Where Does One Go On Floats In The Wintertime!

by Al Lindquist
Published in Midwest Flyer – April/May 2018 issue

The question is, what do you do with a Cessna 172XP on Wipline amphibious floats in the winter in the state of Minnesota? Well, you could pickle it. You can put a special oil additive in the engine and make certain rust doesn’t form, and then sit by and wait for spring to arrive. Or you can  wait for a 20-degree day, shovel out the taxiway in front of the hangar, plug in the Tanis engine preheater for a few hours and locate a pleasant destination. We used to take the floats off, and reattach the wheel landing gear, but financially it’s cheaper to leave the amphibs on and use the money we save to buy gas.

Last winter, we flew to Granite Falls, Minnesota to tour “Fagen Fighters World War II Museum.” Theyve built two new buildings that resemble World War II vintage hangars, a Quonset hut briefing building, a control tower and a museum that houses a railroad car shipped in from Germany that transported people to the concentration camp where they were killed in gas chambers. A couple of years ago the museum purchased a World War II Sherman tank from someone in South Carolina, had it shipped by rail to the Granite Falls depot, then had it driven to the airport on the paved road. The person who was collecting the donations that day said that the top speed on the tank was 18 mph, and it rides very rough.

All aircraft at the museum, except for the glider, are fully operational. There are two P51D Mustangs, a P38 Lightning, a P40 Tiger and an FM2 Wildcat, to name a few aircraft on display. The museums mission statement is: “To Preserve History, Promote Patriotism and Inspire the Future.” The museum is well worth your flight there, but checkout their hours of operation before you go (http://www.fagenfighterswwiimuseum.org).

Another place we occasionally fly our floatplane to in the winter is Red Wing, Minnesota. The airport is actually located on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River and there’s a courtesy car to drive into town. We like to dine at the St. James Hotel, which is an antique hotel well known for its fine food. The town is a unique place filled with interesting shops and restaurants.

We have also flown our floatplane to Siren, Wisconsin in the winter, and used their courtesy car to enjoy our $150.00 hamburgers at the local restaurant. Fortunately, the courtesy car was free!

A week ago, we flew to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, right above a plowed runway on a lake near McGregor, which was hosting a winter fly in. We counted about 40 aircraft parked on the ice. The temperature was about 35 degrees and all the pilots were in a hangar near the lake enjoying brats and a beverage.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, we flew from Minneapolis Crystal Airport where we are based, to Duluth, Minnesota to meet some friends. There is so much to do in Duluth we had to spend the night. There is the Depot, the Anchor Restaurant, the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior, Wisconsin, the lift bridge, the fall bird migration, Grandma’s Marathon, and on and on goes the list. The next day we awoke to 40-knot winds. We had tied down the airplane the day before so the line personnel secured the tug to the airplane before we released the tie-downs.

The line guys said it was about to get a little noisy with the F-16s taking off on their training mission. A little noisy? Are you kidding? You get a double blast – one when they start their departure roll, and a second when the blast bounces off the terminal building.

After we took our hands off of our ears, we dragged the airplane up next to the terminal building where we could plug it into the electric outlet. After a couple of hours, it didn’t seem to warm up at all. The 40-knot wind was blowing directly into the openings in the cowling behind the prop. We borrowed some foam packing material and stuffed it into the openings and finally we were able to warm the engine to start-up temperature. We then disconnected the tug and I fired up the 172.

As we began to taxi, we turned to the right on the ramp and the wind was so strong, we started to slide sideways across the icy surface. We were finally able to taxi all the way to the runway, made a departure into the strong southerly wind, and slowly flew back to Crystal. Another exciting day of winter flying!

There are always interesting people to talk with and many activities taking place at all the little airports around the state, winter or summer. The floatplane does draw some unusual looks in the winter from people on the airports we visit. They cant seem to understand floatplane flying during the winter months, but we try to explain, why not?

There is an interesting thing that occurs when you fly on a 20-degree day and have a fun time… You stay current and enjoy the trip, then wait for another pleasant day to fly once again. Before long, winter is over and its time to begin landing on the lakes of Minnesota and Wisconsin all over again, and enjoy the beautiful summer weather. Life is good!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Al Lindquist is a retired air traffic controller from the Twin Cities. He is married to retired Delta captain, Barb Wiley.

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