Splash-in

Moosehead Lake welcomes the largest seaplane fly-in

August 3, 2009

If you have to pick a time to be in Maine, the first weekend after Labor Day is ideal. It’s a precious sliver of time between the screaming kids of summer tourists and the fall invasion of color-seeking people on buses. The days are warm, the nights cool, and the first trees of the coming autumn are being lightly kissed with red and gold. It’s also time for the annual International Seaplane Fly-in on Moosehead Lake at Greenville (52B). In 2008, the event celebrated its thirty-fifth anniversary and restaked its claim as the largest, and longest running, event for seaplanes anywhere in the world.

Seaplanes and Greenville share a long history stretching as far back as the 1930s. Back then, fresh-cut logs from the forests were sent across lakes and down rivers in huge, floating rafts on their way to the sawmill. Greenville was about as far north as an automobile or train could go, so the town became an important jumping-off point for anyone heading into the woods, and it became an important base for bush pilots. With virtually no roads in the region, seaplanes were vital to reach Maine’s remote lakes and wilderness airstrips. Even today, huge areas of the northern part of the state are unbroken forests, and floatplanes still play a vital role in reaching many lakes.

To many, Greenville is America’s Mecca for the waterborne pilot. It’s an opportunity to see old friends and some of the latest toys meant for this segment of the aviation community. It’s a gathering that concentrates on having fun, so the heady seminars and workshops common to other events are nowhere to be found. Instead, you’re treated to a Maine original—the Bush Pilot Canoe Race.

In what has to be one of the highlights of the fly-in, the canoe race pits a two-man team, a canoe, and a floatplane against the clock. The event traces its origins back to real-world needs. Before roads spread through the trees, many hunting and fishing cabins were supplied by air. Tying cargo to a float was a practical necessity and the ability to do so securely and quickly became a valued skill.

The competition starts at fly-in headquarters with both team members (and the canoe) on the dock at the Maine Fish and Game seaplane base. At “go,” one team member launches the canoe and starts paddling furiously to a floating dock anchored well offshore. His or her teammate fires up the floatplane and aggressively taxies out along a preset course to meet the canoe at the floating dock. There, the canoe is hauled out of the water, onto the dock, and lashed to the aircraft just above the float. Then the canoeist joins the pilot for the high-speed taxi back to the dock where they both started. The race is over when the canoe is hauled back onto the fish and game dock. It’s the kind of event that must make an insurance agent go insane, an A&P mechanic furious, and a personal injury lawyer salivate. And the crowd loves it. With contestants occasionally tumbling into the water, and with unmanned airplanes, canoes, and paddles trying to drift away, it’s a fascinating display of man, machine, and skill. And when things go wrong, as they often do, a safety officer—manning a jet ski like a highway cop on a motorcycle—is there to keep things from getting unsafe or too far out of control.

Boon for the town

One of the interesting aspects of the Greenville fly-in is that it happens right in the heart of town. Greenville is so small that the biggest intersection in town only boasts a blinking traffic light. It’s a friendly, laid-back place where dogs seem to ride shotgun in every truck and police drive scooters instead of Harleys. Waiting at “the light” for his left turn, a policeman on a scooter took notice of this writer’s gaze and returned it with a smile. Just before he puttered off, he asked, “Like my Hog?”

For Greenville, the annual migration of airplanes isn’t a nuisance, it’s an economic salvation. During the fly-in, the town of 1,800 increases in size by a number of multiples, with the vast majority of visitors arriving by ground. The yearly return of thousands of visitors led to the development of a craft show where spectators and pilots are separated from their gas money by homemade jellies and jams or handmade chairs.

Wander through the show, and one can find goodies for the pilot or the nonpilot in any family. Located in the heart of town, along with everything else, the craft show and fly-in blend together almost seamlessly and nobody seems to mind when conversations are drowned by a deep-throated roar passing a mere 100 to 200 feet overhead. As one pilot, new to the fly-in, said, “Any town where you can bring a pair of [Wright R-] 1820 Cyclones right downtown, that’s my kind of town.”

Not only is Greenville one of the few towns in America with a seaplane base right in the heart of downtown (the town literally wraps around two intersecting water runways), it is one of a handful that can boast an instrument approach to a lake. And the lake airport isn’t the only one in town. Two miles to the east, and 400 feet higher, is Greenville Municipal Airport (3B1, elevation 1,401 feet). With two paved intersecting runways, it’s pretty typical for a small-town airport. During the fly-in, hundreds of aircraft can be parked across the field, some with tents pitched beside them. With a view of the surrounding hills, it’s a pretty nice spot to camp. And a spidery, gracefully awkward turbine-powered Cessna Caravan amphibian, rolling down the taxiway, only adds to the scenery.

To do and see

The Greenville fly-in takes place September 10 through 13, 2009, so start planning now. Hotels are few and open rooms are even fewer. And expect a minimum three-day booking. The fly-in is one of the biggest events of the year and rooms go quickly.

One place worth considering is the Kineo View Motor Lodge, an affordable, homey hotel sitting on a ridge just south of town run by George and Diane Edmondson. George, a man “between airplanes,” says he is the only pilot in the area running a hotel. Hotel policy on dogs is unknown, but it’s OK if your reservation includes a Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter. During the fly-in, one, and sometimes two, are sitting in the grass framing the lake beyond. And because the entire hotel of 14 rooms is full of airplane nuts, “the guests usually find it pretty exciting” and nobody complains when the helicopters come and go.

