Seaplane Stories

"The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing. The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together." ~ Bill Gates, Microsoft

Welcome to the Seaplane Stories page!

Tavares, Florida is the site of thousands of seaplane landings each year. Seaplane pilots arrive daily from all over North America, as well as from overseas. They are known to be an adventurous group; the ability to land in out-of-the way spots, or to fly independently of airports, towers and runways make for some amazing experiences.

Tavares, America's Seaplane City, would like to hear YOUR seaplane story! Are you a pilot with an adventure to tell? Have you been a passenger in a seaplane with a wild ride to share? Or do you just want to talk about the pure joy of flying? Whether the story is funny, scary or about a routine trip to your favorite destination, share your memories here!

Featured stories below                                      Submit Your Story Here

JFK is Forever an Eagle

Documents have come to light that confirm that President John F. Kennedy learned to fly at an Embry-Riddle seaplane base in Miami during World War II. The training took place over 10 days in May 1944.

The findings, verified by Embry-Riddle Archivist Kevin Montgomery, have been corroborated by presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.

“JFK was staying in Palm Beach at his father’s home during the same weeks shown in his log book,” says Brinkley, co-author of JFK: A Vision for America, which was published in 2017. “He had a love of aviation and coastal areas, so it all makes sense. I would call it a fact that JFK trained to fly with Embry-Riddle in Miami.”    FULL ARTICLE

A Front Porch Visit

Submitted by Troy Singer, Vice Mayor, City of Tavares

My son was on spring break and we were looking for something fun, exciting, and most of all different for him to do.  After some thought, I decided that a seaplane tour of Tavares, Florida was the perfect answer!  I contacted Jones Brothers & Co. Air and Seaplane to get the adventure planned for my son and wife.  They were easily signed up and excited for their 15 minute tour.

As they were loading up I took a seat on the cozy front porch of the replica 1800's home built by Captain Melton Haynes (the Prop Shop).  I watched the seaplane taxi down the calm waters of Lake Dora and had an enjoyable conversation with an older gentleman relaxing in one of the rocking chairs next to me.  I asked him "where are you from, Sir?"  His reply "Altoona."  Me being a long time resident of the area, I responded "Oh, just up the road a piece."  His answer "Nope, Altoona, Pennsylvania."  I said "wow!  long way from home, what brings you to Central Florida?"  The gentleman said "I have flown in every imaginable plane you can think of, but I've never been in a seaplane, so I did some research on the internet and found out that Tavares is the place to go."  We shared more pleasantries as the warm sun shone down and the cool lake breeze blew.  After my family returned, the smiles on their faces told of an amazing trip.

The kind gentleman and I parted ways.  I thanked Mr. Troutman for his visit and told him to be sure to spread the word to all of his friends about America's Seaplane City, Tavares!
A Flight That Changed My Life

Submitted by an AOPA pilot.

I'd like to share a life-changing flight that took place quite a few years ago, just as the ice melted on Forest Lake in Minnesota.  It was my first flight in N1352C, a Piper PA–18 Super Cub that remains one of my great aviation loves.

I first met Five-Two-Charlie in the early 1990s. A friend of my dad’s had been taking care of a lake house with a hangar and an “old plane.” Neither my dad nor his pal knew what type of airplane it was, but they wondered if I’d like to take a look. And when we opened the hangar door, I wasn’t sure either. The airplane was covered in plastic and parts of it were painted blaze orange. 

Then I saw the logbooks, neatly set out on the work- bench. It was a 1953 Super Cub with 309 hours total time. Last flown in the 1970s, the airplane was a time capsule just waiting to be cracked open. It was sitting on straight floats, but there were skis and wheels in the hangar as well. The fabric had been replaced in the 1960s. There was no radio and no transponder, but the original Lycoming O-290-D2 engine had been carefully pickled. And I knew I had to have it!
Enter Jerry Waldorf. He’d bought the airplane brand new in 1953 for $6,600, including the floats and skis. He was a tough negotiator, winning a $600 cash discount, according to the receipt. Decades later, he was still a tough negotiator.

