A Story That Took Some Time To Complete
Guest Editorial written by Chris Buckner – This story has been a long time coming. It started in 2007 when, given the freedom of choice for any topic by Appalachian State Professor Randy Jackson, I chose to speak about seaplanes. Since March 2009 when I took my very first GA flight in a Tecnam P20002. Since 2015 when Seaplanemagazine.com owner, Jason Baker, and I began discussions about starting this project, just around the same time I was signed off as a private pilot. Since April of 2019 when I first stopped by Aero Club Como to meet Marco Di Pilato for the first time. And most certainly since June 29, 2019.
Why June 29th? Because on that day, thanks to Marco Di Pilato and Aero Club Como, I finally got to experience flight in a seaplane for the first time in my life. Seaplanes have been a passion of mine for a long time and getting to take that first step towards being a seaplane pilot and owner was a dream come true. Getting to accomplish that first step on picturesque Lake Como in Italy was just icing on the cake.
While planning a short trip to Switzerland with my brother for some hiking, I mentioned that we might be able to take a seaplane flight. He quickly agreed and I reached out to Marco. Luckily the schedules worked out and there was a perfect window in which our flight could potentially take place. After a quick three hour drive over to the beautiful Lake Como we met Marco on the front steps of Aero Club Como, looking out over the lake and the unique Main Street passing between the hanger and the water ramp.
Marco quickly had me sign some papers and we were off down to the edge of the water where the club’s Cessna 206 (N206BJ) was waiting on the ramp. We climbed inside and waited for a vehicle to push us down and into the water. The thrill of sitting in the right seat of a Cessna and floating on the water at the same time was everything I had hoped for. We slowly began taxiing across the lake towards the far end of the water runway. Marco kept apologizing for the long taxi, but I was loving every minute of it. Once at the end and after making sure that all boats were far enough away to not cause any interference, Marco pushed the throttle forward and we began to pick up speed.
As the speed increased I saw the spray change in size and intensity around the PK3500 floats. I felt as the plane went up “on the step” and the drag from the water began to decrease, then I felt the instant smoothness that comes from the transition of water to air. To put it simply, it was breathtaking.
We climbed out and took a left just before reaching the town of Como to avoid noise pollution. Marco said that we would fly a circle counterclockwise around the lake, using the edge of the lake as our guidance point. Once we reached our cruising altitude, Marco told me I had the controls. This was definitely not expected, but was fully appreciated. Having never flown in a Cessna 206 it was exhilarating to get to feel the differences in the heavier, more powerful aircraft, and was delighted to see that I was able to stay on heading and altitude with ease, even with my current lack of recent flying experience.
We continued to circle the lake with Marco pointing out landmarks such as Blevio, the longest town in Italy, and Bellagio, one of the more well known Lake Como cities. Upon reaching Bellagio, Marco resumed control of the plane and flew over the lake to do some turns. As he banked into a steep turn at the center of the lake, he explained that he wouldn’t normally do this, but since I’m a pilot he thought I would enjoy it. He was definitely not wrong, though I’m not so sure my brother and his stomach agreed.
After some more maneuvering, we headed back south, down the opposite side of the lake. We saw the famous Villa Del Balbianello and the Isola Comacina as we returned and prepared for our approach and landing. The return to the water was just as exciting as our departure. The smooth descent, and then the abrupt change from smooth air to the feeling of being on the water, then feeling the water slow us down to our normal taxi speed to our final destination of Aero Club Como.
We taxied to the dock, where a dock-hand was waiting to tie the plane up and help us disembark. After a few pictures and a quick Espresso with Marco at the coffee shop next door, we had to be on our way back to Geneva to catch our afternoon flight to London.
Many days have come and gone since that day, I’ve been back up in a Cessna 172 a few times and it still feels amazing, but something about that Lake Como air and the spray of the lake around the plane that I just can’t get out of my head. I love flying, but there is something about a seaplane that takes me even further. My hope for myself, and for all seaplane pilots, is that every flight, feels just like that first flight.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Marco Di Pilato and Aero Club Como again for helping to make that flight possible, as well as Jason Baker and Seaplanemagazine.com. It was an experience I’ll never forget and one that I hope I’ll have many more times in the future. Until we meet again, Blue Skies!