A university of water flying
in the glorious scenery of Lake Como
The nicest place to become a seaplane pilot
The biggest part of the world seaplane fleet is based in North America. In other continents things are much different : the number of seaplanes is small, seaplane bases are very few and each operator is mostly isolated, sometimes the only one in his country or at many hundreds or thousands miles from the closest seaplane base.
A special and interesting case is the Como seaplane base, on Lake Como, in Northern Italy, in the Alpine region and close to the Swiss border. This beautiful city, birthplace of Alessandro Volta, discoverer of electricity and inventor of the battery (the "volt", the unit measure, has been so named in his honor), Roman regional capital and famous for its silk production, is especially interesting to us, because in the heart of its city center is situated a big hangar, housing all existing seaplanes in Italy.
Aero Club Como, a non profit organization established in 1930, manages the only seaplane flying-school in Europe, making around 3500 hours of water flying every year. At Como SPB you can take your flight licence starting from zero, flying exclusively on seaplanes, and you can also hire them, Como being the only European operator and one of the very few in the world offering this service. For these reasons, Como SPB represents a genuine cosmopolitan reality; it is daily frequented by Swiss, Germans, Austrians, French, Spaniards and people coming from much further away. The Frenchman Jean Baracchini, for instance, lives in Réunion, an overseas island of France in the Indian Ocean, close to Madagascar. On deciding to become a seaplane pilot, he opted for the closest possible seaplane school and ended up in Como, at a "mere" 4300 nautical miles from Réunion !
Another type of pilots visiting the Club are the airline pilots sojourning for a short period in the nearby Milan, waiting for the return flight to the original countries or continents. Always eager to leave the metropolis during their forced stay, they escape to the most famous city of the Pre-Alpine lake district and discover in its center, without expecting it, the astounding scenery of a hangar full of seaplanes. Usually, they solo after a few hours of training with an instructor and very often decide to return with friends and colleagues.
Como is also the destination of many foreign seaplanes. The European owners of Lake amphibians and other seaplanes come to Como for maintenance of their aircraft or simply to fly in complete freedom on Como Lake waters, a thing they cannot normally do at home, due to restrictions. Seaplane transiting between America and Asia or Africa often stop at Como. Catalinas, Grumman Widgeons, Turbo Mallards and Albatrosses, Tom Casey's Cessna 206 during his trip around the world in 1990, the Savoia Marchetti S56 that "Buzz" Kaplan decided to bring back to the waters where she were designed, and of course amphibians being ferried to far Asian and African countries, they all stop over at Como SPB.
Demo flights in Europe take place in Como. Whenever a seaplane base and seaplane people are needed, Como SPB is always available and used.
Pilots from Como have been flying not only on floatplanes, but on flying boats as well. In the thirties a Cant Z 504, with a radial 1000 HP engine, was present. In the early fifties the Club owned a Republic "See Bee", the only one ever imported to Italy, now at the Caproni Aviation Museum, in Trento.
After having used for some years a twin engined Piaggio (the original Italian version of the Royal Gull), the Club has owned and used several Lake amphibians. The opportunity to build up an experience both on floatplanes and on flying boats has extremely gratified the pilots in Como. Lake amphibians are being appreciated also because of their high climbing performance in crossing the Alps, the natural barrier North of the region. These aircraft (together with the Super Cubs) have proved to be exceptional also in taking off from high altitude Alpine lakes.
The Aero Club Como's directors, all volunteering (in "normal life", they all occupy other professions) aspire only to one goal, or better to one mission : keeping alive the seaplane tradition in Europe. Bearing this in mind, they often organize trips to other countries and offer free advice to whoever is interested in founding a seaplane activity or simply in buying a seaplane.
They moreover often interact with European local administrations in order to avoid water flying being penalized by restricting laws and dream of regaining the 100 operating seaplane bases present in Italy during the last century thirties.
Cesare Baj, author of the original book translated into English under the name "Seaplane Operations - Basic and advanced techniques for floatplanes, amphibians and flying boats from around the world", with important contributions by Dale De Remer, started flying in Como in 1970, taking his license directly on seaplanes. Today, he is President of the Club and he is working to set up a Museum of the Italian Seaplane Aviation and to organize archives of water flying activity in Italy.
