a Caravan again but the memories of that flight will stay with me forever.
Tricia Dunham lives in Abbot, Maine together with her husband Jim and their dog Whiskey. She works for Hardwood Products, LLC and enjoys the outdoors, hunting, fishing and also harbors a passion for horses. The avid hunter had her writing work featured in Northwoods Sporting Journal. Tricia and Jim have attended the International Seaplane Fly In in Greenville, Maine for many years. Submit your guest editorial via Email: [email protected], please pay attention to our editorial guidelines.