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Reinventing yourself: Finding and buying a floatplane

Emboldened by my recent Single Engine Seaplane (SES) rating and move the Pacific Northwest, it was time to set out on a search for a very special airplane. But which one? There are so many different types of seaplanes, should I go with a classic or something newer? Floats or a flying boat? Honestly, I had no idea, so my first thought was to throw caution into the wind (pun intended) and just log onto one of the online airplane-buying magazine sites. I knew of three which included Barnstormers, Trade-A-Plane and Controller. Surely, I would be able to find something that worked for me!  I found the process to be exciting!

While there were many possible configurations, there were not many airplanes for sale and the prices were very high. My first thought was that this was going to be harder than I imagined and maybe it would be like my experience moving up to the Pacific Northwest. Prices had skyrocketed in the last year and it appeared people were trying to unload their junkers to any city slicker who was willing to pay the ridiculous prices.

Defining my mission

As with most major decisions, I seek out the people with the most knowledge I can find. I went back to my friend Addison Pemberton, the master renovator and owner of the Grumman Goose that had whetted my appetite for my seaplane rating just a couple months before.

Addison was pretty clear that the name of the game was to make the aircraft as light as possible so it could get off the water in a short distance and expect to get it wet.  I also needed reliability since I was planning on flying a lot in Alaska and Canada. I needed an autopilot because I wasn’t going to hand-fly on the long legs. I also needed some rock solid IFR navigation capabilities for the bad weather that I knew I would experience further north.

I knew that flying low and slow would be a major adjustment after flying the Citizen of the World in the flight levels at over 300 knots true around the world and over the North and South poles. While it was fun above 18,000 feet at reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM) altitudes, I was missing a lot below me. It might feel like I wasn’t moving, but I would have more time to take in the sights and change my perspective.

Getting advice from the big boys

AOPA President Mark Baker suggested I reach out if I ever had a floatplane question and he directed me to Minnesota’s Wipaire Inc. to see what inventory they had in stock. They had a newer Cessna 206 on their floats but the engine was past TBO and I wasn’t looking for a project.

Next, I asked my FAA SES examiner, Glenn Smith, who was very knowledgeable as well. He suggested a shop in Park Rapids, Minnesota, called Park Rapids Aviation. I went to their website, and they had only one plane but it was a beauty. It had all the mods I was looking for, but it was old by my standards! It was a 1977 but the airplane was beautiful. The listed price was $495,000 for a Cessna 182 on Aerocet 3400 amphibious floats. One of my friends talked me out of buying such an old and expensive model.

I even had a conversation with aviation legends Burt and Dick Rutan about their experimental SkiGull floatplane project. While the SkiGull hadn’t lived up to Burt’s expectations with respect to handling big waves, they learned a lot. It was probably the only experimental I would have considered based on the brothers’ long history of excellence. Unfortunately, the aircraft wasn’t going to be produced so it wasn’t an option either.

Since I was planning on flying up in Alaska, I also reached out to a couple of Alaskan pilots to discuss options. I figured the people flying in the area would know what worked best up there. A guy named James Spikes, who lived in Wasilla, Alaska, and had won eight short takeoff and landing (STOL) competitions including the famous one at Valdez, let me know the earlier 182 on floats that I considered was a beauty and could be used on tundra tires as well. Marc McKenna, a collector and pilot from Anchorage, with several hangars full of pristine Cessna 180s and 185s, also gave me the thumbs up on that same 182 and told me to “Buy it!”

Buyer Beware

In the process of the search, I came across an option that looked pretty good, but the owner was playing a bit dumb with me. Sensing something was up, I called in the most knowledgeable floatplane mechanic I could find who was Rob Ritchie from Kenmore Aviation in Washington. To give you an idea of Rob’s credentials, when I walked into Kenmore Aviation I asked a guy if he had ever heard Rob Ritchie and he laughed and said, “You could ask that question from here to Australia and get the same answer! Yes!”

The plane I was interested in was just 45 minutes away from Kenmore so I met Rob at the aircraft and he sliced and diced that plane during the pre-buy like he was using a sharp kitchen knife. We determined the airplane had a history up in Canada and 6 years of logbooks were missing. Of course, the owner said he was unaware of the missing books. If it was not for all Rob taught me about floatplanes during that 5 hours, I would have been pretty upset. That lesson cost about $1,500.

