Seabee Picture

Canadian Seabee Adventure

by John "Hoop" Hooper

    The seaplane rose and fell with the gentle waves that were lightly touching the shore, its silvery metal skin reflecting the morning sun. It flashed a welcome as we moved onto the fishing dock that served as a mooring.

     The fishing had been splended, at beautiful Gavor lake in Ontario and in a few days we had a limit catch of prize rainbow trout to show for our efforts. This was a magnificent wilderness of unspoiled natural beauty. It had been a truly memorable experience but now it was time to go home.

     The plane was a newly manufactured "Republic Seabee" amphibian and one that I had flown from the Republic Aviation Corporation on Long Island to our own Skyhaven Airport in Saginaw, Michigan. Familiarization included a few takeoffs and landings on the comparatively calm Saginaw river to some of a rougher nature on nearby, Saginaw bay. I had gained the impression that the plane was somewhat underpowered. The manufacturers of the famous wartime P-47 had a reputation for emphasizing strength and durability first and performance to a lesser degree. It was later said of this aircraft, "if you lost the engine, the field to pick for a forced landing was the one directly below you" Amen to that!

     The lake appeared unusually calm and I had some misgivings as to taking off with the load we had planned to carry. Towering pine trees lined the shore,complicating matters. I made a decision to take out just one of the two passengers at a time. Later events proved this to be fortunate choice, indeed.

     After a complete engine check, we taxied onto the lake and proceed to stir up the water to lessen surface tension on the smooth surface in the direction of the proposed takeoff. Before heading into the little available breeze, I put the propeller in low pitch and full flaps for maximum lift. The plane responded well during the takeoff run and left the water rather near the end of the lake. We made a shallow bank to use a little more of the lake and to gain altitude. At this point, the engine rpm suddenly changed and our rate of climb was severely compromised due to a dangerous change in propeller rpm.

     The great northern pines were now looming ahead. Experience quickly affirmed that we were not going to clear the tops. Heading toward the lowest group of trees, I quickly became a passenger in my own plane. I thought "I have just bought the farm"! Looking out toward the wing tip, I saw that we were below the tops of the nearest trees. At that point, it seemed to me, I was turning hot and cold with each heartbeat and fear was sitting on my shoulder.

     There is an old saw that says "when one is in great danger, their life unfolds before them". I can state, unequivocally, "that is baloney"! You just don't have the time nor the inclination to serialize anything. So what went wrong and why am I still around? The bad news was the malfunction of the propeller pitch control. The control cable, that was secured by a simple fastener, to the cabin roof, fell off. This allowed the cable to whip and change it's effective length resulting in a serious loss of performance. In short, it became a lousy fan and the pine tops were dangerously close by.

     The good news, that allowed our survival, was the plane's basic design. It was a "pusher". The engine was mounted above the cabin with the prop located behind. I am sure the tree tops lightly grazed the underside of the cabin but were deflected away from the propellor. A conventional float plane would have been demolished.

     There also seemed to be a Providence factor involved. At least, I thought so. After "flying" out of the treetops and checking the surface of the adjacent lake, I was surprised to see it was quite rough, indicating a strong breeze had come up.

     After landing and discharging my one passenger, I was able to secure the prop cable correcting the problem. I returned to Gavor and picked up the remaining passenger. The lake had a considerable wave, now, and this time the pines tops were beautiful and seemed much more friendly as we passed over, with room to spare. The trip home, "to my wife and kids", was uneventful but a happy one!

PS: This plane was modified by removing the landing gear and increasing engine power considerably. Canadian Bush Pilots used it extensively for many years. I would not be surprised if some are still in service, at this date. The alternate lake used was Trout Lake, Ontario, Canada.

PLEASE NOTE: I would like to hear from anyone who had the opportunity to fly this unique aircraft, or are familiar with the two lakes involved.            John Hooper

Thanks For Stopping By!