Flying Journal "Water Operations"

Spring is here and my second year as a flight instructor is off to a busy start with my first month with over 100 hours of flying time. Mel Dixon and I finally got our schedules together for a flight. We flew in this recently acquired Lake Buccaneer down to Table Rock Lake. My six hours in seaplanes have all been on floats. The amphibian was definitely different. The fuselage is like the hull of a boat and goes directly on the water as opposed to separate floats replacing the landing gear under a conventional floatplane. As we came down a cove of the lake for our first landing, it startled me. It just kept getting lower and lower until we touched down with the rush of water right under our feet. My recent interesting flying experiences had overshadowed the memories of my last seaplane flights three years ago. It came back how much fun flying on water can be.

Mel and I realized we both like to keep facing new challenges in aviation, accumulating new skills and experience. Flying the Lake is such a challenge and full of surprises. The engine is mounted as a pusher on a pylon above the cabin, so the thrust line is above the center of gravity. Therefore, when you increase power, the Lake pitches down, unlike most planes. The control pressures were also higher that I expected. Flying the Lake requires a more complex and subtle use of pitch pressures as you transition on and off water. When you first touch down, you have to pitch down slightly to keep the plane from bouncing on the water and to keep it "on step." I managed to do several fairly credible touch-and-goes but I watched in amazement as Mel manipulated the control wheel, rocking the plane back and forth to break the surface tension and get the plane on the step after a full stop landing.

Besides the new techniques required to fly the amphibian, the flying environment is fresh and new. It's great to be close to the trees and water and wildlife. The birds are used to the engines of boats and just move aside as we came along. After a year of instructing, I have thoroughly conditioned myself to look for emergency landing fields. Some places in the Ozarks don't offer much. It's refreshing to think, "We can land anywhere on that lake or pop the wheels down for the airport."

Ah, yes, the wheels. . .After a hundred hours in retractables, I have established a strong pattern in my brain to get the gear down and check for three green lights (or one, depending on the plane) when beginning descent for landing. In the amphibian, you have to think, "gear down for land, gear up for water!" At least the flaps are simple, either full up or full down. It would take a little getting used to the throttle, mixture and prop being overhead. Visibility is great, you are sitting out in front of the wing but don't plan on wearing your cowboy hat. I haven't seen this yet but I guess it's quite a trick to water taxi to a boat ramp, drop the gear and just taxi right out on land. Thanks for a great flight, Mel.

Flying together of course leads to conversation. Mel and I discovered we had both flown with the same seaplane instructor, Bob Billingsley from Grove, Oklahoma. Bob flies a Lake for the Grand River Dam Authority as well as giving instruction and check rides for both amphibians and floatplanes. Now I'm motivated to go see Bob again to finish the rating that was interrupted by high winds three years ago.

Fly Safely!

[Editor's NOTE: This article originally appeared in the April 1997 issue]

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