Beaver fever

Rob started showing me some of the most pristine de Havilland Beavers I had ever seen. I was a bit intimidated by their size and felt they would be a handful to dock or beach for a first-timer. The price tag in the 700K range was pricey for someone trying to build hours and determine if floatplane flying was even what I wanted to do. The insurance company made it easy by giving me an emphatic, “No!” to doing transition training in a Beaver. In my heart of hearts, I know a DHC3 Beaver will play some part in my life in the future, just not now.

The Universe steps in and gives me some guidance

Over the span of the next couple of months, I learned the state of the market, what floatplanes were selling for, and what my next step would be. As luck would have it, I was walking around 2021 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh  and my eyes fell upon one of the most beautiful floatplanes I had ever seen and it looked very familiar. It was N257JS—the Cessna 182 on Aerocet floats that I had seen online on the Park Rapids website months before, and she was perfect! In fact, I was blown away by this aircraft. Turns out she had only 1,749 hours on her and I couldn’t find a rusty bolt, a bit of corrosion, or for that matter, anything wrong with her. I knocked on the trailer door behind the plane and out walked a new friend of mine who I respect and admire, Tom Hamilton. He is the most humble person, the founder of GLASAIR, designer of the Kodiak and president of Aerocet Floats. Tom is an aviation legend, and I was surprised to see him. We had several great conversations over the next few days about N257JS, floatplanes, aviation, and life. This was a super cool coincidence, and the Universe was pointing me directly towards this beauty and the quality floats that he designs and builds.

The perfect time to buy

With inflation running wild and all the new administration printing currency as fast as they could, now was the perfect time to use the cash I had and invest in hard assets. As inflation increases so would the value of my airplane! I knew I would not lose money if I sold in a couple years after building some hours as a seaplane pilot.

Pre-buy

I made an offer on N257JS and it was quickly accepted. The pre-buy was with Will at North Point Aviation and went well. Aside from some tight control cables, instruments that needed calibration, a little bit of corrosion on the prop tips, and a bad vacuum pump, it was clean. All the supplemental type certificates were in order and the seller was willing to fix the squawks.

Modding Her Up

Now it was time to decide what she needed from me! N257JS was already loaded with extra features including a Continental IO-550 that was ported and polished, a Hartzell 86-inch three bladed prop, bubble side windows, glass panel, vortex generators, STOL wing, wing extensions, tip tanks, and gap seals to name a few. For my mission, I would need a few more things, which my generous sponsors agreed to provide, including Whelen LED lights, a Concorde battery, and Electroair electronic ignition. I’m waiting on answers from MT on a reversing prop, L3 Harris Technologies for a Lynx NGT-9000 ADS-B transponder and an ESI-500 electronic standby instrument, and Genesys Aerosystems S-TEC 3100 digital autopilot.

Welcome to the DeLaurentis Foundation family!

Escrow closed a week after the pre-buy and I’m happy to say N257JS is now a proud member of the DeLaurentis Foundation. Her (still unnamed) mission is to help me safely build SES, hours to satisfy insurance requirements, preform reliably, turn some heads, and teach me about seaplane flying across Canada, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. I’m unsure what role she will play in our future missions, but we know she will be involved in something bigger in the near future that will have impact on aviation and the world.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of the books Flying Thru Life, Zen Pilot, the children’s book The Little Plane That Could, and the upcoming book Peace Pilot: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. A complementary 12-part worldwide docuseries, “Peace Pilot to the Ends of the Earth,” will be simultaneously released. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and recently completed his second record-breaking circumnavigation from Pole to Pole in his aircraft “Citizen of the World,” on a global peace mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Surprises all around

Jean Moule last wrote for the Flight Training blog about flying with different instructors. She is an emerita faculty member of Oregon State University, and a published writer and artist. Visit her website.—Ed.

glacierYou have spent months planning, days hiking. Your tents are pitched on a finger of land that sticks out into Bench Lake in the wilderness on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Suddenly a floatplane lands on the water and comes to a stop in the middle of the small lake you had thought your own. The plane taxis to the end of the lake to again face into the wind and takes off. You stand with others in your group wondering, as you always will, why did that plane land here? What was that all about?

Watching the airplane fly off into the distance, you see it even more mysteriously take a turn in the air. Is it wildlife? Unknown to you, the airplane circled around a snowmobile abandoned in this wilderness.

This introduction to floatplane flying by a new, young CFI certainly had its moments for both me and life on the ground. The bear we circled was as surprised as the people. My sense is that a more experienced CFI would not have caught such attention from both the wild and people life. And while he never scared me exactly, flying close to the mountains to catch the updrafts for flight caused me to not take the controls as much as I might. In the end, I controlled the flaps and the water rudder because, in the Super Cub, he could not reach them anyway. The bottom line: Did I have fun? he asked after we returned to the dock. Oh yes.

tailnumberThe views were awesome. Could I say anything but “Wow!” asked the pilot in the other airplane that held most of my family. We took off and landed together on Trail Lake; I circled Paradise Valley while my family flew over the Harding Ice Field in a bigger, faster airplane.

