Just the Other Day: Seaplanes and Ice Cream

I spent some time recalling the Labor Day weekend from a few years ago. I got to do some flying Friday night, which allowed me to see something I’d not seen before.


From the air, with the sun setting to the west over Duluth, I watched a large ship enter Superior Harbor. We’ve watched lots of ships come in through the canal and under the lift bridge at Duluth, but I had never seen one actually entering Superior. It was pretty neat.


Saturday, I spent a full day flying skydivers. I haven’t done this for eight or nine years and it was really a blast. I stepped right back into it without missing a beat. My flying was good, the jump runs were into the wind and my altitudes were right where they were supposed to be. I felt very comfortable with the door opening at 10,000 feet above the ground, watching people climb out on the wheel and strut. The lead jumper nods his head, giving a three count, then they fall away from the airplane, tumbling through the air rapidly toward the ground below me. I love that sight!


Sunday, after mass, I went to the Superior airport again, to get checked out in a Cessna 172 at Superior Flying Service. This is an easy plane to fly. The checkout is a standard procedure flight required when a pilot, new to the area, wants to rent airplanes.


Three times round the patch, three landings, one with a simulated “engine out” and my instructor said, “You’re good to go!” Cool. Now I have another place I can rent airplanes to take people for rides and maybe get Melissa up to do some aerial photography of the Northwoods.


After checking out in the 172, I drove all the way around the Twin Ports harbor, then out to Park Point where Sky Harbor airport is located. I got to meet John. He owns an impressive Dehaviland Beaver – the most classic icon of all float planes.


I had heard him making several radio-calls the day before when I was flying skydivers, so I came here to find and talk to him. He was having a dish of homemade ice cream a vendor was selling just outside the flying service.


I asked if he gave instruction, that I would like to get my seaplane rating. He said he didn’t, but took me into an office area and gave me the name and phone number of a man who does.


We chatted for a few minutes, then he saw two of his passengers coming and he had to go. As a young couple approached, he extended his hand. “I’m John, the pilot and we’ll be going up right after I finish my ice cream. You can go out, look, and take pictures, but please don’t board the airplane until I am there.”


A happy pilot is a good pilot and honestly, everyone is happy after finishing a dish of homemade ice cream. These young people were in for an extra good time – I could tell!


Outside, I stood at the water’s edge watching the plane tied off to the end of the dock. A couple was standing there, each eating a dish of ice cream while watching the Beaver with great interest. “Are you two going for a ride in the seaplane?” I asked.


They answered simultaneously, “I’d sure like to.” She said, while he said, “No, not today.”


The wife asked me, “Are you going for a ride in it?”


“I don’t just want a ride in it, I want to fly it!” I answered. They both looked at me rather oddly. “Let’s go stand over there, honey.” The man said to his wife, but I think what he really meant was, “Come on wife. Let’s take our ice cream and move away from the crazy man.”


I stood in awe, watching John maneuver the plane in the water, so smooth and graceful, like…well, a beaver swimming in the water. He taxied to the takeoff area, then turning the nose into the wind, he began easing in the power. The sound of his big radial engine was chilling. More and more, the plane pushed through the water until the floats planed on top just like a boat. Within a few moments, he gently lifted the airplane into the air and away they went.


A seaplane license; that’s the next pilot rating I will work on!


After watching the Beaver disappear into the distant sky, I walked back to my car, daydreaming about flying that airplane. A man and woman were standing near the parking lot, each enjoying a dish of homemade ice cream.


He looked quite charming. Gray hair with a distinguished gray beard and glasses under a safari style hat, with the string connected by a single bead coming down under his chin.


I approached him, “Excuse me sir. I was wondering if I might have a bite of your ice cream?”


“Sure!” He said, without hesitation, extending a full spoon of the delicious treat toward me.


I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m just kidding, I just wanted to see how you would react.”


“Well you’re welcome to try it, I have plenty to share.” There was a sincerity in is voice that I really liked, and an accent too! He made me feel good.


“I’m happy to meet people who are friendly and willing to share with a stranger.” I told him, then inquired, “May I ask where you’re from.”


“Chicago.” His wife answered.


“Well,” I commented, “You have a beautiful accent in your voice, but it doesn’t sound like a that of a Midwesterner.”


The man explained, “Originally, we are from Russia, now we live in Chicago. We are just visiting here.”


I welcomed them and asked how they liked Chicago. He assured me they like it very much. I wanted to ask if they root for the Cubs or the White Sox, but having just met, I thought prying into their politics would be a bit brash.


We chatted for a bit, then as we said our farewells he again asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to try the ice cream? It’s really good.”


“No thank you. I’m good.” I said, waving as I walked away. Then, looking over my shoulder, I called out, “You two enjoy the rest of your day…and that ice cream, too!” I could hear them laughing.


I sat in my car for a bit, watching the harbor where the Beaver had just taken off. I put the car in reverse, then looked over my shoulder to back up. While looking behind me, I saw the ice cream vendor with his big signs, “Homemade Ice Cream.”


I put the car in first gear and started to pull away. I smiled, nodded and said, “After I get my seaplane rating, I’m gonna have a dish of that homemade ice cream.”


That fall, I did get my sea plane rating at Sky Harbor Airport and a dish of ice cream too – a double scoop.”