Bucket lists consist of dreams we long to achieve before they become unattainable. For some, it may be a trip to an exotic land. For others, a precious moment spent with a loved one pursuing a common passion. With the fulfillment of every dream exists the possibility that the reality of the experience will fall short of what was imagined. Each of us can remember examples of dreams that disappointed. Fortunately, we also remember those that exceeded even our wildest expectations. In the mix of my life’s thrills and disappointments experienced while chasing dreams, one of my favorite dreams-come-true was learning to fly floatplanes.
Pilots are naturally ambitious, ego-driven people, and every pilot I’ve ever known has maintained a sense of adventure. So, what are a pilot’s dreams? What’s on the pilot’s bucket list? First and foremost, every pilot dreams of being a damn good pilot, a “Pilot’s Pilot,” capable of masterfully operating all types of aircraft, from the simplest to the most complex, high-performance machine out there. I say that is a dream of all pilots, but in reality, it has realistically been achieved by only a handful, if any, pilots in history. Still, the desire for diversity in flight experience is common to all pilots. This desire, combined with pilots’ tendency to romanticize flight and its history, makes seaplane flying a frequent, enthusiastic topic of conversation among pilots discussing their aviation dreams.
Seaplanes are a prolific species of aircraft. Who can forget Indiana Jones’ escape in the biplane on floats in Raiders of the Lost Ark? There’s an enjoyment that comes when one listens to Jimmy Buffett’s songs of tropical paradise with the knowledge that he is an avid seaplane pilot and utilizes one as his logo. And no one who has ever visited the Pacific Northwest can have escaped noticing the countless seaplanes buzzing about the area. From the dawn of powered flight, seaplanes were a near immediate innovation because of the lack of runways and suitable takeoff and landing areas on land. Despite the fact that runways are now commonplace, seaplanes are still used throughout the world to access less developed locations and places that are more logically reached by water.
Ever dreamed of fly fishing in remote areas of Canada and Alaska? You will only get there one way. By its very nature, the seaplane—the inclusive name for all airplanes capable of landing on water—represents the romantic, adventurous, throw-back side of aviation, always garnering smiles from seaplane pilots and admiration from observers. To fly seaplanes is a perennial bucket list item for pilots and, what do you know, you can do that in the North Georgia Mountains.
Along the Northeast border of Georgia are three Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) lakes: Blue Ridge, Nottely, and Chatuge. Each of these beautiful lakes is surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains, making for ideal, aerial-observed eye candy. There is no better way to enjoy these magnificent vistas than to fly low and slow over them and then to land on the lakes themselves. Fortunately, the TVA allows seaplane operations on these three lakes, and the lakes are well-suited for the purpose. Both Blue Ridge and Chatuge have marinas with attached restaurants and are welcoming of seaplane visitors. Should it be your desire to do some fishing, anchor your floatplane in Nottely and try your hand at catching the world-class stripers (no, not strippers) that live in its waters. All three lakes are only minutes apart via air and jumping between them can offer a full day of flying enjoyment.
For pilots whose bucket list includes obtaining the Airplane Single Engine Sea rating, Lanier Flight Center’s Sky Pirates program has you covered. Operating out of the Blairsville Airport (KDZJ), which is central to all three lakes, the Sky Pirate instructors can train pilots in as little as two days for the seaplane check ride, utilizing their pristine Super Cub Amphibian. It’s a great way to not only obtain that coveted rating and even knock out a flight review in the process, but it also offers an unparalleled way to enjoy the area.
For those who want to test the waters first or aren’t pilots, but would love to experience the thrill of seaplanes, introductory floatplane rides are also available through Sky Pirates. Also based at Blairsville Airport is WING N IT Seaplane Adventures, offering aerial floatplane tours in their beautiful Cessna 185 Amphibian. They have a variety of tour packages available, all of which include landing on one or more of the three lakes and are capable of accommodating up to three passengers. It’s an exciting way to share the thrill and beauty of seaplanes and Appalachia with friends and family.
For those of you who have that seaplane bug, who have imagined yourselves landing on water in a classic floatplane, who have fantasized about accelerating over glassy smooth water only to break the surface and lift into the air, it’s time to mark seaplane flying off of your bucket list. May it become a dream accomplished and a reality that meets your high expectations. From my personal experience, I can assure you, seaplane flying lives up to the hype.