Flying On Floats Makes For Flying Fun!

by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2020 issue & June 1981 issue

EDITOR’S NOTE: I first published this article in the June 1981 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, which describes my experience in getting a “seaplane rating.” I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed reminiscing the experience.

Becoming a pilot – period – is indeed a thrill and unmatched by any other accomplishment, sport or skill. But to take those extra steps beyond to acquire advance ratings, or to fly different types of aircraft, is even a greater challenge and a heck of a lot of fun!

Ever since I wrote a story about a seaplane pilot last summer, I’ve gotten the urge to get that rating and combine my love for the out-of-doors and boating with flying. “But where can I get this training?” I asked myself. After checking with the state aeronautics offices, I came up with very few flight schools that offered the training. I ended up commuting 70 miles by air to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where I took the 10 hours of dual instruction required over a four-day period at Kenosha Aero. This little inconvenience was well worth the quality of instruction I received and the rating, itself.

My instructor, Mat Goodman, had prepared a study packet for me which included a manual entitled “How To Fly Floats,” published by EDO-AIRE; weight and balance information on the 1968 Cessna 180H “amphibian” I would be flying; Kenosha Aero’s seaplane rating “course outline;” and a total of 10 individual checklists which included everything from engine startup through takeoffs, landings, and emergency procedures.

I was overwhelmed at the size, or more so the height of a Cessna 180H amphibian on the ground at 12-15 feet. This takes a little getting used to when landing, because you touch down in a higher attitude than without floats. There is also less give on hard surfaces than on water.

An amphibian is a floatplane with retractable landing gear, and is to be distinguished from aircraft equipped with “straight floats,” or floats without retractable landing gear. The added benefit of learning to fly an amphibian is that the 10 hours of dual also counts towards your complex gear endorsement. So you get both for the price of one!

When I did the preflight, the only difference I noticed between inspecting a floatplane compared with conventional aircraft is the need to check the float compartments for water. If some water is found, it can be quickly eliminated with a portable hand pump which should accompany the aircraft at all times.

In The Air

My first lesson started by practicing turns, slow flight and stalls so that I could get the feel of the plane. Aside from the added drag, the plane handled well. The rest of the day was spent practicing takeoffs and landings and taxiing on Fox Lake, approximately 15 miles southwest of Kenosha.

The procedures for hard-surface and water takeoffs and landings differ, significantly. For hard-surface takeoffs and landings, you basically follow the same procedures as for any conventional aircraft. Simply keep in mind that there is more aircraft under you and DON’T FORGET TO LOWER YOUR LANDING GEAR! For water operations, just the opposite pertains – WHEELS UP! Both hard surface and water takeoffs require that you pull back on the stick quickly and firmly once the rotation speed has been reached.

Ten degrees of flaps is recommended for both hard surface and water takeoffs, and 20 degrees for landings. Our approach speed for landing was 70 knots with flaps, except in emergency, no-power situations in which case we would want 80 knots into the flare.

Taxiing

Immediately following landing on water, cut the power, raise the flaps and extend the water rudders on the floats. Both airplane (air) and water rudders are needed for directional control at slow speeds.

The simplest, and to be frank – most boring – but safest form of taxiing is the “idle” taxi.

Idle turns are effective in low-to-moderate wind conditions, and are necessary under most docking situations.

In windy conditions, however, difficulty may be experienced in turning the floatplane to a downwind direction because the aircraft has a tendency to “weathercock” or “weather vane” into the wind. If this occurs, the “plow” turn may be necessary.

Like its name implies, the floats actually plow through the water or in a nose high attitude with a modest increase in power. Prolong use of the plow turn is not recommended, however, because splashing water may cause damage to the propeller.

Under favorable wind conditions and where long distances must be covered on water, “step” or highspeed taxiing is usually recommended.

To place the aircraft “on the step,” the stick is held back and full power is applied until the floats begin to come up out of the water. At that moment, the floatplane is on the “hump” and the stick may be relaxed to a more or less neutral position. If too much forward or back pressure is applied while on the step, the aircraft may “porpoise,” or rock back and forth. Once on the step and planing, come back on the power just enough to maintain the step. Actually, the only difference between step taxiing and water takeoff procedures is that for takeoff you apply full power and use 10 degrees of flaps. For both step taxiing and water takeoffs, the water rudder is retracted and steering is totally dependent on using the airplane’s rudder.

