Flying Mr. Piper’s 1930s classic off water may seem straightforward to tailwheel pilots, but has some novel hazards.
Photos: Keith Wilson
The J-3 is an amazingly versatile little airplane that taught thousands of servicemen to fly in World War II, so it’s no surprise to find that it makes a great trainer as a seaplane. And what better place to learn in than central Florida, the “land of a thousand lakes”? That’s where Brown’s Seaplane Base is run by Jon Brown. A trial flight (i.e., dual instruction) costs just $165 a session in a Cub on floats. The full course costs $1,200.
Unfortunately, a seaplane rating wouldn’t be much use to me, since the nearest place I could fly one is 600 miles from my home. However, I used to own a Cub and miss its charm, the dear old thing, so I jumped at the offer of a trial flight to see how one would work on floats.
To compensate for the weight and drag of floats, Brown’s Seaplane Base has modified its J-3s with 100 hp in place of the original 65 hp. They do this by fitting O-200 components to an 85 hp Continental, giving additional power at virtually the same weight. The floats are made from aluminum.
My instructor during my one-day visit was Bob Highley, a tall, quiet man who flew in the Vietnam War and at one time helped to organize the Sun’n Fun International Fly-in and Expo, but now enjoys this more relaxing type of aviation. After a short preflight briefing, Bob leads me down to the water’s edge where our Cub is tethered to the shore (there are cleats on the floats for attaching ropes).
It’s been tied up nose-to-shore, so Bob turns the aircraft around so that it’s facing out into the lake. He hauls it backward until the tail end of the floats are ashore; this enables us to climb aboard without getting our feet wet.
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