Alaska will never be the same for me now that I have seen the backcountry, which makes up most of Alaska anyway, from the air. So many lakes, almost always a place to land—or maybe “land” is not the correct word, when you finish up on water.

My family and I have a lively conversation the night before about how a floatplane pilot gets to the dock. Carefully, and with experience, I find out. My CFI is embarrassed when our airplane goes quiet and still several feet from the dock. Only the presence of someone who could throw him a rope saves us from other ways to make that dock.

His mentor, the 75-year-old pilot who took my family up, stands just a tad mortified as the airplane is pulled into place.

bench lake with tentsI don’t mind. I was along for the ride and scenery anyway. And I did learn a bit about floatplanes. My first pleasure was the water taxiing (no yellow line to nail) and the views, especially the images of the other airplane carrying my family were incredible. Our hour in the sky was well worth our weeks of planning, days of travelling, and getting seven people up and out on schedule for our flights. The Alaska weather cooperated. No rain and the clouds rested at about 5,000 feet. The group on the Cessna 206 sometimes seemed a tad squeezed between the Harding Icefield and the clouds. Our smaller airplane played in the hidden valleys and did a practice land and takeoff for those surprised hikers. They wonder why we landed. I wonder if I will ever get in a floatplane again. Mysteries.—Jean Moule

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Alaska calling

The June issue of Flight Training, going to press this week, Juneauis full of great content about the great state of Alaska. Pilots can’t get enough about Alaska (and can’t stop dreaming about going there, flying there, living there, or working there). Maybe it’s because general aviation is so entrenched in the state because there’s almost no other means of transportation for many communities. Maybe it’s the allure of the bush-pilot lifestyle, whatever that may be. Maybe it’s the endless possibilities of where you can land: water, snow, a glacier, gravel. I don’t know; you tell me what it is in the Comments section.

But anyway, as I was saying—Alaska! The photo you see is one I took from the left seat of a modified Cessna 150 in June 2008, somewhere near Juneau. I was midway through a weeklong cruise from Seattle, and I knew that the 12 hours our cruise ship was docked at Juneau was the only window I’d have to do some affordable flying. (Much as I wanted to do a glacier flight, that wasn’t in the budget. But if you can afford one, do it and tell me how it went.)  So I went on the Internet, found a flight instructor, called him from Maryland, and scheduled some dual. Two weeks later, he picked me up in downtown Juneau, drove me to the airport, and I had the most memorable 1.3 hours of flying of my life at that point.

The scenery was spectacular. The flight instructor pointed out several little sand bars and gravel strips. We overflew a 1,900-foot gravel strip that from 200 feet looked like a dirt path made by a couple of four-wheelers. For $168, I considered my flight a bargain.

Editor Ian J. Twombly has fond memories of Alaska, too. It’s where he got his seaplane rating–an experience he describes in this 2005 article (see the sidebar, but read all of Katie Writer’s discussion of what’s involved in becoming a bush pilot).

Do you have Alaska dreams? Better yet, do you have Alaska memories? If so, share them in the Comments section. The June issue of Flight Training starts shipping to homes on April 4; digital subscribers will see it a on March 28.—Jill W. Tallman

 

Photo of the Day: Greenville, Maine, Splash-In

A Cessna 172 taxies past as an Antilles G21G Super Goose lands in the background at Moosehead Lake.

We can’t resist a beautiful photo of a floatplane, and the Seaplane Splash-in at Greenville, Maine, provides some of the best spotting opportunities on the East Coast. This photo is from the 35th annual Splash-In, held in 2008.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Beriev Be-103

Some airplanes turn heads on the ramp. This one undoubtedly makes all the boaters’ heads swivel–even those who are accustomed to seeing Piper Cubs on floats. The Beriev Be-103 is a light ampibian aircraft that hails from Russia. Some Facebook commenters expressed confusion about the placement of the wings, which are close to the water. Barry Schiff, who flew the airplane for AOPA Pilot magazine, says it performs and handles extraordinarily well on water. Those wings displace water to help keep the airplane float and take maximum advantage of ground effect during takeoff and landing–no flaps needed. Read more in Barry’s pilot report in the October 2004 AOPA Pilot.