Fly a seaplane in Indonesia
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By Paul Jansen
For a while now, my friends and I have been contemplating how to get a chance to fly a seaplane without having to make a long distance flight to a country which is seaplane-friendly.
Fortunately, the opportunity has appeared just a short hop from Singapore and Malaysia.
An expatriate pilot has been operating a small seaplane under the Experimental category in Bintan Island, Indonesia.
This is barely a one-hour ferry trip from Singapore.
Yesterday, January 31, 2015, a close friend, Lee Chee Yong, my wife Marjorie, and I took the trip from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal to the Indonesian island better known for its resorts, to tick off the seaplane item on our Bucket List.
The ferry ride cost us SGD114 each for the ticket, service charge and levies. But this was for the Emerald Class. It is about SGD45 more than the normal ticket but well worth the extra. You can make use of a lounge, have reclining large seating, priority in boarding and disembarking, and priority in immigration clearance on the Indonesian side.
Waiting for us at the Bintan terminal was a driver from the Air Adventures Asia company to take us to the clubhouse at Lagoi Bay. This was just a few minutes away on well-landscaped roads. The company provides two-way complimentary transportation from your hotel or wherever you are to the lagoon where the seaplane is located.
The clubhouse and hangar are spick and span. The seaplane, a Drifter powered by a four-cylinder 912 Rotax engine, wearing Full Lotus floats, looked in mint condition. The owner and chief pilot, Stuart Perkins, says he is quite particular about running a tight, efficient, ship (no pun intended).
There were a few people ahead of us but the pilot on duty, John Hunter, flew his sorties like clockwork: 20 minutes from take-off to landing. Perkins says tourists are happy to see Bintan from the air and their hotel. But for fliers who want to customise their experience differently, the club is happy to oblige. “You have 20 minutes. If you prefer to do circuits and landings during that time, it’s fine with us,” he explained. Each ride costs Singapore $120 with another Singapore $35 if you want a HD GoPro video file of your trip.
As it was our first seaplane ride, both Chee Yong and I opted to take the normal flight, which runs from the lagoon, towards the Banyan Tree Resort, along the beach and back in a hexagonal circuit for a water landing at the lagoon. This was in part because we wanted to keep things simple so that we could make it a quick day trip and return to Singapore shortly after lunch.
Marjorie decided to fly another day.
We had strong crosswinds which tested Hunter’s skills on take-off and landing. Fortunately, it did not prevent him from acceding to our request for stick time enroute. For Chee Yong, it was an exciting chance to fly a microlight for the first time. For me, it was nice to fly a wind in your face plane again, like I did in Nusajaya several years ago.
The take-off required only a short run in the water before lifting off. I expected it to be bumpy but it was relatively smooth, in part because we were in a lagoon rather than the choppy open sea. Turbulence only occurred as our floats left the water. The crosswind waggled our wings but Hunter corrected for this, dipped the nose down and held us level just three feet off the surface of the water until our speed could build up for a climb.
The landing required a steep angle and sharp round off as Hunter needed to make full use of the short breadth of the waterway as landing lengthwise would have been very challenging due to the direction of the wind. Coming down and looking at the rippling water awaiting us was strange for me, so used was I to see even and hard surfaces. The closest I could relate this to is landing on grass. But I knew in my mind as we approached touchdown, that unlike grass, this surface in front of us could just split and absorb us if we got our angle wrong.
Hunter’s round off was fine but he had to keep using the ailerons to prevent the wind from tipping our starboard wing into the water during the taxi back to the club ramp.
Chee Yong and I each had 10 minutes of “stick time” during the cruise part of the 20-minute flight.
At 55 mph up to 700 feet, this was slow enough to take in the surroundings and low enough to see the island in greater detail.
The water take-off and landing by Captain John Hunter were novel experiences and I am planning to return for more.
For more pictures, click on the image below to visit our Gallery.
For more information about Air Adventures Asia seaplane rides, click here.
For more information about the ferry from Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal in Singapore, click here.
Copyright: Paul Jansen 2015. All rights reserved.
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