Before I could make an offer on the airplane, I had to ask—why the blaze orange paint? Jerry, who had served in the infantry in the Battle of the Bulge, told me his wife had made him paint the airplane so he could be found if he ever went down. My question answered, Jerry had a few questions for me. I got the impression he was interviewing me to make sure I was worthy of his baby. 

I guess I passed because we went on to talk price. I brought a copy of Trade-A-Plane as a reference, but it didn’t help. With no category for “barn finds” and an owner who clearly loved his airplane—even though he hadn’t flown it in 20-odd years—this wasn’t going to be easy. My first offer was $30,000. Jerry wanted $40,000. We wrangled for hours, and it was getting late. Desperate, I offered to split the difference at $35,000. He suggested a coin toss—$35,000 if I won and $36,000 if he did. The loudest “yippee” I’ve ever heard told me I’d lost the toss, but the airplane was mine and I couldn’t have been more excited.

The following spring, I hired a couple of mechanics to begin waking up Five-Two-Charlie. We had to cut down large trees that had grown in front of the hangar during the airplane’s long nap. Then we had to wait for the ice to melt. And at this point, I still didn’t have a seaplane rating.
At the local seaplane base, Surfside, I met owner Bruce Hanson, who has become a great friend. He remembered Five-Two-Charlie stopping in for avgas in the 1960s. And he pointed me to flight instructor Brian Schanche. Chatting after a flight, I asked Brian how long he’d been doing this. His answer—about two days. I was his very first seaplane student, and I guess I didn’t scare him off because he’s still instructing today.

Just as soon as the ice melted, Brian and I headed to the lake for our first flight in Five-Two-Charlie. It was a flight that changed my life. I had loved the airplane at first sight. But once we lifted off, I knew this was flying as it was meant to be.
For years I flew it all summer on floats, all spring and fall on wheels, and all winter on skis. With the airplane parked in my backyard on the lake, I could take off anytime I wanted. And I would gladly take anyone for a hop, even if I had just 15 or 20 minutes to spare. 

I put more than 500 hours on the original 135-horsepower engine. Then in 1999, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Over the course of a year, the airplane got new fabric and some great mods, a 160-horsepower engine, and new Wipline 2100 amphibious floats.  I had a hard time waiting to get my baby back, but boy was it worth the wait. 

In the years since, I’ve put more than 1,000 hours on Five-Two-Charlie. It’s taken me to Baja, California; Hudson Bay, New York; Key West, Florida; and the Idaho backcountry, to name just a few of our more exciting destinations. And it’s been a trainer for friends and family who’ve learned to fly on wheels, floats, and skis. 

I’ve never regretted my love affair with Five-Two-Charlie. For me, it’s the most fun you can have in an airplane. And, while flying is never “cheap,” it is reasonable to operate, insure, and maintain.

This is an airplane I plan to keep flying as long as I can—and when I’m gone my kids will have to fight over it, to see who’s lucky enough to become just the third owner since 1953. 

Seaplane at Lake Eustis

Seaplane at Lake Eustis, early 1900's

Clara Adams and Amelia Earheart

Clara Adams & Amelia Earheart

A Local Seaplane Story - An Historical Perspective

By: John H. Drury

The first recorded seaplane flight off the shores of America’s Seaplane City - Tavares, Florida, was off Lake Eustis on February 23, 1914, piloted by Tony Janus, the first licensed airline pilot in the world, in a Benoist airboat. The landing was in recognition of Eustis’ first Washington Birthday Celebration.

The second recorded seaplane flight off Lake Eustis was 30 days later, in March 1914, in a Thomas Flying boat piloted by Walter Johnson with 30 year old passenger Clara Adams, who was known as “The Maiden of Maiden Voyages”.

Soon after that flight, Clara Adams made a prediction to the press that the future of passenger transportation would be primarily accomplished by airplanes. The press scoffed at the idea pointing out that airplanes were for risk taking daredevil men in leather helmets, not “society folks” going from one place to another. This wealthy widow from Pennsylvania led a lifelong commitment to proving her prediction and she changed the public perception of aviation to something that could be enjoyed by all people including a little old lady from Pennsylvania. Referring to herself as “the persistent first flyer”, Clara became the first woman to circle the world in an airplane as a passenger, the only woman to fly on the Pan Am Clipper, first woman to buy a ticket and fly across the Atlantic on a Graf Zeppelin in 1928, flew on the inaugural flight of the Hindenburg and became acquainted with other woman aviators such as Amelia Earhart. Overall, Clara logged more than 150,000 maiden-voyage miles in airplanes.

