Floatplanes: Those wonderful flying machines

Went for a great floatplane trip recently. Took off from Tyee Spit in Campbell River and took part in Corilair’s  Mail Run, a working flight around some locations in the “Discovery Islands” a group of islands between the British Columbia mainland and Vancouver Island. It’s a beautiful area of sea, tidal channels, forested mountainsides.

Floatplanes are cool. I used to travel in them when, as a young lad (cue the violins and harp strumming) living in Haida Gwaii, which was known as the Queen Charlotte Islands back when I lived there. The Haida First Nation successfully managed to get the governments of Canada and British Columbia to change the name from the one the Europeans gave it (okay, the British). As one Haida elder said, “Who was Queen Charlotte anyway?” I couldn’t agree more. I’m pretty much in favour of reverting to original First Nations names. At least, get away from the European tendency to name things after places back in the “auld country.” I don’t mind Anglo, European, whatever names that are unique or original to the experience of North America. Like, say, Vancouver or whatever. But not, say, New Westminster, or New York.

Anyway, back to the plane. I lived in a mining town on the west coast of Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii and the only way to get there was by a long and kind of dangerous boat trip or by floatplane. It was always quite adventurous. I remember when I first flew into the place when our family was moving to Tasu, as the town was called (it’s a ghost town now, like many another played-out mining town). I was about 10 and we were flying in a Grumman Goose which lands on its belly, unlike say the most commonly-envisioned floatplane, the Beaver, which lands on replacements for its wheels, two pontoons braced to the underside of the fuselage. The Goose lands on its belly and two small pontoons are suspended from either wing and keep the plane from settling to one side or the other. But when you come in for a landing in a Goose, it is pretty dramatic and then when you’ve landed and taxi toward the ramp out of the water the plane settles deeper into the water and the water line is below the windows but above where your butt is seated on your chair. I can still remember that first landing like it was yesterday.

I flew in Beavers many times after that and a few Cessnas, which were like Beavers-lite. I loved flying in those floatplanes. Some people found them terrifying and they made other people airsick, especially when there was typical Haida Gwaii weather (that is, windy and rainy). But I didn’t get motion sickness and could endure the rough flights. There were a few times, though, when the plane would hit an air pocket and drop a a few feet, leaving your heart and stomach back at the previous altitude. Yep, lots of fun.

I’d only flown in a floatplane once since I left Haida Gwaii in 1975 and that was 10-15 years ago. So, it was fun to get back into another one. I was on the Corilair Mail Run to write an article for my newspaper’s Wave magazine. It was just a couple hours flight but the weather was great and the scenery was beautiful.


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