Drew Steketee was president of BE A PILOT, senior vp-communications for AOPA and executive director of the Partnership for Improved Air Travel. He also headed PR and media relations for Beech, GAMA and the Airport Operators Council International.
Delayed by the same weather that ripped up Sun ‘n Fun, the Sun ’n Fun Splash-In at nearby Fantasy of Flight was none-the-less a refreshing post-storm break. No mud-plagued parking or twisted show planes here. A small but happy crowd relaxed lakeside bathed in fresh cool breezes off the water. These seaplane people know how to have fun!
Of particular interest were aeronautical variations on the usual spot landing and flour bombing contests. An admiring audience perched along the dock like birds on a wire. Sea spray clearly indicated who landed closest beyond the touch-down line at the Coast Guard Auxiliary rescue boat. Little interpretation was required. The gallery’s oohs and aahs indicated each hit or miss in real time.
Flour bombing dispensed with bags of flour for obvious reasons. Air Ops briefer Ed McNeil issued specially aerodynamic and seaworthy “bombs” from a box of nicely round, bright orange pamelloes, a locally grown hybrid Asian fruit. “Picked right off the tree,” McNeil explained. “These bombs are bio-degradable,” he bragged, “and nice and heavy.” I guess they make a prominent splash AND they float – both good for scoring.
I found Seaplane Pilots Association stalwart Steve McCaughey ready to fill me in on the state of SPA and its key characters, not to mention his 2001 wedding aboard an HU-16 Grumman Albatross. He also gave me the sad news I long suspected but had avoided: that my old Beech buddy Rob Carlson met his fate flying the HU-16, an airplane we both loved. A base-to-final stall down in Mexico got him, apparently, quite a while ago now.
Out in Wichita, Rob and I had spent many lunch hours enthusing about those hulking post-war military flying boats. Rob had money to do something about it and the moxie to buy 400 hours of Twin Bee time to get insured. I flew right seat for him out of Sun ‘n Fun one year but turned down other trips. The HU-16 was, for him, a long roll of the dice. I’m so sorry it came up craps, but he lived life his way.
Happier moments were spent with the Splash-In’s colorful pilots and airplanes. A “Micro Mong” painted “US ARMY” was an unusual 1950’s racer replica. Ukrainian aircraft designer Yuri Yakovlyev was there proudly promoting his LSA floatplane, the Aeroprakt-22LS. Mike Fuller, who does aerial and marine photography out of nearby Seminole Lake Gliderport, had his handsome Corbin Super Cub on the line.
The Corbin Super Cub would be front and center later that week at the Tavares, Florida, “Seaplanes, Trains and BBQ” show. I’ll tell you about it next time. But for now, I’ll repeat: these seaplane people really know how to have fun!
Story and photos © Drew Steketee 2011 All Rights Reserved