Thursday, December 13, 2018
Articles M.D. Kincaid German Lessons - hard day of seaplaning

German Lessons - hard day of seaplaning

“Wunderbar!” Other than the ability to order a frosty St. Pauli Girl at the local tavern after a hard day of seaplaning, the only German words I’ve learned were from “Hogan’s Heroes.” However, gauging by the excitement of the Lufthansa captain in the front seat of Ol’ Yeller—Mountain Lakes Seaplane’s hundred horsepower Piper J3 seaplane—I know he is enthralled by the splendor as we glide over the crystal blue waters of Lake Coeur d’ Alene at twenty feet AWL (above water level).  


“Like Alaska without the bugs,” is what one pilot exclaimed of the rugged splendor of North Idaho. With plenty of water, natural beauty, lake cabins to luxury resort accommodations, tourist activities, and easy access through nearby Spokane International, the area makes an ideal destination for pilots chasing their water-flying dreams. In addition to the regular training of pilots for fun seaplaning and to prepare some for the challenges of Alaska, I’ve had the pleasure of dipping floats in the waters of mountain lakes with students from far-away places like Israel, Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, Austria, Canada, Tonga, England, and even New York. Most stop by for a basic single engine sea rating or re-currency training, but not my new friends from Germany.


Trading the controls of a super high-tech airliner like the Airbus 340 for a 1946 Piper J3 means more than downgrading from ultra-modern equipment and losing 820,000 pounds. With the right technique and favorable conditions, the little Cub can leap off the water in a distance shorter than the length of the Airbus’ fuselage, but it’s not about numbers. It’s about getting back to the basics with aviator skills, rather than the technical skills one airline captain described as “driving a big computer through the system.” Never wanting to diminish the impressive work of airline pilots, when that same captain apologized for his at first sloppy technique with the Cub’s stick, I assured him he was doing much better than I would in even being able to find the carb heat control in a jet airliner, much less fly it.


After previewing the day’s lesson plan and bonding with Piper—the scruffy black mutt who considers himself the company mascot¬—Lufthansa Captain Frank Koinzer slides the Cub’s throttle forward and we pull away from the beach. With a little guidance, Frank pops the floats from the sticky surface to rise from the calm waters of Hayden Lake, metamorphosing from an ungainly boat to a seaplane. Frank adeptly keeps the little ball on the panel from scratching into the right pocket as we opt for the “Bing Crosby departure.” The famous crooner/movie star’s former home overlooks the lake and makes a perfect aiming point to keep from rattling windows of the waterfront properties. Next, following the directions of his backseat “nag-a-gator,” Frank pulls the stick back to get a little altitude to fly over the burg of Coeur d’ Alene. Passing over Brooks Seaplane Base, I point out the Beaver (formerly registered in Germany) flown daily by eighty-eight year old Bill Brooks in his flight-seeing business which floats next to the town’s wide beaches. Next, we pass the impressive waterfront resort, the hiking trails of Tubb’s Hill, then the world’s only floating golf green. As we meander up a little bay, I elect to skip the view of Super Bowl champion John Elway’s estate, guessing it would be like a European expecting appreciation of German Luge champion Klaus Bonsack’s home.

Practicing Dutch rolls on our way down the lake, Frank explains in almost-perfect English (and I thought the four words of Yupik I know was impressive) how he honed his aviation skills. Lufthansa’s preference is to train pilots from ground zero, so Frank went right into their academy as a wingless young man and his hobbies of piloting small planes and hot air balloons add to his mastery of basic aircraft. Frank’s first landing in the mild chop of Lake Coeur d’ Alene ends without injury to man or machine, so the introduction to seaplanes continues with more water work on the big lake.

