Water World

Where airplanes have floats, and everybody flies.

During a tranquil moment at Lake Hood, the world’s largest seaplane base, a Piper PA-14 skims a watery runway (Adam Wright / FlightDeckImages)
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The meteorological winter is kinder to Lake Hood operations than the recent economic winter has been. While the larger operators still thrive on a growing air tourism trade, the smaller outfits have seen hard times.

“I’d had the best year I ever had in 2008,” says John Ellison. “But 2009 was the worst year ever, down from 400 hours to 275. We used to have another pilot, dockhand, office person. Now it’s pretty much a one-man show.”

But the Lake Hood Seaplane Base and all who make their living from it—pilots and ground crews, husbands and wives, fathers and sons—are sticking around despite lean times. Many see themselves as part of a brotherhood of neighbors and kindred souls—a unique aeronautical ecosystem. As Dee Hanson says of Lake Hood, “There will never be another one like this one.”

In 1976, longtime contributor Carl Posey flew a wheeled Cessna 182 from Colorado to Point Barrow, Alaska, and back (and lived to tell about it).

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