Pictures of David – Inspiring Genius

On the day of our 40th Wedding Anniversary Holly and I revisited the city we enjoyed so much on our European honeymoon. The first time, I don’t remember why, we were not able to visit the original statue of David by Michelangelo.

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“David the Replica” at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence Italy

Instead we settled for the replica placed outside Florence’s Town Hall (Palazzo Vecchio) in the Town Hall Square (Piazza della Signoria.) In our walk around Florence I decided to go there first to see if I could rekindle old memories. All the statues were still there as they had been for 100’s of years.

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Palazzo Vecchio Florence Italy

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Piazza della Signoria Florence Italy

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Piazza della Signoria Florence Italy

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Medici Lion over looking the Piazza della Signoria Florence Italy

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Perseus With the Head of Medusa

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Hercules and Cacus with Loggia dei Lanzi in the background

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Tourists and locals gather at the Piazza della Signoria Florence

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The original Medici Lion was carved in 1598. Since 1789 the two Medici Lions have been located at the Loggia dei Lanzi, Piazza della Signoria, Florence in case you wanted to send them a post card.

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Hercules and Nessus 1599 Florence Italy

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Loggia dei Lanzi was built between 1376 and 1382 as stage for public ceremonies

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The gallery of statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi

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Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus

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Medici Lion Florence

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Rape of the Sabine Women

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Replica statue of David at the Piazza della Signoria Florence

The Plaza was great but a replica is a replica and plus this David was covered in pigeon poop. This time we decided to visit the real-deal David in his protected home at the Galleria dell’Accademia.

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So on the morning of our 40th wedding anniversary we hiked down the street from our hotel to find the Gallery.

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Even before the gallery opened tour buses spilled out multitudes of tourists onto the street and the line-ups grew quickly.

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So I bought VIP express passes to be the first two people into the museum in the morning.

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For about 10 minutes we had David all to ourselves.

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To be alone with David in the silence left me awestruck. The lighting, the architecture, the ambiance and, of course, Michelangelo’s amazing statue of David, to me, defines human perfection. “All else” shall be judged and measured using David as the standard but only whereas David, the manifestation of Michelangelo’s vision or idea, represents us as being “only human” in our imperfect form. In other words, yes we see flaws and inconsistencies in the form, but in the end it, Michelangelo’s work, is perfect in it’s realization.

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The Original

I haven’t felt this way since I first stood in front of Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa in Paris or Vincent van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows in Amsterdam. Shortly after seeing the psychedelic impressions of Wheatfield with Crows I wrote my book of poetry Woodsmoke & Perfume. It took me roughly as long to compose my chapbook of poetry as did Michelangelo to carve out David from a block of marble but in the end my book, like this statue, become something tangible and lasting.

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Pictures of Michelangelo’s David

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Pictures of Michelangelo’s David

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Pictures of Michelangelo’s David

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Admiring Michelangelo’s David

When all was finished, it cannot be denied that this work has carried off the palm from all other statues, modern or ancient, Greek or Latin; no other artwork is equal to it in any respect, with such just proportion, beauty and excellence did Michelangelo finish it” was how Renaissance art historian Giorgio Vasari introduced in a few words the marvel of one of the greatest masterpieces ever created by mankind.

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Admiring Michelangelo’s David

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Admiring Michelangelo’s David

To visit David is an opportunity to be inspired but in what mysterious ways does inspiration work? What inspired Michelangelo and Leonardo to create their masterpieces, ironically, was a commission. They were paid to produce their art. But, at the same time, they did so with game changing creativity that cannot be explain in any other way than pure genius. When you browse the museum you also come across the names of other familiar geniuses: Stradivari, Bartolini, Botticelli, as well as Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci.

What struck me was the familiarity of those names but if someone asked me to name a living genius of our time only Stephen Hawkins would immediately come to mind. After that I would stall out.

In my opinion, genius is the manifestation of one’s ability to recognize and take advantage of one’s time and place. To be classified as a genius, you have to achieve something notable and to do that you have to have intelligence and luck. Why luck? Well none of the Renaissance geniuses would have been known today if Europe had not flourished with the rich patrons that commissioned statues, violins, pianos, and paintings.  They were in the right place at the right time. So does that help us define the geniuses of today?


How about Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Jimmy Wales, Mark Zuckerburg, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Sergy Brin or Larry Page? Are they in the living genius category? Well each of them built their genius status on creatively making use of recently made available inventions. If they have been born 10 years earlier or 10 years later someone else would have done that they did.

How about Sam Walton, George Soros,  Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk or Richard Branson? Does figuring out how to make lots of money make you a genius? Are they creative or merely opportunistic?

How about Stephen Hawkins, Alain Aspect, Frederick Sanger, Albert Hoffman, Timothy Berners-Lee, Roger Penrose, Edward Wilson, Edward Witten, James Watson, Andrew H. Knoll, David Baltimore, Charles K. Kao, Gordon Moore, Craig Venter and George M. Whitesides.  Certainly inventive or innovative scientists must fall into this category as did Newton, Edison or Einstein before them?

Let’s try Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Fareed Zakaria, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Steven Pinker, Steven Weinberg, Philip Pullman and Christopher Hitchens? Does recognizing the fallacy of man’s religious and political beliefs make these candidates special or catapult them into the genius category? I believe these candidate’s genius is defined by their ability to follow intellectual lines of reasoning and to communicate this clarity of thought to the public. Smart and logical, no doubt, but does that give them the genius cookie?

What about the proliferation of today’s writers, musicians or artists? Who of them are geniuses?

The one category I am sure contains no geniuses is politicians. Watching the American elections and listening to the banality, hypocrisy and absurdity of Trump’s rhetoric assures me that political geniuses are far and few between.

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I am not sure of who we should, in our day and age, call a genius. There is so much more to our new age world than what was available during the classical or the renaissance ages. But by standing at the feet of David and admiring the perfection of his art I recognized that genius is also the result of hard work and perseverance. After carving out David Michelangelo went on to paint the Sistine Chapel. Thomas Edison summed it up by saying:

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

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To my muse, my Mona Lisa, on our 40th wedding anniversary.

