Key West Seaplanes® Pilot and AOPA President Complete Historic Seaplane Adventure Flight

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Key West Seaplanes® Pilot and Co-owner, Nikali Pontecorvo completes an historic cross country seaplane flight with AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) President, CEO and friend, Mark Baker in a 1944 radial-engine twin Beech 18 on straight floats. The historic flight began on November 1, 2013 from Lake Lino near Minneapolis, MN and was successfully completed on November 6, 2013 at Lake Pearce, Florida.

Seaplane to Key West

1944 Beech 18 Seaplane Makes Historic Flight

Key West Seaplanes® Pilot is Part of Historic Seaplane Flight...

Key West Seaplanes® Pilot and Co-owner, Nikali Pontecorvo completes an historic cross country seaplane flight with AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) President, CEO and friend, Mark Baker in a 1944 radial-engine twin Beech 18 on straight floats. The historic flight began on November 1, 2013 from Lake Lino near Minneapolis, MN and was successfully completed on November 6, 2013 at Lake Pearce, Florida south of Orlando.

When asked what made this an historic flight Pontecorvo responds, "The fact that there are only about six of these aircraft flying in the world is one of the reasons and then add on top of that the fact that this plane is also on straight floats. That's what made this flight so unique." Pontecorvo heard that friend Mark Baker, the newly appointed AOPA President was planning to ferry his Beech 18 seaplane from Minnesota to Florida so the seasoned seaplane pilot jumped on board with the adventure. The seaplane adventure is shared by acclaimed aviation writer Thomas B. Haines on AOPA's web-site in an article titled "Weekend Seaplane Odyssey" dated November 13, 2013.

The 1944 radial-engine twin seaplane is on straight floats and is only capable of landing and taking off from water so it posed a challenge for such a long ferry flight. Significant planning was required to plan legs of the journey to areas that had appropriate water landing sites as well as access to fuel. Many seaplanes, including the ones that Key West Seaplanes® pilot and co-owner Pontecorvo flies daily have amphibious floats which add significantly more versatility as the floats are also equipped with gear (wheels) that are be deployed for landing the seaplane on a runway or grass strip. The gear then are retracted up into the float during flight and for landing on water.

The rare and beautiful polished aluminum Beech 18 seaplane is owned by Mark Baker, the AOPA's newly appointed President and CEO. Baker tolerates cold weather as he resides some of the year in the North but like many others, felt the desire to "fly South" with his rare bird for the winter. Both Pontecorvo and Baker are also avid members and active participants in the SPA (Seaplane Pilots Association) and found this seaplane trek a great way to promote seaplanes across the country through their numerous stops from North to South. Key West Seaplanes® pilot Pontecorvo says, "When I am flying seaplanes I know that many people have never seen one up close....or for that matter, even far away. Because of that I know in some ways I have a great responsibility to be an advocate and an ambassador for seaplanes. If people see one and for whatever reason don't like it then that impacts the seaplane industry. I try to get people excited about what I do and the seaplanes I fly." He further reflects that often times, including the numerous stops made en route to Florida in the Beech 18 seaplane people approach the aircraft almost as if it had landed on earth from Mars. Many pilots report similar experiences. They report many people having never seen a seaplane who approach with excitement, amazement and overwhelming curiosity. Though seaplanes are more common in tropical locations such as Key West, seaplanes are not often seen in the interior states of our country.

Not only did the Beech 18 make the cross-country trip of 1,200 nautical miles but it was joined by a number of other pilots and 4 other seaplanes to join in on the convoy. This brought the total number of seaplanes to five aircraft, piloted/co-piloted by 13 pilots all who wanted to join in on the experience, all serving as advocates and ambassadors for these rare flying machines that land on water.

Pontecorvo reports that the day the Beech 18 left Lino Lake, Minnesota (near Minneapolis) the weather was cold and overcast, typical for that area of the country in early November. As they proceeded along to intercept the Mississippi River they flew low-level to Le Claire, Iowa where they landed on the river and docked to be greeted by news crews. The reception in the area was magnificent with local pilots and residents coming out to greet the star Beech 18 seaplane and it's accompanying four seaplanes. The trip is further shared with AOPA's members with a video on AOPA's website entitled "Seaplane Adventure-Beech 18".

Key West Seaplanes® pilot and co-owner Pontecorvo reports that the seaplane journey continued for a total of three days of flying with continuing along to Kentucky where the five seaplanes landed on the water near Barkley Dam. The seaplane pilots visited Green Turtle Marina in Grand Rivers, Kentucky near Paducah for fuel and were welcomed warmly. Throughout all the stops required for refueling, the pilots worked hard to replenish the thirsty birds. The stopping water points had no fuel pumps (unlike an airport) and were located in remote and/or rural areas of the country. The refueling process required the pilots procure their fuel near the planned water landing points, often requiring driving to another location. Then, using standard red plastic fuel jugs the pilots painstakingly hand-fueled the large Beech 18 seaplane just five gallons at a time. The task was arduous but the pilots found many people along the way happy to assist them, almost as if a privilege to be part of this historic Beech 18 seaplane journey. The pilots report being very thankful for the assistance and receptions they experienced along the way. Much goodwill was received, and spread.

With a stop in Guntersville, Alabama on a lake near a small airport the seaplane pilots were greeted by the friendly airport manager and about 20 other people who had never seen a seaplane that large land there before. After a show-and-tell of the rare Beech 18 seaplane the pilots enjoyed a catfish dinner at a nearby restaurant before continuing on to Eufala, Alabama. There, the five seaplanes landed in a reservoir and beached the seaplanes on a sandy beach where the group had an informal picnic lunch after local residents assisted in a ride to town to buy fuel.

The final stop for the Beech 18 happened on November 6, 2013 after a gradual warming of the weather conditions and watching autumn-kissed orange and red northern trees turn to lush, green foliage in Florida. The last day of the journey greeted Pontecorvo, Baker and other pilots with gentle winds and a warm, sunny day for their landing on Lake Pearce, Florida just south of Orlando. It was with this landing that pilot Pontecorvo says, "The Beech 18 is a gentle giant that possesses tremendous power but requires a lot of finesse to fly....What a great plane!"
Key West Seaplanes® pilot Pontecorvo sums up the experience as, "A perfect opportunity to introduce seaplanes to areas of the country that have never seen one, let alone five all on one day!"

Key West Seaplanes® is based in Key West, Florida. The company has been featured in a multitude of aviation and travel magazines including Aviation Digest, FLYING Magazine, Pilot Getaways, Florida Travel and Life, Island Magazine, American Express' Departures Magazine and Water Flying Magazine. The premier seaplane charter company has also been featured on The Travel Channel in an episode of Flip Flip in which a couple is whisked away from Miami to Islamorada via seaplane to visit The Postcard Inn. Key West Seaplanes® routinely flies VIPs for the exclusive Little Palm Island and services other island resorts such as Hawks Cay and eclectic restaurants such as The Lorelei.Key West Seaplanes® to The Bahamas is another popular service known in the region.

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Julie Ann Floyd

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