Seaplanes used to be a staple of the US Coast Guard search and rescue business. As with any aircraft, periodic training is required to stay fresh in its operation. With seaplanes, “water work” – takeoffs and landings on the water must be conducted now and then.
Greenwood Lake is a seven-mile long lake that runs roughly northeast to southwest straddling the New York and New Jersey state line. That’s where the pilots and crews of the Coast Guard Air Station in Brooklyn did their practicing when I was part of that unit back in the 1950s.
The lake was a popular resort area then – it still handles a lot of boating activity – and there was a small Coast Guard unit on the lake. This unit was alerted beforehand if we were planning to do our maneuvers there. These were always conducted in good weather. To be sure, there are no landing strips as such on a waterway, but our plane would come in on an announced heading and the unit would send out a 40 foot patrol boat to “sweep the sea lane” as we made our approach. This meant that they would criss cross the anticipated descent path of the plane and look for debris in the water – perhaps a half sunken log – that could easily puncture the thin aluminum hull of the Grumman Albatross that we flew.
Such activity wouldn’t go unnoticed by the lake residents, of course, and as we approached the lake, boats from all corners of the lake would head toward our intended landing path. When we touched down, watercraft of every type and vintage would look to surround us. One of the pilots would bark out to me, “Hey Radio, get up in the bow and tell those *!@#$&!’s to get their *!@#$&! away from this plane!” Understand that the plane would be settled in the water at this time – plowing – with the big props still turning at idle. A miscalculation by one of the boaters might send him and his craft under one of them with catastrophic results.
I would climb down out of my radioman’s seat on the flight deck, get on my hands and knees and crawl forward between the two pilots to the nose of the plane. I would open the bow hatch there. Before standing up, I would settle my cap low over my stern visage, and put on my aviator’s glasses. Then I would rise up out of the nose of this big plane and holler at the boaters edging closer to the aircraft. “Hey you dumb *!@#$&!’s! Get your *!@#$&! away from this plane!” I took particular delight in this task if there were several hot speedboats (and there always were) with young dudes and their girlfriends – the bathing beauties of the day.
The best was yet to come, though. The pilots had executed their water landing to their satisfaction and now would come the takeoff! I kept the boaters shooed away from the plane as we taxied down to the end of the lake where we would start our takeoff run. Naturally the little flotilla would accompany us. As we make the turn, I duck back down into the nose, secure the hatch, crawl back to the flight deck and my seat, strap in and wait for the real excitement!
The CG lake unit’s patrol boat has swept the sea lane for our takeoff and the pilots pour the coal to the two big Wright Cyclone engines. The boats have made the turn with us, and as we start our takeoff run they are off to either side of the aircraft and running full throttle themselves. A few have gotten the jump on us and are ahead. We soon overtake them until our only competition is from the fastest of the lake’s speedboats. Not for long, though. Our takeoff speed is almost 100 mph and we show them our rooster tail as we sail down the lake and lift off into the blue of a lovely day.
Chuck Thurston is the author of Senior Scribbles Unearthed and Senior Scribbles Second Dose, available from Amazon and SecondWind Publishing.