“THIS TYPE OF FLYING HAS FAR MORE FREEDOM THAN JUST GOING FROM POINT A TO POINT B,” says local pilot Brad Thornberg. “I can go anywhere I want to go. I don’t have to set up approaches, I don’t have to talk to anybody, I can do whatever I want to do and just enjoy the sensation
He likens his floatplane to a “three-dimensional boat — or, in winter, a three-dimensional snowmobile. There are so many lakes in this state, you can go anywhere you want. I can fly down to the Cities, I can go to the border, I can go anywhere and find a place to land. It’s just great fun,” he laughs. “There’s nothing better.”
Even if you’re ground-bound, you may agree that it’s thrilling to watch a floatplane land on a lake and gracefully glide to a stop. If you’re a more enthusiastic spectator, you should plan to be here May 20–22 during the Minnesota Seaplane Pilots Association (MSPA) annual conference at Madden’s on Gull Lake.
According to C. Ben Thuringer, vice president and lodge manager at Madden’s and vice president of MSPA, “It’s the largest seaplane fly-in next to Alaska’s Airmen show. We typically have fifty-some-odd planes on the beach and probably another thirty up on the airstrip.
“At the conference, we work on refining skills and bettering ourselves as pilots. Flying a floatplane requires a lot of skill, so it’s important to have those skills sharp.”
Thornberg describes the May conference as “a kick-off for the season. Every year pilots are going crazy because the ice lasts too long and they’re wanting to start the floatplane season. Pilots come here from all over the state and the region. We have speakers from all over the country discussing floatplane operations, maintenance, health issues, and various other topics.”
Although the focus of the conference is on safety, featuring presentations from experts with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Aeronautics Division of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the national Seaplane Pilots Association, there is also time for some fun. For instance, pilots can test their skills during the spot-landing contest, competing to see who can land closest to a marker set out on the lake.
“We spend so much time in the meeting room going through a lot of information, everybody wants to get out and enjoy their floatplanes,” explains Thuringer. “Watching the super-skilled professional seaplane pilots and learning from them is a lot of fun.”
Thornberg says the contest presents pilots with challenges similar to those encountered in day-to-day flying. He enjoys testing his skills and seeing how well he and his plane perform relative to the other pilots. “Can I make that airplane do everything I need to do to touch on that line, or am I going to go by it or land short? How good am I?”
In addition to its focus on safety and training, MSPA created a water quality task force to specifically address the issue of aquatic invasive species (AIS). The goal is to increase the “environmental awareness of all seaplane pilots” through education and communication with local and