The McDermott Library at the University Of Texas holds most of Clara Adams' memorabilia documenting her contribution to aviation. The flame that kept her passion alive until her death in 1971 was lit in a seaplane ride Clara took off the shores of America’s Seaplane City in 1914, just four years after the seaplane was invented in France.
Tavares Staff Aids Twin Otter Pilot

The staff of the Tavares Seaplane Base recently came to the aid of an international seaplane flight. The pilot was from a Canadian company (Nica-Wings) that runs a commercial flight operation in Nicaragua. He was flying a Twin Otter and had come from Atlanta, Georgia where he had just had new floats installed. The pilot called the Tavares Seaplane Base looking for a place to purchase Jet A fuel on his way to Nicaragua to deliver the plane. (Most seaplane bases provide 100 ll, but not Jet A.)

The staff arranged for a tanker truck to deliver Jet A fuel to the Tavares Seaplane Base to refuel the aircraft, and the plane set down in Lake Dora. Unfortunately, the pilot encountered a paperwork issue with Nicaragua and he learned that he was not going to be permitted to fly the Twin Otter into that country. While the legal documents were being resolved the pilot made a request to temporarily leave the aircraft tied up at the Tavares Seaplane Base, which was approved. It remained docked for several weeks, providing enjoyment to visitors and locals who came by daily to view the large, 19 passenger, seaplane.

Otter Plane

Jet A fuel is available w/24 hour notice
Seaplane Base staff called for gas tanker
to refuel Otter

Twin Otter June 2011 - 4_thumb.jpg

Otter waiting to takeoff

Tavares Symbol
Developing the "Seaplane City" Brand

In 2006, Tavares Mayor Nancy Clutts facilitated a conversation with city stakeholders (citizens, business community, faith community, not for profits, hospital, governments etc…) and challenged them to develop a vision of what this city should become. Mayor Clutts held these conversations at City Hall in the evening for a year with these stakeholders who eventually penned their vision as follows:

“Tavares, the capital waterfront City of Lake County – building on a historic foundation – creating an authentic, accessible community of neighborhoods, businesses and citizens services – distinguishing itself as the defining vision of where YOU want to be!"

This led to the development of a downtown redevelopment master plan as well as the development of a brand for the city. The City Council wisely selected an out of town independent firm (Wilesmith Advertising/Design) to develop the brand, because the City knew that brands are defined by what people say about you, not what you say about yourself.

Seaplanes had been visiting the area since 1914, just five years after the seaplane was invented in France. More recently, a drive along Tavares down town’s lake shore was sure to include sightings of parked seaplanes that had just “splashed-in” to visit the local eateries. It wasn’t long before the out of town branding firm made its recommendation to the city that it should become “America’s Seaplane City” as it embodied all of the attributes of the citizens penned vision (“historic foundation”, “capital water front city”, “accessible community”, “distinguishing itself”….). The community fully embraced the recommended brand and began full implementation. A seaplane themed splash park for children was constructed at the lakeside park, followed by the development of a seaplane base, virtual runway on the lake, seaplane manufacturing company, seaplane themed restaurants, seaplane flight training school, seaplane themed signage, seaplane scenic ride operation and an annual seaplane-fly-in event.

“America’s Seaplane City” was born April 10, 2010 just four years after the Mayor held her first in a series of community conversations with its stakeholders asking the question” “What do you want to become?”. The answer: “America’s Seaplane City!”
Precision Flying Required
for Seaplane Base Grand Opening!

In April 2010, Tavares officially opened the country’s newest seaplane base with an approved FAA virtual runway. This project became reality after several years of community visioning and the establishment of Tavares as America’s Seaplane City.

