GREENVILLE, Maine — Just minutes after Claude Roy, 59, of Ottawa, Ontario, and two friends landed their Challenger Ultralight seaplanes in Greenville on Thursday, they were on the steamship Katahdin enjoying a meal, ’50s music and the camaraderie of other pilots like themselves as the boat sailed Moosehead Lake.
It hadn’t mattered that the trio had just finished a 17-hour flight over the course of three to four days to attend the International Seaplane Fly-in. They wanted to sample everything they could during the event that began Thursday and ended Sunday.
“For us, it was a pilgrimage, it’s on your bucket list of things to do,” Roy, who was joined by Patrick Vinet, 47, of Montreal and Kevin Brown, 51, of the Toronto area, said Saturday. The trio flew down the St. Lawrence River to New Brunswick, and stopped in Houlton before arriving in Greenville.
The popular fly-in started in 1973 as nothing more than a weekend get-together for local bush pilots who flew people in and out of the rugged and remote areas in the Moosehead Lake region. Each year, more pilots would join in the weekend of camaraderie and by 1995, the International Seaplane Fly-In Association was formed. The growth of the organization has expanded over the years and this year it took a giant step with the opening of an office at 38 Pritham Ave.
Hundreds of pilots, some of whom like Vinet demonstrated their flying abilities under a bright sky during an assortment of contests Saturday and Sunday, were joined by thousands of spectators. Unique aircraft were on display and crafters lined the streets with their wares for sale.
Greenville Police Chief Jeff Pomerleau estimated that the four-day event drew between 10,000 and 12,000 people to this tourist community. “Everything went very smoothly,” he said Sunday. At one point Saturday, there were more than 170 aircraft at the Greenville Municipal Airport.
“It’s a huge economic boost” to the Moosehead Lake region, especially to local merchants and crafters, Greenville Town Manager Gary Lamb said Saturday. All of the motels in the region were full. He praised the seaplane committee for its commitment, time and effort in planning and organizing the event over the years.
That effort was pleasing to Chris Krieder of Belgrade, who brought two nieces to see the seaplanes that also covered the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife parking area. “It’s a great excuse to hang by the lake and watch the planes,” she said. She noted that she also enjoyed the craft fair.
Merland Clark of Corinth, who brought his grandson Zachrey Clark, 10, said he has always had an interest in aviation and had been a student pilot in earlier years but had never continued flying. Zachrey has the same interest and hopes to become a pilot when he is older, he said Saturday.
The fact there were few younger pilots at the fly-in did not go unnoticed by Roy, who also noted the same trend in Canada, likely because of the poor economy. The retired Canadian Air Force air traffic controller guessed that Vinet was the youngest pilot on Thursday’s cruise.
But there were young would-be pilots on-site assisting the fly-in organizers. Among them was Nathan Fellows, 18, of Augusta, who is the wing director of the Maine Civil Air Patrol’s cadet program. Fellows said he had attended the event for a number of years.
While it was Roy’s first visit to the fly-in, he said it wouldn’t be his last. “It’s a great event, everyone was friendly,” he stated. He did however, note that he hoped the fly-in association would have portable shower facilities at the airport in the future. The men had tented out at the airport in the belief they were available. After three days without a shower, he met Lamb who allowed them to attend to their hygiene needs in the municipal building’s bathroom. Despite that, Roy said the event was well worth the travel.
“We love to fly on floats and this is the greatest float fly-in on Earth, you have to come here,” Roy said.
Vinet agreed. “We had a really nice time. We’ll come back.”