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Happy Anniversary sweetheart! I hope you remember this day as I will.




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C208B Seaplane Crash in China

FIVE people died after a seaplane, owned by Joy General Aviation, crashed into a bridge during a trial flight of the service in Shanghai’s Jinshan District today.

Source: Five killed after seaplane hits bridge on maiden flight in Jinshan District | Shanghai Daily

You have to wonder how much training and experience this pilot had before being given this responsibility? What he did shows a total lack of situation awareness which is always a symptom of the lack of both – training and experience.

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Bragging Rights

At the beginning of the year I had planned to exercise my “bragging rights” to look back and highlight my last year’s accomplishments. Then I lost my laptop in Tokyo, WordPress come out with a new update that made blogging harder instead of easier and Google killed Picasa making it nearly impossible for me to post images into my blog. That combination of “failure to blog” setbacks washed over me like a tropical storm. Although I have not yet fully recovered I am ready to start writing again.

To claim my bragging rights, however, I will re-post an article, called The Fly Boys, published by a men’s travel, adventure and lifestyle magazine called Grid. They did the “bragging” on my behalf and in a few paragraphs managed to explain one of the things I have accomplished in the past year.



The way we travel is fundamentally changing in ways that we would’ve scarcely imagined just a few years ago. Grid put together a list of 11 people leading the way.

During a television interview about this article Grid Magazine Photographer Paco Guerrero was asked:

Why did you choose these people for your list? What is the significance of what they do?

His answer was Skills.

The people on this list give us skills and the means we can use to travel the country in more ways, in different ways, in arguable better ways.

Moreover, the people in this list have skills that enable unique business and travel opportunities for both locals and tourist to visit their country like never before. Tourism, more so than forestry, fishing or mining is sustainable and ecologically friendly. Where there are tourists the reef dynamiting and fish poisoning stops, the trees are protected and left intact, the oceans are kept clean and the reefs thrive. Palawan, for example, has had most of its natural forest cut down by greedy lumber barons, the reefs bombed and poisoned to catch the local fish and huge patches of hillsides devastated by uncontrolled mining practices that allow the tailings to run off into the sea.

But in areas with developed tourism this all stops and the easier it is for tourists and local alike to travel into the remote regions of Palawan the less likely it is that these unsustainable practices will continue.

The (Off The) Grid list includes tour expedition leaders, divers, restaurateurs, innkeepers, celebrity chefs, hoteliers, instagrammers, luxury resort developers and not last and not least the seaplane expert who has changed fundamentally how one can travel to visit all the others on the list spread out on the 7107 islands of the Philippine Archipelago.


Capt John Goulet, Director for Seaplane Operations for Air Juan.

Living in an archipelago also means having to deal with the challenges of interisland travel. Going off to any other region means having to take land, air, and sea transport — sometimes all three in one trip. In many ways, a seaplane provides the perfect transport solution for our kind of geography.

It’s more than just another luxury option for the well-heeled. By providing ready access to our more remote islands, seaplane transport might be the great equalizer that infrastructure-challenged regions might be waiting for.

As it stands getting to your chosen destination is so difficult that the remotely located resorts and hotels outside of Manila and Cebu have taken to out-and-out lying to get you to visit them. Resorts in Busuanga and Coron will tell you that it is only a quick and easy 45-minute flight from Manila to their airport where they will whisk you away to your beautiful resort on a scenic boat ride. What they don’t tell you is that you have to arrive at least 2 hours before your departure time at a crowded domestic airport and line up with backpackers and crying children to board a hot and cramped commuter airliner and then wait another 30-60 minutes before takeoff. Often the flights are cancelled or rescheduled with no explanation given and you have no choice but to wait.

Then, once airborne, the flight is a merciful 50 minutes, not 45, to the closest local airport. After getting through the terminal and waiting for the others to attend the toilet you will board a small bus or van to drive 45-60 minutes to the harbour where you will wait another 30 minutes for your boat to leave. The boat ride will take another 45-60 minutes across rough waters to finally reach your resort sometime after lunch on a good day but on most days at about 3 pm. The first day of your holiday is spent and so are you.

By seaplane, however, you arrive at the harbour 20 minutes before your departure and arrive directly to your resort 1:10 min later in time for an early breakfast. After check-in you can snorkel along the colorful corals off the beach and enjoy the cool blue-green waters of the sandy lagoon. Then spread out with a good book on a beach chair and enjoy the late morning sun. Later, after a seafood lunch on the deck while you contemplate retiring to your room for a mid-day nap, you might, on a good day, witness the domestic flight passengers arriving to the resort but often they won’t show up until late afternoon. They have lost an entire day of their holiday in hot crowded waiting rooms and commuter airliners while you have spent your entire first day relaxing. There is no comparison.

A beautiful Filipino lady, dressed in a poppy red-flowered dress and draped with jangling jewelry, told me, when she boarded our flight at Two Season’s Resort in Coron, that the best part of her holiday was the seaplane flight home. She used to dread the last day having to ride a boat across rough seas to Coron, ride for another hour on the winding road and wait hours in the cramped domestic terminal for airline delays after delays. She was more stressed after getting home than before she left several days before. Now she reads a book on the resort deck while waiting for the seaplane arrival and then leisurely strolls down to the seaplane jetty to board. Within minutes she is airborne to enjoy a smooth ride to Manila where she is in the car on the way home in less then one hour and 20 minutes after departing the resort. No more stress.

In the Maldives, before the seaplane, there were about 40 developed islands that were easily accessible by boat without torturing their guests on the rough seas. Now, after the seaplane, there are an extra 70+ resorts on remote islands that are easily reached via the seaplane being able to land on the nearby beautiful blue/green lagoons. The Philippines can develop in much the same way. In my travels have seen many uninhabited and stunning beautiful golden sand beach ringed islands that are too remote for boats but are within a perfect flight distance for the seaplane.

