Category | Flight & Training

Tips for the Amphib Pilot

Not so long ago, most seaplanes were straight float airplanes. The words “straight floats” have evolved as the result of amphibious float airplanes dominating the market. Now our descriptive language has changed to distinguish “amphibs” from “straight floats”. Adding the freedom of landing on runways and water minimizes the pilot’s requirement to plan for the future in terms of places to land and places to get fuel. It also adds the requirement for a complete understanding of the float systems and a complete appreciation for the potential for disaster. At the surface, the advantages are clear and the operation seems simple. Scratch the surface and we find a large number of pilots who have landed their amphibian airplane with the landing gear in the wrong position for the surface intended. As we review these accidents, a trend emerges. We find no new reasons for these accidents. Different people are making the same mistakes over and over again. Almost every case involves pilot error. If we realize that the human being is the weakest link in this system, we know where to go to work on the problem.

Therefore, we will proceed by:

  • Identifying the problem.
  • Understanding the problem.
  • Fixing the problem.

Identifying the Problem
Landing on a runway with the landing gear up usually results in little more than damage to the float bottom protected strip. The problems could be worse depending on the quality of the landing but, in most cases, not fatal. Conversely, landing in the water with the landing gear in the down position almost always results in an overturned airplane. Approximately 50% of these accidents are fatal with aircraft damage ranging from totally destroyed to no damage other than damage to avionics due to the insult of water.

Understanding the Problem
Most of the late model float systems come with audio warnings exclaiming landing gear position prior to landing. This system is triggered by airspeed and is adjustable by a qualified maintenance technician. This system should be used as an added safety feature but should not be used to replace good operating practice. In simple terms: DO NOT USE THE GEAR ADVISORY SYSTEM AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR CHECK PROCEDURES.

Understanding the Problem Continued–
Most of the accidents involving landing gear position problems are caused by pilot error. Most involve something that takes the pilot away from standard procedures such as:
Any distraction.
Pulled circuit breakers.
Focusing on a challenging or new landing area.
Communicating with passengers.
Some perceived or unrelated mechanical problem.
Preoccupation with weather or wind.

Fixing the Problem
During this training, your instructor will place emphasis on pre-landing check procedures. Specifically, a gear check should be accomplished 3 times prior to landing. TRIPLE-CHECK REDUNDANCY IS ESSENTIAL. The last check should be used on final approach and includes a comparison with the gear position lights and the intended landing area.
Example: “Blue lights, blue water.”
“Green lights, green grass.”

Your instructor will ask for verbal expression from you confirming these checks are, not only done, but called out loud as well. Your instructor will be kindly relentless concerning this subject. We want you to have a safe and successful experience with your floatplane. We will expect you to begin and end with these three things in mind:

Affective Domain- The pilot must first understand and believe the potential for a landing with the gear in the wrong position is a PILOT PROBLEM.

Cognitive Domain- The pilot must have a complete understanding of the landing gear systems.

Psychomotor Domain- The pilot must be able to fly the airplane skillfully while using landing gear check procedures as a habit.



Risk-Benefit Analysis for Seaplane Pilots

Type those words into your favorite search engine. Over sixty million results will appear. This says that “risk-benefit analysis” is a common and well known term in our language and culture. We all know what it means: weighing the risk against the benefit derived from the act of taking the risk. Of course, this means if there is no possibility for benefit, there is no reason to take the risk. We all understand this and use the principle in our daily lives.

Why is it, then, that very few of us express the language or even the philosophy of risk-benefit analysis while we are flying our seaplanes? It’s there implicitly but we seldom talk about it. We have many more opportunities to use risk analysis in seaplanes than our landplane counterparts because we have the freedom of making more choices for our take-offs and landings. For example: “I want to land somewhat close to the dock so I don’t have a long taxi.” The area around the dock is loaded with boats and jet skis coming and going. The risk: possible collision with a watercraft. The benefit: save six minutes. If we begin by expressing our risk benefit analysis to ourselves, often we find the benefit is very small for some rather large risks that we are willing to take. As I read accident reports and convert pilot error accidents to risk-benefit analysis language, I can’t help but wonder if the pilot would have made a different choice if he or she would have taken a few seconds to think about possible outcomes using risk-benefit analysis.

Happy—and safe—flying!

Earning a Seaplane Rating in “Floatplane Heaven”

Willow Hetrick pictured with instructor Vern Kingsford.I wanted to learn to fly after learning about a pilot/biologist position for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). When I finished studying biology in college, I decided to finally learn. I received a private pilot rating on November 8, 2012, an instrument rating on May 8, 2014, and a commercial license on May 17, 2015. Alaska-based pilots in the Service are required to be commercially rated seaplane pilots. When I was granted the 2015 Ben Wiplinger Memorial Seaplane Scholarship to obtain a seaplane rating, I was finally able to realize this dream.

Moose Pass is often referred to as “Floatplane Heaven.” I can attest to that as my family has called Moose Pass “home” since I was four years old. There was no question that I should get my seaplane rating from Alaska Float Ratings on the shores of Upper Trail Lake. I called Vern Kingsford, owner/operator of Alaska Float Ratings, to schedule my week of training. He congratulated me on the scholarship and promptly donated extra funds to my flight training – I had come to the right place indeed! I’ve been watching Vern fly above our little town for years and it was finally my turn. From the floatplane dock on Upper Trail Lake there are at least a dozen alpine lakes within a few minutes’ flight. Every lake has different winds, shorelines, approaches, and obstacles and each one of these lakes is surrounded by 5,000 foot tall mountains, so with every flight I was also receiving mountain flying instruction and techniques.

