WEEKEND: The Big Lake at 1,000 feet above the surface: Dave French offering custom tours in his seaplane
LACONIA — Late one afternoon last week Dave French flew a family of five on a tour of Lake Winnipesaukee, including a pass over their home on Lake Wicwas in Meredith, as darkening clouds rolled in from the west. When he touched down on Paugus Bay the wind kicked up, the waves crested and the rain poured down. Chest deep in the water, French and wife Colleen wrestled the plane to the dock. Their passengers scampered to the kiosk, soaked to the skin. "Thank you," one of the boys exclaimed. "That's the coolest thing we've done in a long time."
French, who spent much of his youth on Pine Island off Meredith Neck and flew seaplane tours for four summers between 1979 and 1982, returned to open Lakes Region Seaplane Services on Union Avenue, between John's Corvette and Barton's Motel in 2010. Calling himself a "lake brat" who knows the lake and its history, he has been offering flights to the public for the past four summers.
Although French docks his plane off Union Avenue, he will pick up passengers at their docks or beaches around the lake. Colleen, who manages the bookings, said that many flights mark special occasions and often come as a surprise. "We've had a couple of proposal flights," she said, recalling that the plane arrived at his dock, which was strewn with roses and lit by candles, with a violinist aboard. "He had the whole thing planned," she said. "She said yes and they flew off." French said he has flown to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays and reunions.
French flies a Cessna 206, fitted with both floats and wheels, which seats five in addition to the pilot. Tracing a typical tour, French said he flies up Paugus Bay to The Weirs, climbing to about 1,000 feet above the water, then makes toward Pine Island before sweeping around the Castle in the Clouds, crossing over Moultonborough Neck and circling past Welch Island and Governor's Island to The Weirs. But, he said "we're flexible," explaining that people often want to pass over their homes , a summer camp or some other special spot.
French operates between 10 a.m. and sunset, noting that the mornings and evening are the most popular times to fly. Prices vary according to the number of passengers and time in the air. The fare for a 30-minute tour with four or five passengers costs $65 person while a 25-minute tour with three passengers costs $80 person. Two passengers are charged $260 for a 30-minute tour and $240 for a 25-minute tour. However, Colleen explained that couples are urged to share the plane to lower the cost. "The more people in the plane, the lower the cost per person," she said. There is a minimum charge of $400 to collect passengers at their dock or beach.
French has logged more than 12,000 hours in the air, including 25 years as a commercial pilot, and has flown passenger jets out of four states and and seaplanes in Maine and Alaska. "I'm back where I belong on local water flying a seaplane," he said.
To book a flight call or text (603) 387-7575 and for more information visit SeaplaneTours.net on Facebook.
CAPTION: With a hand from his wife Colleen, Dave French of Lakes Region Seaplane Services jockeys his Cessna to the dock on Paugus Bay after flying passengers on a tour of Lake Winnipesaukee (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)