Recently I have had interesting meetings with developers who wish to buy an island, build a resort and fly their guests in exclusively by seaplane. These are the business entrepreneurs, like Six Senses in the Maldives and the AmanResorts in Indonesia, with the vision to see past the crowded airports toward a greener sustainable future. The resort lagoons of the Maldives host 100’s of sea landings a week and are as picture perfect as the day the resorts were built. No runways, no terminals, no reef dynamiting, no spear fishing and no oil spills. Just nature at it’s best.

So if you are looking for an island don’t waste time. The hunt is on.

Coron Island Philippines

Ariara Island Philippines

Flower Island in TayTay Bay Palawan Philippines

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The Manitoba Homesick Blues

Most people I know who live and work in the frozen north dream of retiring to a tropical country or at least hope to be able to take a long vacation down south to Florida, Mexico or Costa Rica every winter. But after working in the tropics for 35 years I miss my Manitoba where we enjoy both summer and winter. I am obviously suffering from the Manitoba Homesick Blues so I decided to post a few pictures of home.

Winter Blues

Winter ski and snowshoe trail on the Winnipeg River

The beautiful Blue Jay

The view in the summer, however, goes from blue to green.

Lac du Bonnet rainbow and reflection. It happened so fast I almost missed it.

The Winnipeg River widens out to become lake Lac du Bonnet

Sunshower and rainbow blazing in a gold glow

Storm leaving and another Manitoba rainbow

Manitoba Rainbow lighting up the lake

White crabapple blossoms in the warm morning light

Cedar Waxwing hiding in the Manitoba Maple branches

Wild plum tree blossoms

Wild plum tree blossoms

The sow-thistle

Summer Fun – Grand Beach Manitoba

And of course the best part of a Manitoba summer is the Barbecue

Sweet potato and coconut soup and garden salad

And not least is the Mrs holding it all together

Just to make this clear – I have yet to see snow this winter or any temperatures below 20 degrees C. Being in Manitoba over the winter might have changed my mind but…

I have a very boring

and lonely job.

Posted in Pilot's Blog Book, Travelling Posts, Who Are You? | 2 Comments

The Seaplane Base – An Alternative to Crowded Airports

How do you cope as an ad-hoc charter operator when you are faced with long delays at a crowded airport with limited take-off and landing slots that need to be booked days in advance? Not sure? To answer this question you need someone who can think outside the traffic pattern.

The Sunday morning after I first arrived in Manila I grabbed a taxi and headed to the harbour. I am always looking for places to run seaplanes: rivers, lakes, harbours and bays are all potential landing sites. The Manila South Harbour, on that beautiful faithful day, was perfect – the glassy water gleaming with hope and promise. Dragon boat racers were making the best of the harbour cruising up and down the calm waters with cargo ships peacefully anchored in the bay. My first impression should have told me that this was the perfect place to locate the company’s new seaplane base.

As far as I could tell, from my first excursion, the Manila harbour was promising. The harbour was large and had been used by Spanish, American and Japanese merchant and navy vessels long before, during and after WWII. As I mentioned in other blog posts the Pan Am Clippers landed in the harbour starting in 1935 and only quit when WWII cut off their flight routes to Manila.

In those days there was no airport and the seaplane base would have been approved as the only legal landing area for international flights. As I have found out in other similar landing areas such as La Guardia in Long Island USA, San Francisco USA, Honolulu USA, Suva Fiji, Auckland New Zealand and Sydney (Rose Bay) Australia the approvals would still be valid today. I couldn’t move forward with the idea to reopen the seaplane base, however, until I could find out more about what it would take to do so. That would take time.

It wasn’t until months later, after the first Caravan seaplane arrived, that we began to experience the real difficulty of operating out of a crowded airport. In order to control the flow the Airport Authority issued a limited number of “slots” for both departures and arrivals. The commercial scheduled carriers get first slot priority and only after that the long term charter operators and private jets. Charter Caravan Amphibs were somewhere at the bottom or last on the priority list.

If we can’t get a scheduled departure slot we can only depart the airport between sunrise and 7:00 am. If we miss our window or if the passengers are late that is it for the rest of the day. The airport opens up for VFR arrivals between 9 am and 11 am but if we did return during that window we could not leave again without an approved slot. After that we could only return to the airport again between 4 pm and sunset. There is no way to run an ad-hoc charter or semi-scheduled flight service out of the airport with these restrictions.

That led me back to the harbour. If we could find a place to set up a seaplane base we could depart the airport before 7:00 am and then operate without restrictions until we could return to the airport again after 16:00 pm. All we needed was protected waters and a place for a seaplane jetty.

There were two clues from my first visit that working out of the harbour might not be as easy as the calm waters implied. The first was the bad-ass seawall. A seawall is not necessarily built to protect cities from large seas. In Vancouver, for example, the seawall in Coal Harbour was built to provide a usable living space along the harbour front. During the two years I worked in Vancouver I did not experience any storms that whipped up large enough waves inside the harbour to create a need for a protective seawall.

Vancouver seawall in Coal Harbour

Vancouver seawall in Coal Harbour with the seaplane base in the background.

The one here in Manila, however, seemed to be just that; a protective barrier that implies large storm swells. Since it is such a large harbour I sensed that the regular, up to 20 per year, typhoons that passed close enough to affect Manila could create monster swells inside the harbour precluding seaplane operations.

Manila Harbour protective seawall

The second observation, which led to the same conclusion as the first, was the series of protective breakwaters: two in front of the North Harbour and two situated inside the South Harbour. The smaller inside breakwaters looked battered showing that there had been some serious storms hitting them over the years. You don’t build multi-million dollar breakwaters unless you need them.

Royal Marine Yacht Club breakwater

The dragon boat racers, however, were enjoying the seasonal good weather and it seemed we might be able to do the same as a seaplane operator. After all many seaplane companies only operate seasonally. I would have to investigate further. I did notice, however, that the Dragon Boat paddlers ran their races off the edge of the breakwater which told me that they did not have a home base or jetty.

