I stepped on the seaplane’s pontoon, grabbed on and wrestled myself up into the passenger seat of the tight cockpit. Securing my seat belt, I helped the pilot do his flight check.

“Master?” I asked.

“On,” he replied.


“Open 1/4,” he answered.

“Prop area?”

“Clear,” he confirmed.

With that, Brian McDonnell engaged the starter, and his 1968 Cessna 172 roared to life. There were several other checks to perform as we began our taxi from his sheltered cove on Little Sebago to the wider stretches of the lake.

It was a quiet Sunday morning with no boat traffic. Wearing headgear and communicating with me via two-way radio, McDonnell set the seaplane’s flaps and throttled up the 180-horsepower engine.

With about 1,000 feet of waterway needed for liftoff, we skimmed across the surface ever faster until the little vibrations had ceased. Having reached nearly 100 mph we were airborne over the Lakes Region, soaring over downtown North Windham in an instant. You can really cover some ground in a seaplane.

McDonnell’s is one of four seaplanes on Little Sebago alone. This time of year, it’s not uncommon to see seaplanes in the air above the area’s many lakes. McDonnell’s Cessna is his third plane; he’s been flying for 30 years.

“You learn something every time you fly,” he said. His 22-year-old son, Garrett, also has his pilot’s license.

Located on Lyons Point on Little Sebago, McDonnell has his lake frontage registered with the FAA as a seaplane base. He occasionally flies to Frye Island or Migis Lodge on Big Sebago for a bite to eat. The Naples Causeway is a fun stop-off for an ice cream.

McDonnell says a very small fraction — 1 or 2 percent — of pilots are seaplane pilots. “It’s total adventure,” he says. “You have to use every skill you’ve got; you’re always thinking ahead of the plane.”

I live on Big Sebago in Raymond, and McDonnell took us over that lake, where I got to see my house and our boat tied up along the shore. It was a real treat.

Before long we were over Point Sebago and the state park, and proceeded to follow the Songo River up to Brandy Pond, Long Lake and the Naples Causeway. The Songo River Queen was heading up Long Lake, its paddlewheel turning. What a pretty vessel it is.

McDonnell often gets fuel at Naples Seaplane Service on Brandy Pond. The 100-octane low-lead blend costs about $6.25 a gallon. His Cessna will hold 42 gallons, good for about three hours of flying.

Mary Build operates Naples Seaplane Service and is plenty busy during the height of summer. She was in the air for a total of five hours one day over the Fourth of July weekend: Sixty-five folks who had assembled in Bridgton just had to get a scenic flight in.

“The Lakes Region is a busy little place,” she said.


Mary and her husband, Jim Build — who operated scenic flights out of the Naples Causeway for 30 years — own the “flight deck” near the intersection of routes 302 and 114. They now lease that spot to a private pilot.

But given the road construction this year, Mary said that that pilot declined to operate this season. Those who can’t imagine a summer without a 15-minute scenic flight may contact Naples Seaplane Service for their fix.

“It’s absolutely beautiful here,” said Build, who earned her wings in 1991. “I’ve flown all over: Canada, Nova Scotia, Texas, Florida, California, Seattle — this is the most beautiful area. You got the ocean on one side, mountains on the other and the Lakes Region right in the middle.”

Besides the operation at Brandy Pond, Mary Build also operates a pilot school and other services out of the small airport in Fryeburg.

Build used to have a comfortable job in the supermarket industry, but gave up the security of health insurance and a weekly paycheck for her true calling: soaring through the sky.

“The supermarket industry was just a job,” she says. “I did well at it, but it was just a job. I had to find what I was meant to do. One day I was doing a charter flight and it just hit me: I had reached my goal without consciously working toward it. It’s what I was meant to do.”

Build has tapped into a niche market in the region: catering to out-of-state business vacationers who may need to go to Boston to seal a deal.

Her Cessna 180 is amphibious-equipped, allowing her to pick up clients right at their dock, take off from the water and then land on the tarmac at Logan Airport. Wheels are incorporated in the plane’s floats.

“They like not having a three-hour drive,” she said. “They don’t lose a whole day.”

Another Lakes Region pilot who likes the freedom and opportunities that owning a seaplane allows is Gerry Dube.

He lives on Big Sebago in Casco and keeps 1970 Cessna 172 at his dock. In an hour and 45 minutes, Dube can be at his favorite fishing hole in the Allagash.

A retired civil engineer, Dube logged plenty of hours in Alaska as a bush pilot back in the 1980s. Flying in these kinds of remote areas, you’ve got to have a certain set of skills.

“You’ve got to be able to fix your plane on the spot, if necessary,” he said. “A lot of pilots from Maine used to earn money up there in Alaska.”

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

[email protected]