White River is now available on Amazon.com
Late Sunday Afternoon
I get rocked by a downdraft, the thunderstorm nearly obliterating visibility and I become very aware of treetops rushing up to the floats of my seaplane. Pull back on the yoke, push the throttle all the way forward. I cross the shoreline! No more obstacles, not counting the hard water below. Battling the wind—don’t bounce DOWN onto the water! Keep the altitude, but I’ve got to get down NOW. Check the flaps; normally I’d go to full flaps, but with this wind full flaps will make me bounce like a balloon in a hurricane. Like I’m having a smooth ride now. Leave them at twenty degrees. Pull the throttle back to fifteen-hundred rpm again, slow it down, bring it down. Grable, my DeHavilland Beaver seaplane, is bucking like a bronco, but it’s not her fault.
She’s as sturdy as a rock, but she’s a rock in an avalanche. Have to make sure I don’t get slammed into the water, but I’m running out of my aquatic runway. Quarter-way across the lake, wave tops clawing for the floats. Bouncing, left, right, pull back on the yoke, back out the throttle a little, let it settle, feeling, feeling, I’m getting bounced left and right by the wind—
Touch. The right float whacks the water. It bounces up and I’m tilted left. Right on the control yoke, giving me full right aileron, the left float slams and bounces at the same time. React quick, full left aileron. Right side hits, not as hard, bounces up, I’m level, hold the power, both hands on the yoke, settle and hit the water hard left-right, settle in, now I’m bouncing on the waves. Settle, settle, become a very ungainly sailboat instead of an airplane, throttle to a thousand rpm, we’re down. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. Power back up, full back on the yoke to dig the rear of the floats in and do a high-speed taxi to the south side of the lake in the heavy chop.
I wipe the sweat off my brow as I look at Camp Roscoe dead ahead. No fancy docking maneuvers; this time I am taxiing onto the beach and tying the plane down. The wind reduces a bit as I reach the little cove for Camp Roscoe, but that’s a relative term. No fancy turns, no backing in, just drive her onto the beach. Getting close, throttle to idle, hold the wheel back to keep the nose up, fifty feet, twenty-five feet, goose the throttle to get the nose a little higher, feel the floats start to scrape the sand, yank the throttle back, pull the mixture lever to starve the engine of fuel, the engine dies. We claw up onto the beach, propeller slowing, hearing a scraping sound as the floats scratch over rocky sand. We’re stopped.
We’re stopped. The engine’s hissing from all the rainwater hitting the hot cylinders. Rain is pounding the plane, but a remarkable stillness envelops me. I sit for what seems like an eternity, then reach for the after-landing checklist, followed by shutting down all the systems.
I look out the windshield and see nothing but trees right in front of me. Normally this is not a sight a pilot wants to see, but right now it looks pretty damn good.