The second obstacle was that the harbour is located directly under the airport’s approach to Runway 13 used for all domestic VFR arrivals. That includes a fleet of C206s, C172s, Beech Barons, Piper Aztecs and Beech 18s departing the airport before 7:00 am and not returning until the last VFR closing. I had to wonder if there would be objections to landing in the harbour with the airport being so close. Last but not lease there is a 5 mile exclusion no-fly zone around the Presidential Palace that protrudes out over the US Embassy and into the harbour making landings in some winds very restrictive.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a seaplane.

Several visits to the CAAP didn’t enlighten us and in some meetings they showed reluctance to let us operate from the harbour. Our only hope seemed to be to find a precedent and luckily we had one. Subic Seaplanes had been operating out of the Manila Harbour, with a 1950s Cessna 180 floatplane, for nearly 20 years and even had a small half sunken jetty moored inside one of the smaller breakwaters.

Subic Seaplanes Jetty in Manila

We caught up to Subic Mike of Subic Seaplanes and he explained that the harbour was not an easy place to operate from but he had gotten the seaplane base approvals from CAAP by submitting a map showing the takeoff and landing area. The approved areas didn’t look very realistic especially since the landing area is within the Presidential no fly exclusion circle but an approval was an approval. The overhead approach to runway 13 was not a problem either because the traffic was other VFR aircraft that only came in after 4 pm. Thus the tower didn’t worry about Mike’s coming and going especially since he stayed below 500 ft most of the time.

The final analysis is that “If Mike can do it so can we.” His jetty was in the section of the harbour managed by the Cultural Center of the Philippines. For a few months we managed to carry out a few flights from the harbour by using Mike’s jetty but eventually we had to commit to getting our own space along the banks of the seawall.

After flying over the harbour and walking the breakwaters I figured that the area within the CCP (Cultural Center Philippines) was the safest. Even though it wasn’t possible to land behind the breakwater during large wave conditions at least the dock and seaplane would be safe. Plus passenger transfers would be safer if the dock and seaplane aren’t bobbing around.

As it turns out the larger breakwater was built for the Manila Yacht Club (Marina) where commercial operations are not allowed. The CCP area, however, was open for business and we were able to secure a location.

CCP breakwater in Manila South Harbour

After many months of negotiation we leased a newly completed section of seawall inside the breakwater. Now I just needed a passenger transfer station – better known as a jetty or dock – designed for seaplanes. A jetty designed for boats simply does not work for seaplanes. For a better understanding of what a passenger transfer station entails I have copied some definitions from our operations manual below.

Passenger Transfer Stations
There are many types of wharves, jetties, platforms, docks, floats, rafts and ramps used to transfer passengers and freight. The deciding factor for using any particular station is the ability to transfer the passengers safely while maintaining control of the seaplane.

Fixed Dock, Wharf or Jetty
At fixed stations the infrastructure remains stationary while the water level may change according to tides or seasonal water level fluctuations.

Floating Platform
A fixed wharf or jetty may have a floating platform attached that will rise or fall with the water level changes.

Floating Raft
A raft or platform may also be anchored out in open water and “float” along with changing tides or water levels.

For the sake of clarity any fixed station will be called a Fixed Jetty and a floating station will be called a Floating Platform. The term “dock” will be used when referring to either and “docking” will be the act of tying up to a passenger transfer station.

The biggest mistake marinas or new seaplane operators make is to build jetties or buy docks designed for boats. There are several differences.

Marine jetties are built to accommodate displacement hull shapes, such as sail boats, which are usually wider at the gunwale than at the waterline with a very shallow dead-rise thus boats can use fenders draped over the gunwale to protect it from high dock sides. The seaplane float, on the other hand, is narrow at the top and widens toward and under the water line. Thus when a seaplane docks at a marine dock the low-to-the-water floats will slip under the marine jetty instead of beside it providing no protection.

Boats also sit higher in the water and the dock surface needs to be high to accommodate easier passenger boarding over the gunwale. The seaplane dock height needs to be much lower than that for a boat. The top of the dock should be no higher than the highest part of the aircraft float deck. A passenger should only need to step up a few inches from the seaplane float to the dock float.

The lower deck of the jetty also allows pilots and passengers to walk under the seaplane wing without hitting their heads on the flap hangers or wing struts. Higher docks are uncomfortable or downright dangerous when you have to keep ducking to keep from smacking your forehead on the aileron.

The seaplane dock has to have fenders or bumpers, usually car tires, installed at least 12 inches above and 12 inches below the water line. That way the wider part of the float hull, just below the water line, will park against the cushioning rubber tire. Tires also work well because they are not very wide which ensures the passengers don’t have to make a big step from the float to the dock.

Some companies resist using tires because they might look industrial or utilitarian and or they might rub black marks off on the floatplane’s paint. The tires can always be painted or sprayed with tire black to prevent scuffing but I find that once installed no one notices the tires. They just become a part of the landscape.

Next I had to decide how to build the dock and what kind of material to use. Of course that wasn’t easy because for one its’ tough to get the right kind of building material in the Philippines including basic 2x4s or 2x6s. For another there were very few companies that had the experience to build a dock like we needed. Most of the jetties in the Philippines were large concrete monsters and the rest are made of bamboo – a readily accessible material but very awkward to work with and not very durable.

I only found one marina that had a workable solid floating jetty with a concrete top, but the contractor was impossible to get a hold of. We never did get in contact with him.

After going around in circles for several months trying to get a contractor to reinvent the wheel I discovered that EzDock had a supplier in Manila. I had used EzDock in Nigeria and it worked great even when riddle with 50 caliber bullet holes. The sections are modular so I could design the shape almost anyway I wanted. To keep costs down we started with just enough room to park two Caravans at any one time.