As the construction of the Tavares Seaplane Base neared completion, plans were made for an outrageous community celebration. The excitement was palpable and many local and state dignitaries were expected to participate in the opening festivities. The event committee wanted to do something truly unique to commemorate this significant occasion. After much thought and lots of suggestions, it was decided. What could be more appropriate than using a seaplane to “cut” the ribbon!

While, to the crowd the awesome sight of a seaplane gliding up the ramp to cut the official red ribbon looked effortless, behind the scenes it was quite a production. Several days prior to the opening a small group of people quietly assembled at the new ramp. A local pilot, who had volunteered to do the honors, circled the seaplane base, taking several practice runs to get it just right. Determining the specific length and strength of the ribbon was important, as well as the deciding the exact height to mount the ribbon for easy cutting. Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, a picture-perfect memory was made on opening day.

In the first year of operation over 7,200 takeoffs and landings were recorded, with seaplanes coming from as far away as Germany and Mexico. Local residents are often found sitting in the park just to watch the seaplanes coming and going. On any given day one may view a Cessna, Goose, SeaRay, Caravan, Twin Bee or a Cub. Residents wave, cheer, or offer a friendly welcome!

The Tavares Seaplane Base & Marina is located in Wooton Park in Tavares’ downtown entertainment district. It is surrounded by a variety of restaurants and pubs that are within walking distance.

On site is the Prop Shop in the Woodlea House, affectionately known as the “smallest airport terminal in the United States”, but it’s filled with all manner of beverages, snacks, souvenirs and clothing items.

Come make memories in Tavares. Visit the Prop Shop, sit on the front porch and share your seaplane adventures!

Opening Day
Ribbon Cutting on Opening Day

Prop Shop rockers.jpg

Tavares Prop Shop @ Woodlea

Seaplane at Lake Eustis

Seaplane Landing at Lake Eustis
Early 1900's
Some Historical Factoids on Early Seaplanes

By: John Drury

The first all metal hull aircraft ever built was the Thomas Flying Boat, pictured here next to the Headquarters of the Eustis Boat Club in March of 1914 on Lake Eustis Florida. Prior to this aircraft being built, aircraft hulls were made of wood. The Thomas Brothers introduced the all metal hull to lower the weight of the water saturated wooden hull. All modern aircraft to this day (Airliners, Military and rockets) use this all metal hull design.

So what was the grand daddy of the all metal hull aircraft doing off the shores of Americas Seaplane City almost 100 years ago in 1914? Where did this seaplane come from? Who was flying it and why? As we approach the 100 year anniversary of the first seaplane operating off the shores of America’s Seaplane City, it’s worth exploring the areas roots with seaplanes and answers to some of these questions.

From the Toney Jannus Benoist “airboat” that landed on February 14, 1914 in Lake Eustis (the first recorded seaplane to land off the shores of America’s Seaplane City) to this Thomas Flying boat that was giving seaplane rides to people like famed aviation enthusiast Clara Adams in March of 1914, America’s Seaplane City has been welcoming seaplanes, its pilots and manufactures ever since.

The Thomas Brothers Company was founded in 1910 by brothers William and Oliver Thomas in Hammondsport, NY. The company moved to Bath, NY where they made this seaplane. In addition to making seaplanes, they operated the Thomas School of Aviation in Cayuga Lake, New York. Eventually the Thomas Brothers Aeroplane Company merged with the Morse Chain Company in Ithaca, NY to recapitalize and became the Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation and built aircraft for the Royal Naval Service and U.S. Navy. The company's workforce reached more than 1,200 employees, and it became one of the leading manufacturers of fighter aircraft in the country.

Walter Johnson flew this seaplane in March of 1914 with Clara Adams on board off of Lake Eustis, Florida. Walter also flew exhibition flights with Fred Eells, the Thomas Brother’s chief flight instructor and test pilot at the Conesus, NY seaplane base back in 1913. Walter Johnson, Tony Jannus and Fred Eells all have a well documented history of aviation pioneering and all shared one thing in common - a visit to America’s Seaplane City’s Lake Eustis, but it was only Fred Eells who retired to Tavares, Florida and passed away at the Waterman Hospital at age 78 on November 6, 1965.