Passing the historic lakefront town of Harrison, a thriving community during the mining rush of the late eighteen hundreds and now a quaint little hamlet for anglers, tourists, and few permanent residents, we transition to “IFR” flying. Today, “IFR” means to “I Follow the River,” as we soar over the clear waters of the Coeur d’ Alene River. Once the route for steamboats hauling miners and supplies into the mountains, we straddle the river—adjacent to the 77-mile long paved bike trail, once a railroad track—for a downwind approach. Considered a challenging maneuver even by experienced seaplane pilots, Frank handles very glassy water on a bass-fishing lake—an approach some airline pilots compare to an ILS landing in zero-zero conditions, without instruments—with just a minor thump-splash. We follow the twisty river low-level to Swan Lake for splash and goes, deserving the mean look we get from a black bear as we inadvertently ruin his Mallard-stalking. For more glassy water work, we hop over to Cave Lake—wide and oval-shaped, and once the hunting grounds for local Indian tribes and still rumored to produce arrowheads from the shores.

The front-seater is picking this seaplane thing up at an impressive rate, so we fly over the moose pasture—spotting a big bull and several cows with calves—to try a confined area landing maneuver on Killareny Lake. The west end is surrounded by hills, adequate for simulating an Alaska glacier lake, and features a neat little island with camping facilities. The water boasts pike in the thirty-pound range and the area is known for wildlife—last year a wolf darted from the shoreline as we landed, and moose, deer, and elk often frequent the east end. Avoiding a bald eagle challenging an osprey for a fishing spot, Frank plops the Cub down within the imaginary confines. The fledgling seaplane pilot’s first-rate procedure is rewarded by advancing to our landing on a much smaller lake, requiring a point-on short landing and a G-force-producing turning takeoff. Using a hill to establish our base leg, we dive into the tight canyon of the Coeur d’ Alene River for a glassy water landing between the towering pines.

Frank is so pumped at this point that I have to introduce him to the “Blue Lake Teepee Canyon Approach.” Usually reserved for our advanced course, now with a couple of hours of seaplane flying and years of technical piloting, he’s ready for more action. With me following the captain on the controls, the little Cub drops over a ridge to a teepee camp, then snakes down a canyon to a glassy water landing on Blue Lake. After smoothly touching down adjacent to a lodge—which locals say was once owned by publishing tycoon Randolph Hearst—we taxi to the shoreline for a break. Beaming a big smile, Frank has obviously become hooked by the world of seaplanes and the beauty of Idaho’s backcountry. In between discussions of density altitude effects in the mountains (a seaplane charter flight passenger with Clint Eastwood here on a hot day reportedly had to be left behind to await for cooler air), we debate the perfect seaplane—in case Frank ever gets the urge to own his own—then pop over the mountains back to the Hayden Lake base.

Temporary Single Engine Seaplane Pilot certificate in hand, Frank reluctantly left Idaho a few days later after flying as many hours as our tails could handle in the Cub. He would have loved to log more time, but incoming students interfered with that goal. Patting Piper on the head¬—due to his frequent travel, Frank pet ownership is limited to two rabbits back in Austria, so I think he liked Piper better than me—and shaking my hand, Frank departed for Spokane International to begin the long journey to Germany.

This story would have ended there, but after a winter of fantasizing about seaplanes, the urge overcame Frank. After exchanging a few emails, he requested help in finding a Super Cub on amphibious floats. On overseas trips with Lufthansa, Frank inspected planes around the U.S., becoming more disappointed with each specimen he chased down. I sent Frank photos of a Cub in the final stages of restoration in the nearby town of Sandpoint and he made a deal, followed quickly by a purchase of Wipline 2100 amphibs.