I gave EZDock our design and a few months later when the sections came they had the dock installed in two working days. Suddenly we had a seaplane base.

The seaplane base, however, should be not just a place for seaplanes. The harbour should have yachts, speed boats, dingys, canoes and sail boats zipping along the water ways.

There should a walkway, restrooms, restaurants and a coffee shop. It should be an inviting place for passengers and the general public to hangout. Unlike an airport the seaplane base can be open to the public to come watch the seaplanes come and go. The walkway along the breakwater should be filled with push bike riders, mothers with babies in strollers, lovers holding hands and locals just hanging around on Sunday mornings.

With the proper support and development the water front can go from this…

To this….

A lively friendly community center where you can also conveniently catch a flight to your favorite island resorts or home town communities. At Air Juan we carry out daily flights to Busuanga, Coron, Palawan, El Nido, Boracay and many other otherwise hard to reach island communities.

Equally important is that the Dragon Boat Paddlers now have a home to race from. Seaplanes, yachts, sail boats and dragon boats all mix with ease making the water front a fun and lively place to be.

When in Manila come on down to the new seaplane base and have a chat with one of our friendly pilots: Filipinos, Canadians, Americans and even an Aussie and a German. Better yet book a flight and come explore the islands with us.

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Instinct to Point – Teaching Happiness

The Real Meaning of Happiness

During the aftermath of the Terror Attacks in Paris there have been several TV programs presenting panels of experts, including psychologists, attempting to explain the reasons why young men from Europe or America join ISIS. The obvious reason, for most of the media, is that they are psychopathic killers with a lust for power and mayhem. That is true for the fanatic leaders and many of their immediate followers but the surprising explanation, however, is that the general recruits are joining in pursuit of happiness and fulfillment. Yes, you heard me right, happiness.

To understand how this works we have to look at the definition of happiness and figure out what happiness really is.

The meaning of words change over the centuries but modern words are changing faster than we, as a society, can keep up. I look at words we use every day and realize that in some cases we are using words incorrectly. Happiness and Teaching are two of these misunderstood words. Technically the dictionary meaning still applies but it is the context in which the words are presently being used that confuses the true meaning or intent of the meaning. I am using these two words as examples because in any definition of each of these words they must be explained together in context of each other. And only together can you understand the real reason many young men are throwing their lives away for all the wrong reasons.

We are all familiar with the United States Declaration of Independence including the phrase Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The phrase gives three examples of the “unalienable rights” which the Declaration says has been given to all human beings by their Creator, and for which governments are created to protect.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

To a select few of the philosophers of Thomas Jefferson’s day these three things went together although happiness was sometimes implied by making the third tenet the Protection of Property. The implication being that if you had property (wealth and/or estate) you could live comfortably and be happy. What Jefferson realized was that this tenet (argued by John Locke) excluded most of the American citizens of the time. All men could not be considered equal if only those who owned property could realize happiness. What Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both understood, moreover, was that owning property (wealth and/or estate) did not make someone happy. So what makes us happy?

The Instinct to Point

Studies in sociology prove that human toddlers (age 1-4) instinctively try to teach others and that they experience joy in doing so. Although animals and humans both learn by association and observation, only humans instinctively teach. Kittens can mimic their mothers to learn how to climb trees. Mother Bears can force their cubs to climb a tree or show them how to climb a tree but they don’t teach them. Kittens and cubs climb instinctively.

Humans do not have the instinctive ability to climb trees but they have the instinctive desire and ability to teach. We can be taught to climb a tree. I know because I taught my preschool-age sister to climb a tree. I enjoyed the experience of teaching my little sister something new although I didn’t enjoy the earful I got because I didn’t know to teach her how to get down again. Bear cubs don’t need to be taught how to climb down a tree but humans do. I believe she was up there for a while.

How do you know when a toddler is trying to teach you something? They point. Humans are the only animals that point with the aim of teaching. Not to be confused with pointing for the purpose of showing someone that you desire something. Chimpanzees and Bongos can learn to point – usually to sources of food. Toddlers, however, use declarative pointing with the intention of showing you something either new or different; like a new puppy in the room.

Having you discover the object of their attention (not the object of their desire) brings toddlers joy. Not because they got something for themselves but because they discovered something for you. They pointed to teach you something. They will lose interest, however, if you don’t react with a declarative statement. They expect a response. They expect you to say “Well look at that. It’s a puppy!” Declarative pointing is a form of human communication and toddlers expect you to interact in both the learning and the teaching process.

The Joy of Teaching

In addition to the development of speech and language, teaching was essential in human evolution because of the amount of information a human needs to survive. The ability to communicate together with the joy of teaching and learning enabled humans to happily pass on information on how to control crops such as wheat, squash, potatoes, rice, barley and corn and domesticate animals such as dogs, cattle, sheep, chickens, horses, pigs, goats and eventually rats. (Cats were never truly domesticated but alternatively learned to live among domesticated humans but I won’t get into that.) Without any of the above (except for cats) we would not have civilization.

Our evolutionary ability to teach created the tipping point in our growing society – from extended families, to towns, to cities, to city states and now nations – that enabled humans to populate and exploit almost the entire surface of the world.

World population growth. Image courtesy of Karen Carr Studio.

Humans Change the World | The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Program

My point (excuse the pun) with the word teach then is that we can only really use it when it applies to human endeavors and that it implies an instinctual desire for humans to bring joy to someone else. Teaching is win-win scenario where the teacher experiences altruistic joy from teaching and the student experiences joy from learning.

In my tree-climbing-sister experience both my mother and my sister remember the experience as being positive. It was a thing of joy to be celebrated and therein lays the path to happiness: teaching and learning.

The Pursuit of Pleasure

In the pursuit of happiness people often misinterpret the meaning to be In the Pursuit of Pleasure. Happiness is not synonymous with pleasure. Pleasure is what you get from experiencing something sensual. Happiness is what you get from experiencing something cognitive or what most people associate with the term spiritual. (Spiritual is another misunderstood word and in this context is not associated with religious spirituality but cognitive realization.) Remember, happiness comes from learning something new and from teaching someone something new.