The “step turn” to the right from downwind to upwind is the most dangerous turn because of a combination of centrifugal force, P-factor and wind. All three factors are trying to flip the aircraft over to the outside of the turn. To counteract these forces, the pilot must make the widest turn possible, increase power slightly, and apply opposite rudder.

Takeoffs & Landings

The last few hours of instruction were spent practicing crosswind, restricted, and glassy and rough water takeoffs and landings – each of which could entail a separate article.

“Crosswind” landing procedures on water are basically the same as on hard surfaces, but crosswind takeoffs involve a technique very much different.

Once on the step, and heading into the wind, change to a crosswind course. Ailerons should be turned away from the direction of the wind, instead of into the wind as with a hard surface takeoff. This helps the upwind wing keep the upwind float from submerging. Immediately after takeoff, straighten out the controls, then compensate for wind drift by turning into the wind.

The most difficult aspect of “glassy” or calm water landings is the lack of depth perception. It is difficult for the pilot to know when to begin his flare because he’s not certain when he will make contact. To counteract this, the approach is made at a slower airspeed and at a more gradual rate of descent (approximately 150 fpm). By crossing the shoreline at the lowest possible altitude and staying alongside the shoreline, depth perception is improved. It is best to look straight ahead at the far shoreline, and occasionally glance at the adjacent shoreline, rather than look directly at the water. Then, as soon as you feel contact with the water, cut the power and pull back on the stick. Because it is difficult to anticipate when contact will be made, a longer-than-normal landing area is required.

The greatest difficulty during a “glassy water takeoff” is breaking the suction with the floats. By circling while on the step, the water may get rough enough to break this suction so you can lift off.

Landing in restrictive water areas or small lakes is usually no problem, but taking off can be more challenging. Step taxiing is necessary and after one or two trips around the lake, you should have enough speed built up for a successful takeoff.

Rough water landings are usually accomplished with a modest amount of power and in a slightly nose-high attitude. Yet, a too high of a level of attack may cause the aircraft to bounce.

A rough water takeoff is similar to a soft-field takeoff on land, the idea being to get out of the water as soon as possible at the slowest airspeed. If waves are large, you will need to follow their up and down movements until airborne.

Getting To Shore

Whatever type of water landing is necessary, the objective is usually to get to shore. This can be accomplished by either mooring, docking, beaching or ramping. As part of my training, I was required to learn each technique, but enjoyed beaching the plane across from “Popeye’s on Lake Geneva” in downtown Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the most. Lunch there was fantastic, and the enthusiasm shown by spectators was a reminder of how lucky we are to be able to fly, not only on land, but also on water!

With each approach on the water to either moor, dock, beach or ramp, you almost always find it advantageous to “sail” the aircraft, using the flaps, ailerons and the airplane’s rudder to control direction and forward or backward motion. Water rudders should always be used in the water except when drifting backward because water rudders oppose the airplane’s rudder.

I wrapped up my seaplane rating with a check-ride with Bill Lotzer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bill is an experienced seaplane pilot and a member of an even more elite group – that of floatplane examiners!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to my flight instructor, Mat Goodman, for his excellent training; to the late Bill Lotzer for his exceptional oral and flight examinations; and to Jim and Carrie Beardsley, former owners of Kenosha Aero.

FLOATPLANE INSTRUCTION & RENTAL: For those pilots interested in getting a seaplane rating, contact Brian Schanche at Adventure Seaplanes at 612-868-4243 or 612-749-1337 or email adventureseaplanes@gmail.com.

Adventure Seaplanes has several different floatplanes to choose from, and can combine training with a trip to Canada fishing or sightseeing, or pilots can train at either their Minnesota location in the summer or their Florida location in the winter. Floatplane rental is also available. For additional information, visit www.adventureseaplanes.com.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is based solely on the seaplane flight training experience of the author, who is not a flight instructor. Therefore, readers are urged to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual, the pilot operating handbook specific to the aircraft being flown, and instructional materials specific to floatplane flying, before attempting any techniques or procedures described in this article.

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