Kitplanes Magazine: "Challenger pilots enjoy year-round flying!"
Exploring on floats is communing with nature. As with skis, the river is a giant runway, so I often spend my time down low. One of my favorite pastimes is contour flying. This isn't the vertical variety that fighter pilots practice, where a moment's hesitation drills them into a hillside. Instead, it is a lazy horizontal variety where I follow the inlets and bays of the shoreline, spotting schools of fish in the shallows, great blue herons patiently waiting for a meal, and mother ducks and geese with balls of fluff in tow.
I have spotted several shipwrecks lying on the bottom of the river, and just north of Massena, New York, building foundations and streets are still clearly visible underwater from a whole town that was moved decades ago to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway.
One time as I lazily followed the shoreline of an island, I stumbled across an osprey nest. Not wanting to scare these lovely birds of prey, I turned away, but not before one leapt from the nest. Rather than flying away, it flew right at me to attack the airplane! I had to take evasive action, and as I passed, it actually swung in behind to take up the chase.
There is a historic and very beautiful waterway near our island that was built in the 1800s, linking the Ottawa River via the Rideau River and dozens of small lakes to Lake Ontario so that British military ships could avoid conflict with U.S. forts along the St. Lawrence River. These days it is full of recreational boaters.
At the entrance to several of the locks in the system, hotels and restaurants have sprung up to service the boaters who often spend hours waiting for their turn through. Occasionally we'll drop in for lunch, and on leaving, I always enjoy teasing the boaters with our effortless hop in our flying boats over the offending bottleneck.
Fall brings a return to wheels for a few weeks to enjoy the colorful foliage before the snow returns. On wheels, I have made a number of trips with friends across the U.S. to Florida's Sun 'n Fun fly-in. With a cruise speed in the 80's, we're certainly not out to beat the airlines out of their fares. rather, we enjoy a privileged low-and-slow sightseeing tour and low-key adventure across the nation that few get to see in quite this same way.
These trips are informal and unstructured. We seldom know or care exactly where we will end up each day as long as it is roughly in the direction of our ultimate destination. We have stopped a few times at a farm near Mowequa, Illinois. Our host had no runway, only a large backyard where we landed on a 300-foot stretch of lawn between the swing set and the garage.
Because this plane is a tandem pusher, the pilot sits out in front of the wing where the visibility is more like a helicopter than an airplane. I really appreciate flying a high wing plane where the wing doesn't block the view into the turns. Unrestricted visibility and low speed make for outstanding sightseeing and photography.
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