On the step

We dropped off one of the other crews on our way back to camp after a fourth of July celebration in Ketchikan. The camp was on a very small lake east of our camp in Cholmondeley Sound. It was easy to land the de Havilland Beaver in the little round lake. The water was as smooth as glass. Taking off was another story entirely.

After a few minutes unloading supplies we were on our way. I sat in the copilot’s seat. The pilot started the big radial engine which was built about the time I was born, and started a broad turn around the lake at slow speed. The pilot said the lake wasn’t really long enough to take off. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and raised my eyebrow.

As the plane picked up speed it lifted up on the water until only the bottom of the floats were skimming along the water. That’s called being on the step. Going about fifty miles and hour we started going around the lake in circles. Several circles. It is amazing how easily that big Beaver can turn on the water.

The bush pilot looked over at me a said, “Well, I guess we either get enough nerve to fly this plane outta here or we can just keep going around in circles.” Then he pointed the airplane at the lowest hill on the edge of the lake and pulled the throttle back all the way. The old radial engine roared with confidence.

Liftoff happened pretty quickly but still the giant Sitka Spruce at the edge of the lake were coming at us pretty fast. It didn’t look like the plane was going to clear the trees. Then at the last second the pilot leaned over and yanked a lever on the floor that dumped the flaps. We cleared the trees by at least five feet.

I looked over at the pilot, nudged his shoulder with my fist, and said, “@sshole.” He didn’t say anything back. Just the corner of his mouth was curling up.

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