You can experience pleasure from the rush of chocolate’s love drug (phenylethlyamine), from the first alcoholic blush of crisp cool Sauvignon Blanc, or the climax of making love to your best friend’s wife but those things will not necessarily make you happy. Why?

Because all three of these events are self-indulgent acts of sensual pleasure and may have negative consequences depending on circumstances. Going into diabetic shock, suffering an acute hangover or anguishing the shame and guilt of cheating on your best friend (or all three in sequence) will definitely not make you happy even after the sensual pleasure each brought about. Chocolate, wine and love making can make you happy but it depends on the circumstances and not specifically on the associated pleasure drug.

Happiness experienced from sensual experiences is about giving pleasure rather than getting. That is different than happiness experienced from teaching. Happiness from teaching is about sharing life’s spiritual experiences. Spiritual happiness happens in the mind and is not necessarily connected with physical experiences. It can only be felt on an intellectual or cognitive level.

The Strange Truth about Happiness

The strange truth about Happiness, however, it that it can show up in the most bizarre and inexplicable circumstances. You cannot pursue happiness. The Declaration of Independence is still correct in that it would be wrong to say Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Pleasure. But the context is wrong. If you think you can pursue happiness, by eating a carton of chocolate ice-cream or drinking a bottle of wine, for example, and it hasn’t happened because you gained weight or said something you regret after you got drunk then you may think that you are a failure.

On the contrary you may have lost 30 lbs and enjoyed a small scoop of chocolate ice-cream or a glass of white wine on your birthday and felt happy because you realized that you no longer have the urge to eat an entire carton of ice-cream or finish the entire bottle of wine. You are satisfied with who you have become through learning to eat or drink in moderation. That end result can make you happy. Happiness isn’t something you can plan, it just happens.

Happiness, moreover, is not necessarily associated with something good. You can experience extreme pain and then experience happiness that the pain has ceased. Case in point is the ISIS recruits. Eliminate the psychopaths (preferably with smart bombs) who join ISIS to inflict pain and suffering and you still have thousands of unexplained (non-psychotic) recruits. Average kids become brutes and savages. Doesn’t this ring a bell? Strike a note? This is classic Lord of the Flies.

Lord of the Flies – Author William Golding’s adventurous tale about a group of boys marooned on an island is more than an action story. It is a commentary on the darkness that exists in all mankind. The evil in every soul that seeps through when humans are unsupervised, uncivilized and driven to madness.

Lord of the Flies Summary at WikiSummaries, free book summaries

I don’t believe, however, that we are inherently evil. If that was true democracies would not exist and autocracies would be the rule of the day. The second tenet of the Declaration of Independence is liberty. I guess that is a circular argument where you have to have liberty to have independence, but the point is that freedom is one of our natural and inalienable rights. You cannot be happy without being truly free. But freedom from what? Freedom from laws and legislation and big government? Again that is where many conspiracy theorists get it wrong. No because, and this is spelled out in the Canadian Parliamentary system as peace, order and good government, good governance is essential to human freedoms not contradictory to it.

Without the rule of law and protection provided by good government in the form of fair judiciary and unbiased police and military, freedom cannot exist. That is why power vacuums, such as those recently created in Libya and Syria by the Arab Spring, lead to Lord of the Flies scenarios. Without strong governments the psychopaths can rise to the top through recruiting and brainwashing, cult fashion, the vulnerable, marginalized and disenfranchised youth of their immediate culture and those of transplanted cultures; the immigrants who recently moved to Europe and America to get away from terror and despair but never really fit into the new cultures.

False Happiness

What does ISIS offer to their new recruits that Europe and America does not? The joy of belonging. The joy of learning. The joy of being worthy of the teacher. The joy of employment. These recruits are told, as in any cult, that they will be part of the bigger extended family and that they will belong to a worthy cause.

Much like the classic Nigerian 419 money scams where you are promised millions as long as you follow along with these easy steps the ISIS recruiters, through emails and chats, promise possible recruits a happier more fulfilling life. To the naive recruits they send videos and pictures showing a “perfect” society where everyone, men and women, are happy. ISIS’s media division fabricates videos shot in colorful playgrounds alive with sunshine, music, giggling and laughter and showing elderly grandfather figures in full beards, dressed in fatigues and carrying AK47s, gently pushing happy children back and forth on the swings. Any psychologist can tell you that these images are used, universally, to evoke the memories or longing of happiness.

ISIS also promises to teach the recruits the “true” interpretation of the Koran (as Anderson Cooper calls it “Koran for Dummies”) and how to fire a weapon, and how to make a bomb. The recruits will experience the thrill of gaining wisdom or learning a skill especially if it is something forbidden in their previous society. They explain how, in using these skills, the recruits will be able to contribute to building a nation state. Equally important to the fulfillment of happiness, the ISIS recruiter promises them a job. No advance payment, no tuition, no student loans. The training is free. The end result of joining ISIS is gainful employment for life.

What they find when they show up for work, however, is a different story. Classic bait and switch. During and after the training, the leaders will push the recruits to the breaking point physically and mentally, with the intent of brutalizing them into subjugation and humility until they are no longer civilized. They not only teach them to fight and kill, like most soldiers, but they also teach them to murder. The end result is, again like any cult, full loyalty to the leaders no matter how ruthless or how in-humane.  The disciples are now just robots, devoid of sympathy or empathy, in the war against western civilization’s pursuit of pleasure. All is extinguished by the brutal subjugation process except for the one spark that keeps them lit. Happiness.

The bait and switch tactics switched the happiness of childhood memories of children laughing with the happiness experienced from eagerly carrying out commands from their superiors. Misplaced and inappropriate as it sounds, these ISIS recruits are motivated by the false happiness they now experience from carrying out what they were taught. Murder and rape is what they are expected to do. It’s not a sensual pleasure but a result of what they were taught. That is why the killers in Paris appeared so disassociated from their victims; the result of humanity being beaten out of them during the cult-like indoctrination and brutal training. This is no different than any Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler style cult.

