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Look, up in the sky, it's a boat ...

Published June 9, 2007


ORLANDO - Bill Kitchen is taking takeout burgers to new heights.

The recreational seaplane pilot recently used his $450, 000 turboprop seaplane, which he had docked behind a lakefront restaurant for his own lunch, to deliver burgers to a friend on a ski boat in a lake 15 miles away.

"This tends to make the hamburgers rather expensive when you figure in fuel costs, but the fun is worth it, " said Kitchen, one of a growing legion of urban bush pilots who enjoy hopping around central Florida's abundant lakes.

Florida has more recreational seaplane pilots than any other state, according to Jim McManus, head of the Seaplane Pilot's Association in Lakeland. The association has about 8, 000 members.

One of the kicks is hunting "the coveted $100 hamburger, " said Kerry Richter, whose Orlando company, Progressive Aerodyne Inc., sells a popular $50, 000 seaplane kit.

"We've identified 150 restaurants on lakefronts within 100 miles of Orlando, and we're always cruising lake shores and hopping over tree lines looking for new ones, " Richter said.

The popularity of the planes has the central Florida city of Tavares thinking of building a seaplane base and boat marina to cater to lake-hopping pilots, according to city administrator John Drury. The city is seeking $1.6-million in government grants for the project.

"We are unique in that our downtown is right on the lakefront. I think we can use this seaplane base and marina to stimulate our economic development, " Drury said. "People who own seaplanes have a lot of disposable income, which is good for a downtown revitalization program."

The seaplane base would offer pilots fueling services, which are hard to find on many lakes. It also would provide weather information, landing buoys and water taxis to ferry pilots and passengers to shops and restaurants in Tavares, Mount Dora and Eustis.

The planes aren't welcome everywhere. Orlando and Winter Park ban seaplanes from public lakes.

[Last modified June 9, 2007, 01:36:34]

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