Jump in a Lake
At the Moosehead Lake seaplane fly-in, the dress is casual, the rules are bent, the competition is crazy, and the scenery is Maine.
- By airspacemag.com
- Air & Space magazine, May 2006
(Page 2 of 3)
Roger Currier owns Currier’s Flying Service, which offers air tours in vintage floatplanes; he came to Greenville in 1982 on the offer of a job from Dick Folsom, whose name for half a century was synonymous with bush flying in the wilds of Maine. By that time, the paper companies that own most of the wilderness had learned that it was cheaper to build roads than float the logs downriver to the mill. The roads are open to the public, and they quickly found favor with hunters, fishermen, snowmobilers, and folks who live in the backcountry, causing a drop in business for the bush pilots.
When Currier arrived, he found that Dick Folsom no longer needed another pilot. Currier instead worked for Jack Hofbauer, a Delta Air Lines pilot who ran a seaplane service on the side. “He was in and out,” Currier recalls in a soft voice, “and the rest of his family ran the business. One of my bosses was a 13-year-old girl. So I decided to do my own thing.”
The state of Maine sold him a beat-up Cessna 180 with 3,000 hours on the airframe. Over the next 23 years, he added another 7,000. “It’s been a good plane,” he says with considerable understatement. Meanwhile, he added two burly Cessna 195s, another 180, and a de Havilland Beaver. (The Curriers also own a 1952 Jeep and a pair of Volkswagen Beetles.)
At the same time, a new generation of bureaucrats was replacing the old-timers at the Federal Aviation Administration regional office, and they took notice of the fact that what the bush pilots were doing was, well, not according to regulations. Most floatplanes are certified to carry canoes only when flying “restricted”—and as the pilot of a restricted aircraft, you can’t take passengers for a fee. Strictly speaking, what a bush pilot must do is fly the canoe without charge, then make another flight in the “general” category with the paying passengers.
“Pretty darned expensive,” Roger Currier points out, “and not cost-effective when we could be doing back-to-back sightseeing tours all day.” (That the FAA got exercised about a little thing like carrying a canoe on a float is amusing, considering that Greenville’s archetypal bush pilot, Charlie Coe, was forever inventing uses for his airplane: In the summer he towed water skiers with it, and in the winter he moved logs across the ice.)
Seaplanes had their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, when U.S. designers created the Republic Seabee and Grumman Goose. There were five Seabees on the Fish and Game ramp Saturday morning. There are a few modern airplanes here too, notably a twin-engine, low-wing, six-place Russian amphibian, a Beriev Be-103 that catches everyone’s eye—especially when it takes off, spewing water halfway out to the wingtips. And there are a smattering of foreign pilots, enough to justify the “international” in the event’s name. Andre Durocher flew down from Ottawa in a 600-horsepower de Havilland Beaver floatplane that he bought a few years ago, supposedly as an investment; he and his passenger wear T-shirts with a portrait of the Beaver front and back, and the legend: “For Sale.” But he’s in no hurry to close a deal. He showed off the airplane at the Oshkosh, Wisconsin mega-fly-in last July, and now he’s geared up for the Moosehead Lake bomb drop.
The fly-in also attracts pilots who have left their wings at home—like me. “You gotta fly to these things,” protests Don LaCouture Jr. of Marlboro, Massachusetts, when I admit that my transportation is a Honda Accord. Against a headwind, he needed three and a half hours to fly up in his father’s PA-18 Super Cub. On reflection, he amends his view: “Well, at least you know you’re gonna get home!”
Jack Sellett has a better excuse for driving. He came from Florida with his wife and dog in a motor home, using the fly-in as the far point of a grand tour of aeronautical landmarks. They visited Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in New York on the way north, and they’ll visit the National Air and Space Museum in Washington when southbound. Sellett carries photos of his former seaplanes in his wallet and displays them at every opportunity. He also tells war stories nonstop: “I landed in Everglades National Park and the ranger said to me, ‘You know you’re not supposed to land here, but you were having spark plug problems, weren’t you?’ ”