“Water flying is the most fun I’ve ever had in aviation, and if I never fly anything other than my Cub on floats, I’ll be happy,” says David Lewis, owner of a flight instruction business based in Pineville, Louisiana, called CUBS, FLOATS & FUN!
With multiple fixed wing, rotorcraft and instructor ratings, Lewis has the credentials to fly almost anything, including 737s, but his love is flying floatplanes.
A natural instructor with an easy-going style, Lewis’ enthusiasm for water flying comes through in every lesson. And, fortunately for my son and me, he loves to share his passion with others.
The connection was made last year at the annual Seaplane Pilots Association (SPA) Corn Roast at Oshkosh, where I met Lewis, SPA’s volunteer Field Director for Louisiana, as he was hawking raffle tickets. None of my tickets was a winner, but when it was announced that Lewis had donated a seaplane rating to be auctioned off, I knew I had to buy it.
Although I already had a seaplane rating from years ago, most of my time is in a Lake Buccaneer “flying boat” and I wanted to get more experience in a floatplane, with the idea that I might buy one or the other.
And, as it came time to renew the insurance on our Bonanza, I knew my son, Sam, would benefit from an additional rating and a fresh BFR.
Although you might not think of central Louisiana as an ideal locale to get a seaplane rating, for the past four years Lewis has operated from the Pineville Municipal Airport (2L0), where he discovered a perfect venue for seaplane training just across the Red River from Alexandria, Louisiana.
Pineville’s 3,000-foot airstrip happens to be on a peninsula sticking out into Lake Buhlow, a small man-made reservoir that has a charted seaplane landing zone and a resident alligator named Elvis.
Using a converted helicopter trailer, Lewis is able to easily launch his 1952 PA-19-S (Army L-18C) Super Cub on straight PK 1500 floats from a nice ramp built by a former student and local asphalt contractor for his amphibious Seabee.
Lake Buhlow provides an ideal place to learn “confined area” water takeoffs and landings and a roomy mile-long oxbow lake formed by the river is just a quarter mile away.Since no time is lost flying to and from a remote practice area, a minimum fuel load can be used and a dozen or more landings are usually logged in a one hour lesson.
Lewis also uses a section of the Red River (which is actually brown) to practice landing where there is a current.
An additional benefit of staying close to Pineville is that a 500-foot ceiling and a mile visibility is plenty for Lewis to conduct a lesson, since there’s no need to climb more than 300 feet above the water.
Since Lewis’ Super Cub only has a 90 horsepower engine, climbing even that far was a struggle on a hot day with me on board (at 250 pounds) instead of my slim son. However, I benefited from practicing the precise attitude and airspeed control demanded by the underpowered Cub. A planned 160 horsepower O-320 engine conversion will significantly improve the plane’s performance.
Instead of following a set curriculum, Lewis uses a free-form method of flight instruction and lets his students progress as rapidly as possible, with the hope that he can include some advanced maneuvers if time permits during the fixed-price rating.
A native of Milwaukee, Lewis, 50, grew up around aviation as the son of an aeronautical engineer. After joining the Army right out of high school and learning to fly helicopters — Cobras, Hueys and OH58s — as a warrant officer, he later attended Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and obtained pro pilot and business degrees.
“I failed to follow my father’s advice to never fly an ultralight and when the plane crashed after the engine quit, my ankles were crushed, along with other injuries,” said Lewis with a grimace. “I spent the next three months in the hospital and over the subsequent years I’ve had over 50 operations related to the crash.”
Fortunately, Lewis has not let the accident slow him down. In the early 1990s, he flew freight in Cessna 210s and Barons from Orlando Executive Airport and then spent 11 years moving around the country with Mesa Airlines, including being based in Maine, where seaplanes are very popular.
In 2007 he moved to Alexandria to fly with the U.S. Marshal Service, known as “Con Air,” and he also spent time as a civilian contract pilot flying classified missions in Afghanistan.
Most recently, until oil prices tanked, he flew with Petroleum Helicopters Incorporated (PHI) to deliver workers and supplies to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Lewis can complete a seaplane rating in two days and allowing three days for the two of us turned out to be just right. He currently averages two or three float ratings a month and he recommends coming with a buddy so training flights can be alternated and the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), who flies in from over an hour away, can test two applicants for the rating instead of just one.
The flat rate seaplane training and check ride fee is $2,399. That covers everything, according to Lewis, including books, your check ride, a one year Seaplane Pilots Association membership, “and the most fun you can have flying!”
Lewis splits his time between Pineville and his main residence in Tomball, Texas, near Houston, where he and his wife, Sandee, operate a growing business selling all kinds of O-rings.
They fell into that specialized niche through sourcing O-rings to maintain spray equipment Lewis used in a previous business. Selling mainly online, he now estimates they are in the top 10% of O-ring distributors nationwide.
Lewis is close to getting his A&P rating and one of the phone orders he received during our time together was for a set of O-rings to rebuild a King Air nose gear.
“I like how my life is going these days,” added Lewis as we sat under a shade tree waiting on my son to return from his check ride with DPE Lyle Panepinto, president of Southern Seaplane, who flew to Pineville from his base near New Orleans in his Cessna 185 on straight floats.
“I now have the freedom to teach float flying and also run our O-ring business,” said Lewis, with obvious satisfaction. “I can always go back to the airlines, but I’ve made a lifestyle choice that I hope to continue.”
As for my son Sam, I’m pleased to report that he passed his check ride “with flying colors” and we’ve now started our search for a seaplane to be based at Chattanooga, near the Tennessee River and its numerous Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reservoirs.
And, since we fly our turbo-normalized Bonanza mostly on long business trips at altitude and IFR, we too are hoping that having a seaplane will introduce us to a more relaxed lifestyle of fun flying on the water.