I didn’t completely fall in love with aviation, until I paired it with the ocean. If you look back in history, flying off the water was such a significant portion of aviation in the beginning. Having a connection to that era of flying today as I follow my dreams, is very special.
My name is Daniel Bolton and I’m a Grumman Mallard captain in Darwin, Australia. The Mallard was built just after WWII in 1947, and only 59 aircraft were ever built. It started its life as a radial engine aircraft flown by one pilot, however, the three that I fly, have evolved over the last 70 years into 15-seat, twin engine turboprop, multi-crew, IFR, flying boats.
Everyone associates aircraft with being up in the sky, but with the seaplane, you are also at home on the water. The challenges that occur in this dynamic environment are always changing. Threats such as wind, chop, swell, terrain, birds… all pose hazards in this uncontrolled setting, whereas the land-based pilots take off and land at locations protected by regulations that create safety margins.
Not to say I push safety boundaries; I just enjoy the freedom of flying in this manner!
I have flown floats for over ten years now, and it has taken me on many adventures. After working alongside my Dad on a Cessna 206 floatplane in my hometown of Geelong, I moved to paradise at the age of 21, flying the legendary De Havilland Beaver amphibian floatplane in the romantic and tropical waters of the Whitsunday Islands of North Queensland.
My day job was your dream holiday. Our signature tour captured the area perfectly. Guests would be flown to Whitehaven Beach (one of Australia’s best beaches) for an hour of sipping sparkling wine and eating cheese and crackers, followed by a two-hour adventure snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef on our private vessel. It truly was the ultimate seaplane pilot job.
My career has also taken me overseas to fly seaplanes, where I spent a year flying tourists to the world heritage listed Halong Bay in northern Vietnam. Littered with thousands of tall limestone islands and just as many tourist-hauling “Junk” boats, Vietnam was truly a life-changing experience. I worked alongside local Vietnamese pilots in a multi-crew, IFR environment which was inspiring and challenging.
But moving onto the Mallard has been the most exciting and rewarding change in my career. Before it, my water flying experience was on floatplanes; identified by the two large pontoons or floats positioned underneath the fuselage. The Mallard, however, is a flying boat; where the bottom of the fuselage is strengthened and shaped like the deep V of a speed boat.
Learning to tame the hull was a difficult challenge, but now that it has been mastered, I thoroughly enjoy the thrill of taking off and landing this 1940’s era aircraft on and off the magical ancient waters of the Western Australian Kimberley region.
Follow Daniel's adventures on his IG: @themallardguy