Frank’s return to Idaho in the spring began with his waking to the sun breaking over the Bitterroot Mountains and his new blue and white seaplane bobbing on the lawn’s edge in Hayden Lake. After brushing up on his seaplane skills, he made plans for his dream trip to my old stomping grounds in Alaska. Outfitting at a local sporting goods store, he loaded the Super Cub and headed north, with a stop in Seattle where his Austrian girlfriend Christiana joined him. Under sunny skies, the adventurous couple followed the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, then on to a glacier lake near Petersburg for camping. Learning first hand of the friendliness of Alaskans, they were bailed out by helpful mechanics in Ketchikan when the Cub developed magneto problems. Their “quick hop” north left them both with priceless memories of the awe-inspiring Last Frontier and added fifty seaplane hours to Frank’s logbook.
Back in Idaho, Frank turned the seaplane’s keys over to implement his new plan to share his enthusiasm for his now preferred means of air travel. He’d decided to offer the use of his beautiful Cub to two of his fellow Lufthansa pilots for their seaplane training and they quickly re-arranged their schedules for transcontinental flights to Hayden Lake.

Lufthansa 747 pilot Claudio Endrizzi began his first morning at Hayden Lake swimming two miles in the somewhat cool waters, amazed over the clarity and freedom to swim wherever he wanted. His amazement continued when he learned we could fly pretty much wherever we wanted and land on one body of water after another. “Flying in Europe is much more restrictive. Many lakes are privately owned, where no seaplanes are allowed,” the young thrill-seeker explained, adding he hopes the U.S. doesn’t follow Europe’s restrictions (brings to mind the 2006 closure of over 400 lakes to seaplanes by the Bureau of Reclamation and gives a good reason to support the Seaplane Pilots Association’s efforts in advocating waterway rights for seaplanes). Claudio peered over the Wipline floats at wildlife, rugged mountains, waterfalls, beached on an alpine lake where the sand reminded him of the Caribbean, feasted on the shores of Priest Lake at the famous Hills Resort, and was treated to a tour of the Bird Aviation Museum by famed inventor, aviator and presidential-award-winner Dr. Forest Bird himself ( With the discipline of the airline pilot he is (he claims the 747 is just a really big Cub), and the stick and rudder skills he developed as a hang glider pilot, Claudio racked up an impressive number of seaplane hours and passed his SES checkride flawlessly. The newly-rated seaplane pilot is making plans to return with his girlfriend and rent a lake house for more adventures.

Senior Lufthansa Captain Stefan Mommertz brought a little-used single engine sea rating—earned years ago at Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base—and thousands of flying hours in heavies to the cockpit of the Super Cub. Like Frank and Claudio, he immediately began a love affair with seaplaning. On a trip from our base at Hayden Lake to the Montana/Canadian border, Stefan pointed out that we would have flown over several European countries in the same distance covered during our daylong tour through the Rocky Mountains. Stopping for fuel in the town of Eureka, Montana, Stefan was happy to pay $4.29 a gallon for 100LL instead of the $12 back home and not be forced to cough up an extreme ransom for landing fees, as in Germany. After a day of incredible float-dipping into azure-tinted lakes, he was delighted to dine at the floating restaurant in Hope, Idaho. With the Cub tied a fly-cast away at the dock, the world-traveler commented it reminded him of splash-in dining on Italy’s Lake Cuomo. Indulging his newfound zeal for huckleberries with a slice of pie alamode, Stefan toasted me with our glasses of huckleberry ice tea, recalling a week of amazing water flying.

Frank returned to Hayden Lake in September to add what must be every mod available for a Super Cub and to have an unexpected top overhaul completed with the good guys from the Coeur d’ Alene airport. He then loaded the floatplane for one last cross-country trip stateside, this time with a southerly heading. The Cub will be tucked away in a Florida hangar for the hurricane season, then Frank will trade gators for moose as he explores the Sunshine State. His plans are to crate the seaplane for shipment to Germany in the spring.

As a seaplane instructor, the German pilots’ surprise and thrill for our freedom in flying floats leaves me a with new appreciation for the wide-open spaces in the U.S. and for the Seaplane Pilots Association Foundation watching out for our transoms. Frank and more of his fellow European pilots hope to return to Hayden Lake next season to further explore the friendly skies, placid waters, and friendly people of our country by seaplane.
Until then, as Colonel Hogan probably said to Colonel Kling when they parted ways, “Auf Wiedersehen.” For us seaplaners, that roughly translates to “See ya on the dock.”


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