Flight training adventure: Just add water

Some pilots become jaded with time. Need to perk-up your aviation life? Pre-Sun ’n Fun, I returned to Central Florida’s lake country and a training operation that will freshen anyone’s outlook on flying.

Located on Lake Dora above Florida’s Turnpike 35 miles northwest of Orlando, it’s Jones Brothers Air and Seaplane Adventures in “America’s Seaplane City,” Tavares, Florida. A bona fide aviation news item their first year with coverage of their Twin Bee MES training, they also offer something extra to the SES student. Want a little adventure in your training routine?

Jones Brothers flies Cessna 180 floatplanes capable of ranging widely throughout the Harris Chain of Lakes and other inland water. And Jones Brothers knows the places to stop for lunch! CFI and co-owner Eric Weaver rattled off just a few: Gator Joe’s on Lake Weir, The Black Hammock on Lake Jessup, even The Hillstone (Houston’s) on Lake Killarney north of Orlando! They can teach river operations with stops at Corky Bell’s or The Outback Crabshack on the St. Johns River.

“It separates us from other training venues,” says Weaver, who also works flying a big Twin Otter on floats from Palm Beach to the Bahamas. “We offer varied experiences with aircraft capable of going places, not just around the lake. River training, realistic confined area maneuvering, beaching, ramping – it’s all here around Lake County and surrounding areas.”

My choice was the ultimate lunch break: An out-landing at a lakefront restaurant. This day, it would be The Lake Minneola Inn in Clermont, Florida, west of Orlando. My instructor was co-owner Ricci (Richie) Rowe. In his other life, he’s a long-time Southwest Airlines senior captain and check pilot. Ricci came up through GA, not the military route of most SWA crew. Tales of his teenage seaplane bush flying in Canada and role as a professional water skier would delight you. (He was also a pilot for famed ski show impresario Tommy Bartlett, a family friend.) His stick-and-rudder skills as a former crop duster still impress.

CFI Ricci Rowe anchors us at Clermont, Florida's Lake Minneola Inn

After my first (and not bad) water landing, we taxied up to a white sand beach overlooked by the lunch crowd. We hopped out to sink an anchor and hook up before grabbing a table. The crowd was properly nonchalant about our arrival by seaplane. This IS Florida, after all. But I felt mighty good about it.

On approach back at Tavares

With growing familiarity chasing the cobwebs from my flying, a strong tailwind pushed us quickly back to Tavares and a second landing in some pretty rough water. I did OK. I felt at home again with a C-180 of my generation and ilk. No glass cockpit, just a classic panel in a classic airplane – but with water outside! It WAS an adventure.

I had been challenged. I had fun. And I got fed. Covered most of my priorities these days, and I got a tan, too.

© 2012 Story and photos Drew Steketee All Rights Reserved.


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