The Thrill of the Chase: Skippy & the Pontoon plane

Pontoon boat next to a pier

What’s the real story behind the plane and Skippy?

On page 50 – also the page number where Skippy fades away at an age of 50, Forrest Fenn writes about the time Skippy, probably as a teenager, who borrows a plane and effortlessly glides that plane onto the waters of Hebgen Lake.

The problem seems to be that the plane was incapable of taking off when the altitude of Hebgen Lake was near 6,000 feet.

This has always perplexed me. I am sure planes can take off from this height. I know that automobiles may require a some tuning in order to run at peak performance when at higher altitudes. What about a plane?

Guessing the age of Skippy and the plane

If I had to guess the age of Skippy, if this fairy tale event did take place, Skippy would be between 16 and 18 years of age. That would make Forrest 14 to 16 years of age. That means the potential year this event might of happened is between 1944 and 1946. The plane was probably not even close to “new” so let’s say the aircraft was built in the early to mid 1930’s.

One would have to do some deep diving in order to guess where Skippy may have acquired this pontoon plane. It only makes sense that it would have come from an area that is heavily populated with lakes and there may or may not have been an airport in the general proximity or, at least a fuel pump probably on a pier that provides the right type of fuel for that type of aircraft. IF this plane came from Idaho, There are 119 public airports in Idaho… I do not know the number of airports for Idaho back in the mid 1940’s. Nor do I know the lakes that have fuel available for aircraft.

Why the plane Skippy tries to fly had no lift?

This is totally perplexing. I had to look up this kind of scenario and I found a website that offers some insight of what effects a plane can go through at higher altitudes.

So if I read this statement correctly…….

 A normally aspirated engine loses roughly 2 percent of its horsepower for each 1,000-foot increase in altitude.

So at 6,000 feet the airplane loses about 12% of its horsepower. Now this plane is not a tank, and the engine is relatively small but not THAT small. A twelve percent loss in horsepower is significant, but that means you’d have to use a longer runway. Now, with Hebgen Lake, Forrest Fenn writes the runway was close to 15 miles – plenty of distance to get the aircraft into the air.

Even if the engine was faltering and offered 75% of its horsepower, taking away 12% puts the percentage of horsepower close to 63%. I know you have to add in the plane weight, the fuel, the weight of the personnel and any personal belongings. But this thing should have had the ability to take off and have a decent chance at climbing altitude.

This scenario just seems off to me. So I went back to the site I referenced earlier. On one of the pages within The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to general aviation, was incorporated on May 15, 1939.)

This reference article below may help digest the confusion

Find the subtitle called “on the ground“, and read the next to last paragraph. To me it sounds plausible that this plane was destined to fly – unless Skippy or Forrest (in his mind) did not want it to.


The AOPA Foundation seems to focused on training people to perform as pilots, so this seems to be an excellent reference to learn, scratch your head and wonder about The Thrill of the Chase and the chapter called “My brother being Skippy”.

Questions or comments? Leave them here or write me a note

mi [at] missionincredible [dot] org .