A Flight of Three
(Flying a Floatplane from Florida to Oshkosh)

by Joan Kleynhans
Email: Airoimp@global.bw

Fly a floatplane from Florida to Oshkosh, WI?
The offer to participate in such an adventure, even if I would be flying in an accompanying landplane, sounded too good to be true! This would be my first long cross-country flight in the USA, and I could hardly wait to get started.

Finally, we took off on Friday, August 24. Ron Lueck and Gordon Milliord, flying the Comp Air 6 floatplane, were the first to take off -- from the Indian River alongside Merritt Island.

Ron Lueck refuels enroute to Oshkosh Ron Lueck refueling the floatplane

Another two Aerocomp factory demonstrators lifted off immediately afterwards. The 4 seater Comp Monster 180 was flown by an Aerocomp customer -- Steve Darrow. He was accompanied by Leon Stoman, a flight instructor from Botswana.

 

Al Pike was in command of the Comp Air 6 with the new high speed taperwing. I was in the co-pilot seat. My name is Joan Kleynhans. I am a private pilot from Botswana, Africa who was visiting Aerocomp during July, when I was invited to join the flight to Oshkosh. Ben Lugo, another Aerocomp employee, was our passenger in the CA 6.

The blue and white seaplane flying over the broad expanse of the Indian River was a lovely sight. We climbed away to the west of Merritt Island, allowing Ron to set the pace with the slower floatplane. Soon we were flying around the outskirts of Orlando.

Florida is flat country, with large expanses of swamp covering the low lying countryside. Large areas of the state are covered by forest. It was surprising to see palm trees and pine trees growing side by side near the coast.

Soon we had crossed Florida and were flying northwards along its west coast. Shortly before reaching the coast we had flown through some light rain showers. Now, looking back towards the east, we had the kind of view solely reserved for those who fly - pure white candyfloss cumulus under a turquoise sky; fading into pale gray below the clouds, contrasted again by a strip of blue-green land, with the gray-green ocean reflecting everything in an even more beautiful picture. The ocean was tranquil and clear and the flight smooth and pleasant.

We arrived at Panama City after just over three hours in the air. This was our longest leg and it had passed so soon! Refueling the floatplane took almost as long as the flight so far, and involved a lot of driving back and forth! We eventually left Panama at 3:30 PM, and set course for Guntersville, Alabama, on the Tennessee River.

The weather report had indicated several showers along our route, but we hoped to be able to pass between them. However, we managed to fly right into a squall line! Our main concern was losing sight of one another in the decreased visibility. Some of us were also afraid of the lightning, but there were no strikes nearby and soon we were flying in bright sunlight once again. The constant radio banter between the three planes served both as a means of maintaining contact and monitoring one another’s progress. At the same time, it broke the monotony and caused a lot of laughs. From time to time, other pilots in the vicinity joined in, making it even more interesting.

We flew over a large cement factory, which I proudly identified on the map. I find the American maps hard to read - so many landmarks compared to the deserts of Botswana!

Shortly afterwards we found ourselves overhead a number of helipads, with army helicopters everywhere, both in the air and on the ground. Everyone frantically started scouring their maps. Had we inadvertently flown into a restricted area? According to our maps and Ron’s GPS, however, we were in the clear, so we continued merrily on our route! Not long past the helipads an F18 crossed in front of us and turned around to come back for another look.

Once again, there was frantic scrambling for maps and punching of GPS buttons. The maps checked out, the F18 rocked his wings in a friendly salute, and we were not shot down!

Soon after, I got my first opportunity to fly the Comp Air 6. The only airplane I had ever flown prior to this was my trusty little Cessna 150. Initially, I found the Comp Air 6 heavy to handle, compared to my Cessna 150. This was definitely a much larger airplane! It also needed more rudder input than I am accustomed to. However, as I flew along, it wasn’t long before I adjusted to the feel of the new airplane, and soon I found it a pleasure to fly. For one thing, piloting the plane was sure a lot more interesting than being a passenger!

The trip to Guntersville, Alabama took three hours. Ron landed the floatplane on the river alongside the airport, but the water was too shallow to approach the shoreline. Undaunted, he went cruising up the river, looking for the nicest house he could find! After he beached the plane in the backyard of one home, he discovered that the owner of this charming log house set amongst the trees is every bit as nice as his home! Larry Fortenberry (the owner) went out of his way to help us. He transported Ron and Gordon to the airport and collected them again the next morning, driving several trips to collect enough Avgas to refuel the plane. Larry is the president of D and F Equipment Sales, Inc. - a successful company that manufactures chicken byproduct processing equipment. Our chance encounter with Larry was very pleasant. He was the most hospitable, helpful person we met on our trip.

The next morning, we took off from Guntersville shortly after Ron lifted off from the river. Around lunchtime the two taildraggers landed to refuel at the Kentucky Dam State Park. Ron landed the floatplane at nearby Kuttawa, on the northeast end of Lake Barkley. After refueling, we were airborne before the floatplane. This provided us with an interesting opportunity to watching his take-off from above, with boats racing the floatplane and jet-skis doing daredevil stunts in front of him.

When we parted company at Moline, IL the next morning, we agreed that everyone would take off at 9:15 am. The floatplane would take off from the Rock River, while the landplanes were departing Quad City airport. Once in the air, we discovered that the floatplane was still on the water and was having difficulty with his radio. We circled just outside controlled airspace, over the Mississippi River, while Ron cleaned some corrosion off his microphone jack. We were relieved when Ron finally caught up with us. There was bad weather closing in up ahead, and our only chance to reach Oshkosh would be early in the day.

Already there were clouds visible ahead. Soon cumulus was building and visibility was decreasing. We turned onto heading 030 for Oshkosh and descended to 1500 ft to stay underneath the clouds. The weather was closing up fast in front of us, and we began to consider turning back. We decided to head due north in an attempt to get around the back of one rapidly advancing storm. Fortunately, this tactic worked, and we managed to stay clear of the worst weather. We finally arrived at Oshkosh just before noon in beautiful clear sunshine.

This was an epic journey for the Comp Air 6 on floats. We crossed vast distances of dry land with a floatplane. The spirit of camaraderie and cooperation of everyone involved made it a truly memorable flight.


 


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