Embracing the seaplane lifestyle

Not many people can say they pursued their seaplane rating out of necessity, but Greg Corrado from Port Orchard, Wash., can.

He always had an interest in aviation but it wasn’t until he reached his 40s that he had both the time — and a financial reason — to pursue his wings.

“My wife Mary Jo and I were running a lodge in British Columbia that was accessible only by floatplane or helicopter,” he said. “After spending thousands of dollars chartering floatplanes I decided why not learn to do this myself?”

Corrado4He got his private ticket, then added an instrument rating and a seaplane rating and now declares, “I absolutely loved flying. We bought our Cessna 180 in 2000 and have had it on floats from May to November every year since.”

The Corrado’s Cessna 180 is on straight floats, which can make flight planning challenge because of the need to have a place to land and a place to fuel on the water — or not, as Corrado explains.

“I have spent many hours hauling Jerry cans of avgas from local airports to shorelines and hoisting them up on the wing for refueling,” he said. “A friend and I flew my plane to Oshkosh a few years ago and there were only three stops on the whole trip that we were able to get avgas on the water.”

Corrado3Operating off the water, says Corrado, presents more of a challenge than flying a land-based airplane.

“Every takeoff and landing is different,” he said. “You can say the same about wheel planes, but you are generally confined to the runway and traffic patterns whereas on floats you pick your spot each time based on wind, water, currents, boats, debris and a whole myriad of conditions that influence your decision making.”

The floats allow the couple access to places where land airplanes and even automobiles can’t go, particularly in the rugged Pacific Northwest.

“Our longest trip on floats was to southeast Alaska,” Corrado recalled. “The scenery up the coast of British Columbia is stunning and we made our first stop in Alaska at Ketchikan, where we were weathered in for a couple of days. After that we had severe clear and warm weather for 10 days and we spent a few nights in a cabin owned by the U.S. Forest Service on a lake that is only accessible by floatplane. There are nearly 150 of these cabins in Alaska and they sleep four to six people and cost about $30 per night. We then headed out to Craig and Sitka, where we did fly-out fishing trips at the mouth of creeks and rivers.”

Some of the trips turned out to be more adventurous than others. A trip to Vancouver Island in 2001 turned into an ordeal because that’s where they were on Sept. 11. The Corrados waited 10 days for the post-terrorist attack TFR to be lifted.

Corrado1On two separate occasions their floatplane was attacked by an aggressive Orca. The Orca, known as Luna, lived in Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island from 2001 to 2006 and became somewhat of a local celebrity.

While Orcas are social animals, Luna appeared to roam alone. His solitary lifestyle, combined with his aggressive behavior, had the interest of whale biologists.

The couple’s first encounter with Luna happened while the airplane was parked at the dock of a fishing lodge.

“We were out fishing on a boat,” Corrado said. “We were hailed on the marine band radio and told to come back to the lodge as Luna was making love to my floats. As we arrived at the lodge we were told to stop and shut down as the whale experts were trying to get him to leave the area. He was continually sliding up onto the tails of my floats and actually did nearly $2,000 in damage to my water rudders.”

The second attack happened a few weeks later.

“We were staying at a friend’s cabin and my friend’s wife thought she might have broken her finger so I flew her into the closest town, which is Gold River, BC. There is a floatplane charter company there called Air Nootka and they have always let me use their docks, so as I taxi toward the dock I seemed to lose control of the plane and thought I must not have put my water rudders down. I reached down and the handle was in the correct position, so I opened the door and looked back and see this damn whale is pushing on the tail of my float and turning me toward the dock where there was a deHavilland Otter and Beaver parked and I have no directional control. My spinning prop is headed right at the beavers’ wingtip, so I just turned the mags off to get as immediate of a shutdown as possible and just as the prop stops, the whale dives and I am able to turn with my wing under the Otter wing, just missing the wing rope and strut. I have to restart the plane on the fly to keep the momentum to keep maneuvering in the current. That one got my attention.”

The hostile killer whale eventually met his demise when he was run over by a tugboat.

The couple’s travels have been south of the border as well. “On wheels in the winter we have been to Florida twice, the Bahamas, 10 trips to Mexico, one to the Panama Canal, where we spent nights in every country in Central America except Belize,” he reported. “I have hauled thousands of pounds of fish and crabs and the equivalent of about five whole moose. We even used my plane to drag a moose 300 yards out of a meadow to the shoreline where we could load it into a boat to get it back to camp.”

On another occasion, Corrado hauled a 16-foot canoe tied to the floats from lake to lake for trout fishing.

“And one time after a big storm we went in search of our prawn pots, which had managed to float nearly six miles out to open water,” he said. “We were able to land, pull them in and not only salvage the pots, but ended up with 5 gallons of spot prawns for our efforts.”

Some of the trips are shorter, but just as enjoyable. He has his local favorite spots near Seattle.

“If it is lunch time I enjoy flying down to the Spencer Lake Tavern near Shelton for an awesome meal,” he said. “For salmon fishing you can’t beat Nootka Sound in British Columbia, or for trout fishing any of a number of lakes in British Columbia. I have been to many fly-ins at Sullivan Lake in Northeast Washington, both on floats and wheels, and it is an excellent destination for both.”

Comments

  1. hello Meg,
    that was really a nice article on seaplanes. i am a student who does my project on seaplane services from Kerala,India. i have a questionnaire which i wish all the viewers of this article could fill up and thus help me to do this project. i’ve given the link below to go to my questionnaire. kindly spent a few minutes to fill it up. thanks a lot
    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CH8T7PM

    Serah George

  2. Interesting article. You don’t see many articles on seaplanes.
    I’ve always wondered how difficult it is to takeoff and land a plane on water.

  3. Len Glasser says:

    Nice article, Meg.

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