Several years ago I read a book by a young African boy who was abducted by the local army to become a child soldier. At the time he felt no empathy for the victims he killed. But after he was rescued and rehabilitated by UNICEF he was finally able to understand what he had been part of. I believe for some (not for those who have already committed heinous crimes against society) of the ISIS recruits it would be the same. They need to be freed, rehabilitated and taught how to be useful members of our society. Being taught and being part of something is the operative terms for rehabilitation. To do this, however, we have to completely annihilate ISIS’s leadership to the very core and bring the survivors to justice just like we did to end the reign of Nazism during WW ll.

Most importantly before rehabilitation (and before the complete annihilation of ISIS) we have to have prevention. In other words, we can only prevent young men from signing up if you can fight false happiness with true happiness. If these young men are not marginalized in the first place then they would not be vulnerable to psychotic recruiters. They need to have skills and gainful employment to feel included in our society. If you strip away the religious labeling then all of us, whether we call ourselves Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Jewish or Atheist, are just people. We all need to understand that we have the right to pursue happiness and that happiness is best spread and experienced through teaching, learning and being enabled to contribute to our society.

True Happiness 

To finish on a happy note I will say two positive things.

Happiness is unlimited and the more we spread the joy of teaching the more we spread the joy of learning. Happiness is the end game of our lives and the best part is that it is best enjoyed with others. Happiness alleviates depression and nothing brings about happiness quicker than having achieved something new and challenging. Learning, under supervision, encourages us to focus on and live for the present. We become mindful of our actions and concentrate our thoughts in order to achieve the teacher’s and our objectives. The harder the challenge the more joy we feel when we achieve these objectives. Whether is it to build a web page or a house the end result is personal satisfaction.

If you want to test this theory go out and get your pilot license, if you have a pilot license get your float plane endorsement, learn to scuba-dive or para-glide or take a yoga class. See if you don’t feel better about yourself. If you are looking for a job learn to weld, fix cars or drive transport trucks. Learn to code html, php and asp. Learn to cook organic meals or make micro-brewery beer. There are eager teachers and instructors waiting to help. It might not come easy. You may have to endure sweat and tears, doubt and uncertainty, or even pain but in the end, when you succeed, you will experience joy and happiness.

More importantly go out and teach even if you have never taught before. Give your time to help the vulnerable, marginalized youth of your community. Help the less fortunate and disenfranchised feel included. Replace the false happiness of terror with the fulfilling happiness of getting a proper education, learning a trade and being employed. You will be all the happier for it.

Secondly, my sister did make it back down the tree and is still living a long and happy life.

My happy little sister Sandy after coming down from the tree.

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What’s the Difference Between a Floatplane and a Seaplane?

A well-known TV business commentator and Aviation Analyst recently asked me “What is the difference between a floatplane and a seaplane.” On a newscast he called a floatplane a seaplane and the know-it-all’s bombarded him with comments telling him he got it wrong. Well this know-it-all (me) will explain the difference and prove that the Aviation Analyst was correct.

Let’s start with the technical definitions bearing in mind that the dictionaries often get this wrong to start with. To fully understand the difference, however, we also have to add both Flying Boats and Amphibians to the mix.

My Definitions:

Floatplane: A fixed-wing airplane with one or two pontoons (together known as floats) fixed as undercarriage used for taking off and landing (or alighting) on water. The pontoon design, much the same as a speed boat, has a water tight planing hull capable of creating buoyancy (displacement) when resting on water and hydrodynamic lift when taking off and landing (alighting) on water. Floats without gear are called straight floats. There are many examples such as the Cessna C206, C208, Norseman, Beaver, Otter, Beech 18 and even the Viking Twin Otter.

DHC-6 300 Series Viking Twin Otter “floatplane” on straight floats.

DHC-6 400 Series Viking Twin Otter “floatplane” on straight floats.

Wipline 8750 pontoons being paired to make up a set of floats for the C208 Caravan

Cessna C206 “floatplane” on straight floats.

Turbine DHC-3 Otter “floatplane” on straight floats.

DHC-2 Beaver “floatplane” on straight floats.

Flying Boat: A fixed-wing airplane with the fuselage built into the shape of a water proof hull capable of creating buoyancy when resting on water and hydrodynamic lift when taking off and landing (alighting) on water. A flying boat always remains capable of landing on water but can be configured with landing gear as amphibious to also land on the land. Examples of amphibian flying boats are the Grumman Goose, Grumman Mallard, PBY Catalina Canso, Lake Buccaneer and Dornier Seastar. The Spruce Goose and the Boeing 314 (Pam Am Clipper) were straight flying boats and had no landing gear.

The Martin M-130 is the airliner that gave Pan Am the true ability to span the world’s oceans. Often called a “China Clipper” after the most famous of the three M-130’s built for Pan American, this aircraft introduced the modern era of long-distance international air travel. The M-130 provided scheduled commercial passenger service across the Pacific ocean from 1935 through World War II.

Source: Martin M-130 – China Clipper | Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats

The PBY Catalina (Canso) started as a straight flying boat and was later converted for amphibious operations.

PBY Catalina Canso “flying boat” with retractable landing gear. (Yes, with me standing on the nose hatch.)

Amphibian: A fixed-wing airplane that can takeoff and land on both land and water. An amphibian airplane can be a floatplane or flying boat outfitted with retractable gear designed to extend for runway landings and retract for water landings. For example the Viking Twin Otter and the Cessna C208B EX can be configured for landplane only, floatplane only, or amphibian floatplane by installing the Wipline 13000 and the Wipline 8750 floats respectively.

DHC-6 400 series Twin Otter “floatplane” on Wipaire 13000 floats

Wipaire 8750 pontoon (float) being prepared for installation of retractable gear.

