Novelist Tom Casey and his partner Silvia Erskine have the ultimate airplane camping setup—two rattan couches fold out to make a single double bed, and a two-horsepower generator powers a couple of lights and a small heater while also charging their electronic devices. That’s a sweet set up, but put all of that in a restored Grumman HU-16A Albatross flying boat, and you’re in airplane camping heaven.
“We’re in the master suite, of course,” said Casey, sporting a nautical theme with navy shorts, a light blue button-up, and a cap with his silver hair peeking out from under the brim, as he pointed to the couches, small end tables, and picture frames of the flying boat dubbed American Clipper. Crew quarters are in the back, and there’s also sleeping space available in the bow.
They had a prime view waking up Oct. 7 from their parking spot (on pavement) at the AOPA Fly-In at Groton, Connecticut, presented by Columbia Aircraft Sales. The Douglas C-47 Skytrain Placid Lassie to the Albatross’s right, a Super Cub on amphibious floats to its left, and a row of display aircraft lined up in a long line in front of it, ending with a Connecticut Air National Guard C-130 and Black Hawk.
A total of 6,364 attended during the two-day event, and 480 aircraft flew in. Aviation enthusiasts taking in the Barnstormers Party on a balmy New England evening Friday dined under the stars, with the Albatross and amphibious Super Cub lit up, and live musical entertainment. Hundreds of the attendees watched a trailer of an upcoming film about American Clipper during the Saturday morning pancake breakfast and toured inside the amphib; Casey said he plans to retire American Clipper at the end of the year once the flying boat film is complete.
Casey has instructed in Albatross aircraft for 23 years, helping about 40 people earn their type rating. He purchased American Clipper in 1994 and spent $1.2 million restoring it to flying condition and having it painted in Pan American Clipper livery. He flies the American Clipper about 15 hours a year because it burns 100 gallons of fuel per hour and requires a lot of maintenance. “I know this airplane well and I love these airplanes, but they’re not for sissies,” said Casey.
The flying boats were designed to be open ocean search-and-rescue aircraft in the late 1940s, but they were soon replaced by helicopters, he said, adding, “It’s a beautiful piece of history.”
Patrick Bebe and his son Elliott drove in from Mystic, Connecticut, to take in the airport event and climbed inside the flying boat. “They have really comfy seating,” the young redhead said before turning his attention to the C-47.
The aircraft on display at the Groton Fly-In sparked many memories for John Behene of Connecticut. A Cessna 170 restored to pristine condition reminded him of a flight in a 170 when he was about 10 years old. The Skytrain brought back memories of his college days in the ROTC when he once got to take the controls of the C-47 in the air, and the C-130 made him recall thoughts about 15 jumps that he made from the model as a Navy Seal.
Behene’s eyes sparkled as he recalled those flights, saying, “It’s fun to see the C-130” and the rest of the aircraft on display.
In addition to the unique aircraft on display at the Groton Fly-In, attendees participated in safety seminars, hands-on workshops, the exhibit hall, and a Pilot Town Hall with AOPA President Mark Baker during which they learned about the association’s latest advocacy efforts against ATC privatization and egregious fixed-base operator pricing. Those who participated in the hands-on workshops on Friday learned about aircraft maintenance, instrument proficiency, flying with companions, and water survival—even getting a chance to experience the Survival Systems USA dunk tank first hand.
AOPA members and aviation enthusiasts have one more chance to take in the fun of an AOPA Fly-In coming up Oct. 27 and 28 when the association heads to Tampa, Florida. The fly-in, presented by Peter O. Knight Airport, will feature dozens of aircraft, hours of educational seminars, a packed exhibit hall, and unique excursions and fly-outs to MacDill Air Force Base, Piper Aircraft’s factory, and the Bahamas.