From its elevated position, every room at Kineo View has a view of the lake and all the aircraft traffic at the lake and hilltop airfield. When the weather is nice, the view is commanding and worthy of soaking up leisurely in the evening with a nice glass of your favorite beverage. And when the day starts with fog, as it did several times during the 2008 fly-in, you can treat yourself to hot coffee and one of Diane’s oven-fresh, sinfully tasty blueberry muffins. George picked the blueberries from the lawn in front of my room, where the helicopters usually sit.

If you want to book a room at his place—or most any other place in Greenville—for the fly-in, start looking early (www.mooseheadlake.org). Some folks return to the same room year after year. Don’t expect to land on the lake, as one pilot did, and ask over the radio where the nearest hotel is. Odds are it’s probably already filled—and fully booked for next year.

Dinnertime

Before the fly-in officially started, I had the opportunity to join some Greenville veterans for dinner. Our dining destination, Kokadjo, was described as a small, nearby restaurant at the end of the road—actually, at the end of the pavement. Step out of your car, and it is unbroken forest all the way to Canada. From here, dirt roads, many of them private and quite long, invade the forests. Ironically, the roads are an unintended consequence of the environmental movement of the 1970s.

Federal officials determined that the practice of floating logs to the mill was hazardous to water quality, so lumber firms were forced to abandon tow boats like the Katahdin (which still plies the waters of Greenville, now loaded with tourists) and carve roads into the forest. Today just about anyone can drive into some of the remotest regions of Maine.

The “short drive” to Kokadjo turned into 18 long, hungry miles at 25 to 30 mph despite the posted limit of 45. “I guess you were wondering why we driving so slow,” said Janni Mieli, whose truck led our three-car convoy. “It’s because of the moose.” We didn’t see any on our drive up, but on the return in heavy darkness, I watched as Mieli suddenly lurched to the left as a brown blur disappeared into the woods to the right.

As evening falls, those who are wise drive the narrow, windy road along the lake well below the posted speeds as moose do have a nasty habit of being in the road. With their dark brown color, they’re especially hard to spot at night, and they don’t appear to be the brightest of animals nor the fleetest of foot. When a car plows into an adult, it basically takes them out at the knees, leaving the 1,000-pound torso to fly across the hood, crashing through the windshield.

The weather in 2008 wasn’t great as a pair of late-summer hurricanes took near-simultaneous aim at the United States. Hurricane Gustav churned up through the heart of the country at the end of August. Hard on its heels, Hurricane Hanna ended years of nearly perfect fly-in weather at Greenville. Touring up the East Coast, Hanna gave a dying gasp over Moosehead Lake before her ragged remains slipped off shore and into the North Atlantic. Gustav and Hanna, along with gas prices and a sour Maine economy, kept many pilots at home as fly-in attendance was down markedly, according to many who have returned year after year. But even with the clouds and the mists, Greenville is still a beautiful spot and a nice place to be weathered in for a day or so. And, besides, there’s always next year.

For more information on the International Seaplane Fly-in, visit the Web site ( www.seaplanefly-in.org). Tim Wright is a freelance writer, photographer, and private pilot living in Richmond, Virginia.

Carbon offsets and calculators

The European Union’s 2012 requirement for business jets and turboprops weighing more than 12,566 pounds to participate in emissions trading schemes (ETSs) has prompted increased awareness on this side of the Atlantic. One manufacturer, Bombardier Aerospace, has instituted a voluntary carbon offset program called ClimateCare. Currently, all of Bombardier’s demonstrators and shuttle airplanes participate in ClimateCare—along with the airplanes in Bombardier’s Flexjet fractional ownership fleet. Carbon offset programs are controversial. Some see them as having little positive effect (see “The Lindbergh Foundation’s Take on Carbon Offsets,” page 62).

ClimateCare is operated by J.P. Morgan’s Environmental Markets Group, and it invests contributions in environmentally friendly enterprises. Under the Bombardier plan, offset payments are based on an airplane’s fuel burn per flight hour. For a Learjet 40XR, the hourly charge is $27.72; for a Global Express XRS, it’s $71.24 per hour. Because they’re hourly, the fees don’t vary. “These prices are lower than those being proposed in Europe, where ETS credits are calculated per ton of calculated carbon emissions. On European carbon trading markets, each ton of carbon is priced at 25 euros [about $34],” said Michael McAdoo, Bombardier’s vice president and general manager of fleet management systems.

“Several dozen aircraft are on the program,” McAdoo said. “We obviously are committed to reducing the effects of greenhouse gases, and view ClimateCare as an important part of our corporate social responsibility.” McAdoo said. “I suspect that the number of airplanes will grow in 2012, when the Europeans will make carbon offsets and trading a requirement for using their airspace.”

The Web site includes a carbon emissions calculator, applicable to airline and automobile travel, as well as home and business emissions. You can even purchase your own carbon offsets through the Web site.

Another carbon offset program is Carbon Neutral Plane, which is endorsed by the National Business Aviation Association and the National Air Transportation Association. Carbon Neutral Plane invests in the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX). The CCX is a cap-and-trade system that operates much like the ETS. Participation is voluntary, but once in the program customers agree to meet annual GHG emissions targets. Those who exceed the targets must buy CCX financial contracts. For more information, visit the Web site. —TAH