Making a big splash
Designed for low-speed flight, the amphibious planes seemed to hover like so many buzzing bumblebees as they slowly approached the calm surface of Lake Tahoe Monday afternoon.
The owner-pilots of a dozen seaplanes flew past Obexer’s Marina in Homewood on a sun-drenched Memorial Day, entertaining several hundred spectators at the first-ever Mike Brown’s Splash-In.
One by one, the pilots guided their planes to soft landings on the lake’s still waters, taxied to shore to tie up, grab a bite to eat and talk with the curious public about their planes.
Aaron Zeff of Sacramento was making his first flight to Lake Tahoe in the Murphy Moose kit plane that he spent 3,000 hours to finish in January. Well, almost finish. He hadn’t had time yet to paint the bright aluminum fuselage.
Fellow pilot Reid Dennis, who flies his twin-engine Grumman Mallard between residences in Hayward and Tahoe City, stopped to admire Zeff’s Moose, inquiring about the plane’s stall speed.
“When I hit the water,” Zeff quipped, then added: “I’m in the air at 45 knots.”
The Moose has a 360-hp, 9-cylinder radial engine manufactured in Russia.
“I have to speak Russian to get it to start,” Zeff joked again.
The pilots were enjoying themselves. Dennis spoke about the long history of his Mallard at Lake Tahoe. Its previous owner, Frank Fuller, flew the seaplane for 28 years at the lake, to Capt. George Whittell’s Thunderbird Lodge, which he leased for a time, and then the West Shore’s Rubicon Point.
Dennis bought the blue-and-gray Mallard from Fuller 33 years ago, and continued to fly to Lake Tahoe ever since. He figures the twin-engine seaplane has made more landings on Lake Tahoe than any other plane.
In the old days, he recalled, he would land off Tahoe City, and his kids would wade ashore, and he’d tie the plane’s tail to a tree.
Dennis has a thing for seaplanes. He also bought a Grumman Albatross, which several years back he flew around the world with his wife, a crew and a film crew. In the two and a half months the trip took, they never flew above 7,000 feet, and all their flying over the Pacific was at altitudes between 2,500 and 3,500 feet ” low enough, Dennis recalled, to see fish boils and other sea life.
While he doesn’t fly to Lake Tahoe as often these days, Dennis said he was delighted to participate in the first Mike Brown Splash-In.
“What other reason to have a plane like this, than to share it with the public,” Dennis said in parting.
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County officials recorded three new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing its new total to 4,742.