The 27th Annual Lake Aircraft Safety Seminar and Fly-in, held in late February, attracted owners and enthusiasts from throughout the U.S. and several foreign countries. Sponsored by the Lake Amphibian Flyers Club, the event was located, appropriately enough, in Lakeland, Florida.
Since Lake production ended about 10 years ago and most of the fleet is now 30 or more years old, flying and maintaining an aging and out-of-production airplane tends to draw owners together. And with winter blizzards raging up north, the event attracted 145 people and about 45 planes to the sunny south.
An additional draw was that two of the best known Lake maintenance facilities are in central Florida near Lakeland. Very few shops specialize in the 180- and 200-horsepower Lake Buccaneers and the 250-horsepower Lake Renegades.
Lakes are not known for cross-country speed, so many attendees traveled by airline to the event, which was conveniently located between Tampa and Orlando. However, Gary Silver and Russell Ence of Farmington, Utah, near Salt Lake City, flew over 16 hours each way to attend the fly-in. Another Lake pilot from the Northwest laughed and said he “took about a month” to get there.
And, like most pilot get-togethers, the best place to meet and greet one another was at the bar of the Lakeland Hilton Garden Inn, the event’s headquarters hotel located adjacent to the airport terminal.
Founded in 1988 by Bill and Louise Goddard, the 2015 edition of the annual “Lakeathon” was organized by Marc and Jill Rodstein, who took over the club in 2000. Following this year’s event, the Rodsteins handed leadership of the club over to Bill Schmalz, who has been attending since 1990.
The club has around 500 members worldwide and Schmalz says his number one priority is to keep the group going. However, of concern is that the average Lake owner is aging … just like the fleet of planes.
Schmalz keeps a Renegade in the back yard of his waterfront home in Winter Haven, Florida, and is also the Florida field director for the Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) and coordinator of this year’s SUN ‘n FUN Seabird Fly-in at Fantasy of Flight.
With interesting seminars each morning and opportunities to fly each afternoon, the four-day Lakeathon was an ideal opportunity for owners to learn about their unique flying boats and to explore the numerous lakes in the area.
Those with open seats gave rides to pilots who did not bring planes and several instructors were available for recurrent training. Due to its pusher configuration, type-specific instruction is recommended to safely fly a Lake, even if you already have a seaplane rating.
Seaplanes have always been expensive to insure because, unlike an airport, water landings are not in a controlled environment. To address this challenge, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Insurance Services, which has about a fourth of the 408 Lakes on the U.S. registry under its wing, insures new owners to solo only after 25 flight hours with one of its approved Lake-specific instructors. After that, annual recurrency training consisting of four flight hours and two hours of ground instruction is required to retain coverage.
Since this program has reduced the number of Lake Aircraft accidents and made insurance more affordable, it is currently being adopted by instructors and insurers specializing in the Searey amphibian, a Light-Sport flying boat with a pusher configuration similar to Lakes.
Jim Campbell, an aircraft broker doing business as The Lake Connection, has specialized in Lakes for many years. He sells between six and 10 of the unique planes each year and reports that prices have firmed and are going up. However, a disturbing market trend is the number of Lakes being exported, with a half-dozen or more going to Russia last year. Brazil has also represented an active market for Lakes in the past.
As Campbell explained, “There is a bias toward float planes, but the Lake represents the best value in a personal amphibian and, unlike a Cessna on amphibious floats, Lakes will fit in a standard T-hangar.”
He added that a Lake is not easy to dock, which contributes to the popularity of “floated” high wing planes among commercial operators, who mostly operate from docks.
Rodstein confirmed that the Lake fleet is dwindling since no new planes are being produced. “In addition to exports, we lose one or two planes every year to accidents or neglect,” he noted.
Another of Rodstein’s concerns is finding enough instructors for the Lake insurance program, since the “old guard” is retiring.
Although Lakes are no longer in production, Rodstein and Campbell both confirmed that obtaining parts has not been a problem so far, since the dedicated Lake maintenance specialists can find or even make a part if needed.
A pilot since 1967, Rodstein flew a speedy turbocharged Aerostar twin for 16 years, but he says his Lake Buccaneer, which he bought 23 years ago, is the most fun he’s ever had with an airplane … and others quickly agree.
Lake owners Dave and Ruth Taisch of Tavares, Florida, “American’s Seaplane City,” say they have the “perfect twin,” a Lake for local water flying and a Mooney Ovation for traveling to visit their families in northern Indiana.
A surprising number of European Lake owners base their planes in Florida and come over several times a year to enjoy the freedom and relatively low cost of flying in the U.S. Although not all U. S. waterways are legal for landing, the SPA publishes a long list of lakes and rivers that are open, whereas in Germany there are only two.
Want to own the rights to manufacture Lake Amphibians? In a phone conversation with 80-year-old Armand Rivard of Kissimmee, Florida, owner of the Lake Aircraft Type Certificate, he said that he’s “ready to go fishing” and would like to sell the rights and tooling needed to manufacture the plane. He can be contacted at 407-847-8080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.