Wipaire 8750 pontoon (float) with retractable (main gear) gear installed.

Wipaire 8750 pontoon (float) with retractable gear (nose wheel) installed.

C208B EX being converted from landplane to amphibious floatplane version at Wipaire facility.

C208 675 converted from land plane version to amphibious floatplane version at Wipaire facility.

So what is the main difference between a flying boat and a floatplane?

A floatplane can have the pontoons (the floats) removed and replaced with fixed landing gear where afterwards the airplane can only takeoff or land on land. A flying boat cannot be reconfigured as a land plane only.

C208 Landplane version on the left and floatplane on the right.

OK so what then is a seaplane? That is where the definition gets trickier.

Seaplane: By the general definition – which proves the TV Aviation Analyst correct – a seaplane is any fixed-wing aircraft that can takeoff and land on water. The definition for a Seaplane is basically the same definition as the French Hydravion. You can safely call a Catalina, Beaver, Cessna 185, Cessna 206, Twin Otter, Grumman Goose, Grumman Mallard, Cessna Caravan, Dornier Seastar, Quest Kodiak or a Douglas DC-3 a seaplane as long as it can (and is designed to) takeoff and land on water. The US Airways Airbus A320 making a water landing on the Hudson River does not count as a seaplane because it wasn’t designed to do so and because well… it could not take off again.

By my definition, however, there is a distinction that goes beyond the technical configuration of a regular floatplane or flying boat. A seaplane also has to operate on the sea.

According to international law all the ocean is a sea but the overall definition of the term sea, however, not only defines a large body of salty water, such as the Philippines Sea, but it also describes the surface condition of the sea or what we call the sea state.

In oceanography, a sea state is the general condition of the free surface on a large body of water—with respect to wind waves and swell—at a certain location and moment. A sea state is characterized by statistics, including the wave height, period, and power spectrum. The sea states vary with time, as the wind conditions or swell conditions change. The sea state can either be assessed by an experienced observer, like a trained mariner, or through instruments like weather buoys, wave radar or remote sensing satellites.

Source: Sea state – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

We call any flying off the ocean open water experience. In other words, bodies of water where the sea state can can get pretty rough depending on the wind strength, wind duration (length of time the wind is blowing on the water surface), fetch (distance the wind has to blow over the water surface), natural barriers such as reefs, islands, sand bars, breakwaters, or peninsulas (the ability to stop swells and waves from building) and the presence of ocean borne swells (areas open to the sea without any protective barrier).

The further from a protective barrier and the longer the fetch the more open the area will be. Ocean swells, formed by storms, typhoons, and hurricanes, can travel thousands of kilometers from their point of origin making open water areas difficult to assess for water landings without actually being there. One day it can be relatively calm and two days later swells as high as a horse can crash down on a shoreline, beach or barrier reef.

The islands around Seattle, Vancouver Island, West Coast Inner Passage and most of Alaska are not really considered open water because you can land the seaplane in the seaport’s protected inner waters. It’s still the sea but the many islands and peninsulas protect the landing areas from the open ocean swells. Fiji, Indonesia, the Maldives and the Philippines are truly open water seaplane areas because none of the protective reefs, islands and lagoons are exclusive. The strong winds, long fetches and breaks (gaps) in the protective reefs and islands allow big swells to power up and power in.

Landing on a rough day in open water is called landing in big water. Big can mean when the seaplane is in the trough the pilot cannot see over the top of the next swell. Taking off in rough water and large swells is called a green water takeoff because often the spray created from submarining through the swells while trying to get airborne can splash such large sheets of water on the windshield that the water appears green. That is a lot of water. It’s like throwing a wash tub of water on your windshield.

Just a few months ago I witnessed a seaplane landing in 2 meter high swells. During the touch down the seaplane launched airborne off the first swell and then nose-dived through the second swell disappearing in the blue water and ensuing spray. The seaplane literally submerged out of sight for a few seconds only to bob up again at a complete standstill with the engine still running. It was a testimony to the strength of the seaplane but not necessarily a testimony to the superior skill of the pilot. For sure it wasn’t a testimony of the superior judgement of the pilot. I had just landed in the same area but behind a protective breakwater only a few minutes away where the water was flat calm.

So the critical factor in deciding whether a floatplane can be used as a seaplane and whether a floatplane pilot can fly as a seaplane pilot is whether or not the seaplane can survive open sea operations and whether or not a floatplane pilot has the experience and knowledge to handle rough water landings or green water takeoffs. Once the floatplane pilot gains the experience and skills to fly in the open sea he graduates or transcends to the status of a seaplane pilot. The only exception is Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenbery who we shall award the Honorary Degree of Seaplane Captain for executing a perfect seaplane landing on the Hudson River with his Airbus A320. Now someone just needs to teach Sully how to takeoff again using a real seaplane.

So if someone asks you what is the difference between a floatplane and a seaplane you can either say “all floatplanes can be seaplanes but not all seaplanes are floatplanes.” Or you can simply say “seaplanes land and takeoff on the sea.”

If someone asks you what is the difference between a floatplane pilot and a seaplane pilot you can say “all seaplane pilots can be floatplane pilots but not all floatplane pilots are seaplane pilots.” Or you can simply say “seaplane pilots land and takeoff on the sea.”

Post Script: Cessna C208B EX Amphibian Seaplane landing in the Manila Bay Harbour where the Pan Am Clipper landed in 1935.

Three M-130’s were built: NC-14714 – Hawaiian Clipper NC-14715 – Philippine Clipper NC-14716 – China Clipper All three M-130’s were lost in accidents: The Hawaiian Clipper disappeared east of Manila under mysterious circumstances in July, 1938; the Philippine Clipper was flown into a mountain north of San Francisco in bad weather on January 21, 1943, killing its crew and a group of Navy officers including the Pacific submarine chief, Rear Admiral R.R. English; and the China Clipper itself sank at Port of Spain, Trinidad, on January 8, 1945.

Source: Martin M-130 – China Clipper | Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats

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