At first glance it would seem that allowing folks in seaplanes to zoom into any of our great ponds is a bad idea. And maybe it is. But, according to a knowledgeable bush pilot friend, the pilot who landed recently on Edgartown Great Pond, Thomas Miozzi of Rhode Island, was within his rights. Most water bodies are open to seaplanes unless there is a local ordinance against them. The seaplane pilots association lists Tisbury Great Pond, Edgartown Great Pond and Chilmark Pond as “Open, no known restrictions,” in their water landing directory.
My experience with seaplanes began in 1975 when I made a documentary about bush pilots flying out of Greenville, Me. I gained a lot of respect for seaplane folks. Landing a seaplane — and taking off — requires an extra measure of skill that most pilots simply don’t have, and seaplanes are built and designed to accommodate the difficulties of landing on water.
There was a plane that many bush pilots reviled, however. They called it the doctor killer — a Lake amphibian. You may have seen one, a beautiful aircraft with a boat hull. Advertisements I recall picture a curvaceous woman sunbathing on a wing while the pilot fishes from the cockpit. These are the kind of showboat planes that the “new elite” like to buy. But they are tricky to fly. The engine is mounted above the fuselage in such a way that the application of power — as in an emergency — drives the wing into a greater angle of attack, increasing the possibility of a stall or loss of lift. Lake pilots must learn to make corrections that are counter to their training in most other aircraft. Bush pilots call it the doctor killer because many accidents that turn up in the stats are due to pilot error. And, or so say the bush pilots, many of the pilots are doctors.
“Doctors are arrogant,” one of the pilots told me while I was in Greenville. “They are skilled in their professions to be sure, but they think they can do anything and so they take chances — and the Lake is a plane that you don’t want to take chances in.”
During one of the seaplane fly-ins (a gathering of the clan) at Greenville, a doctor tried to land on the runway (the planes are amphibians, they can land on water or hard top) and he misjudged, landed too short, tried to take off again but did not make it. The doctor walked away, but his wife did not.
So open the ponds to good pilots and bad pilots may follow. Particularly in this day and age when folks with a lot of money and not a lot of sense buy boats that go 70 miles an hour to — well — just go 70 miles an hour. Pilots like Mr. Miozzi are most likely very competent — but think what might happen if the other kind follows him in.
The Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission website tells us that state law requires municipalities to submit any regulations or ordinances restricting seaplane operations on great ponds to them for approval. I would guess that’s the next step.
Gazette contributor Sam Low lives in Oak Bluffs.