Let's now consider the environment in which the seaplanes of Como operate. The region is one of the most famous tourist areas in the world, with beautiful places like Cernobbio, Tremezzo and Bellagio. Lugano, in Switzerland, is at 10 minute flight distance, while St. Moritz can be reached in 35 minutes. The famous villas of Lake Como have hosted prominent historical figures, as Napoleon and Churchill, and the most famous English, French and German poets of Romanticism, who found inspiration for their poems in Lake Como's wonderful scenery.
Como was also loved by the German emperors, like Frederick I "Red Beard" and before them by their Roman predecessors like Julius Caesar. Pliny the Elder, born in Como and famous naturalist, who died during the eruption of Vesuvius, owned a remarkable villa in the city.
The Rockefeller foundation has offices in Bellagio's most beautiful villa and the same is true for many other international cultural organizations.
Como has another interesting quality : it is situated at the foot of the Alps but at only 40 minute flight time from the Mediterranean. Liguria, Corsica, Sardinia, Venice and the French Riviera are all easily reached by the small seaplanes of the Club and have become popular weekend destinations. It is nearly impossible to imagine another place which allows you in a one hour flight to move from the highest peaks of the Alps to the gentle landscapes and the eternal Mediterranean spring.
Aero Club Como is situated in the heart of the city of Como, which means that while the visiting pilot is concentrating on his daily take off and landing work or just hanging about the hangar or the Club grounds, his family can enjoy Como's historical centre by visiting palaces and museums or by shopping in its countless boutiques, frequented by customers coming especially for that purpose from Germany, Great Britain, Russia or the Middle East.
Thanks to an agreement with the local shipping company, the pilots and their families can make, at a reduced fare, a boat tour on the lake. A funicular railway brings them to Brunate, at 1000 m altitude, to have lunch at one of the terraces, eating with a panoramic view on the Alps and on the dramatic Monte Rosa massif.
At the Aero Club Como, most pilots speak English, not impeccably, but quite enough for the needs of a visiting seaplane pilot. But, first of all, they adore people loving seaplanes and always reserve them a hearty welcome.
For further information visit the Aero Club Como site on the web (www.aeroclubcomo.com) or contact the Club's secretary by e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone +39 031 574495.
Como: the European capital of water flying since 1913
In 1913 one of the first seaplane contests in history took place in Como. The most famous European pilots all participated at the race : Roland Garros, Léon Morane, Helmut Hirth, but also several Italians and other less known pilots.
In 1930 the Aero Club Como was founded, a non profit organization, since then training seaplane pilots, renting seaplanes to its members and taking each year thousands of people to fly over Lake Como and its surrounding mountains for sightseeing flights.
The present fleet of Aero Club Como is composed by 4 Cessna 172s with 160 HP engines and Edo 2130 floats, a Cessna C172 XP on Wipline 2350 amphibious floats and EDO 2440 streight floats, a Piper PA 18 with 180 HP engine on Wipaire 2100 amphibious floats, a Lake LA200 "EP", a Cessna 206 on Wipline 3730 amphibious and PK 3500 straight floats.
The fleet of vintage seaplanes includes a Cessna C305 C "Birddog" on Edo 2440 floats, a Republic RC-3 "Seabee" with the Simulflight 270 HP conversion and a Macchi MB 308 on her original wooden floats made at the Macchi factory by the team who designed the record winner MC 72.
In the past Aero Club Como owned several types of Italian seaplanes : Caproni CA 100, Breda 15 and 25, Cant. Z 504, Macchi MB 308, Piaggio P 136. The Club owned also a variety of American seaplanes: Republic "Sea Bee", Cessna 150, Cessna 180, Cessna 185, Lake "Buccaneer" and "Renegade", Maule M7.
The Caproni CA 100 "Caproncino"
The oldest seaplane in flying conditions and in its perfect original shape (original engine, original wooden floats, etc.) in the world is based in Como. It is the Caproni CA 100, completely restored by Gerolamo Gavazzi.
It took 6 years of specialized restoration and a huge investment to bring her back to her initial splendour.
The engine is a 130 HP Colombo; the cruise speed is 80 MPH.
The Caproni has a perfect maneuverability and flight capacities.
Whenever the engine is started and the vintage floatplane taxies and takes off, a small crowd gathers around, enjoying the wonderful sound and performance.