Vern asked me “do you want to see what this little (Super) Cub can really do?” I promptly responded with an “oh yeah,”

Willow Hetrick

There were several other students that started the training on that same Monday morning. Every morning we would meet in the training room, study, fly, watch videos, study, and fly some more. Being able to fly at least two times a day helped me quickly understand any questions that arose while studying. I also wanted to get PA-18 time and the seaplane training hugely improved my stick and rudder skills. On September 5, 2015, I took my check ride with Vern. We went to his favorite lake, Bench Lake, in his favorite airplane, N917VK. After I successfully demonstrated the entire seaplane practical test standards, Vern asked me “do you want to see what this little (Super) Cub can really do?” I promptly responded with an “oh yeah,” and Vern took the controls. It’s hard to believe that I had any more capacity to learn immediately following a check ride, but I learned even more in that 15 minute flight back to the dock.

Through the seaplane rating process, I’ve become much more observant of the surrounding environment before and during my flights, and much more aware of my decision-making process—two of the ultimate keys to flying safely. For me, float flying in Alaska is the ultimate flying adventure. I can’t wait to fly more seaplanes. I’m excited for what is to come, and patiently waiting for a pilot/biologist position to become available with the Service. There are few jobs that combine raw Alaskan adventure with the challenges of flying and opportunities to study biology and manage wildlife. Thank you to the Ben Wiplinger Scholarship committee for choosing me as a 2015 recipient of the scholarship.

Good Seaplane Training During a Northern U.S. Winter.

It’s a typical winter situation for pilots in the Northern hemisphere. Your aircraft is tucked away in a snowed-in hangar and your instructor is in Florida, or some other winter retreat. How can you get beneficial recurrent training in your airplane during the cold winter months. There is a way; it’s not the same as flying with your task master but it is helpful none-the-less, and it’s free.

Here’s the way it goes: Light up the interior of your airplane in your nice warm hangar. Turn off the radio, your cell phone and your 72” wide-screen TV. Hide your car so as to leave no evidence you are there. Avoidance of visitors is best when you’re trying to focus on a learning experience. Take your place in the Captain’s seat and open your POH to the emergency procedures chapter; section 3 in most airplanes. Then, slowly go through each emergency procedure while touching the appropriate knobs, levers, and switches. Think critically about why the procedure is written the way it is. Approaching the procedures this way will raise questions which will lead you to the systems chapter; section 7 in most airplanes. This will lead you to a better understanding of your airplane. Count the number of emergency procedures for your airplane. For example, most Caravans have 51 emergency procedures, Cessna 152s have 15. There are 4 engine failure procedures for Caravans and 3 for Cessna 152s. Bunch the similar procedures together and ask this question: “What is the same and what is different among these procedures and why?”

Think about this educational experience for a moment. Prior to this, your exposure to emergency procedures includes flying the airplane or simulator while the instructor is guiding, prompting, or cueing. That means there is a lot going on and, true, it is great training but this method does little to enable the pilot to have a conceptual understanding of the procedure. Psychologists tell us it is difficult to capture cognitive understanding while performing what they call “side tasks.” We call it, “Flying the airplane while all this other stuff is going on.”

At the end of this exercise you should have a better understanding of your emergency procedures and the airplane’s systems. It may come in handy someday and the cost of this experience is just a little bit of time.

Come On In, the Water’s Fine

It’s a typical winter situation for pilots in the Northern hemisphere. Your aircraft is tucked away in a snowed-in hangar and your instructor is in Florida, or some other winter retreat. How can you get beneficial recurrent training in your airplane during the cold winter months. There is a way; it’s not the same as flying with your task master but it is helpful none-the-less, and it’s free.

Most pilots dismiss the idea of adding a seaplane rating to their certificate because they feel there is little chance of using it after the day of the check ride. It’s hard to argue with that logic but consider this: Most pilots that fly seaplanes now had the same expectation on the day of their check ride. Life is a conglomeration of unexpected opportunities and “chance” experiences, no matter how much control we think we have. In any case, it is an easy—and fun—rating to obtain, especially in the warm weather months.

Here are a few “getting started” suggestions: Find a copy of the “Seaplane Training Directory” published annually by the Seaplane Pilot’s Association. Seaplane schools are listed by state. Concerns about the quality of the instructor can be dismissed. If the instructor has reached “insurance approved seaplane instructor” status, it is very likely that instructor is quite competent. Personalities and training methods can vary from instructor to instructor, so you may want to ask some basic questions about availability and training practices ahead of time. Remember, no day is ever the same in a seaplane, so keep an open mind to new experiences.

Prepare by reading any one of the text books on learning to fly seaplanes; there are several on the market. Look online for seaplane training courseware to get an idea of the content of syllabi or simply look at the Practical Test Standard for the required tasks for a seaplane rating.

Choose a school, schedule the training and enjoy a new experience in flying and remember; only a handful of people in the entire world are able to add this experience to their list. No matter what you do with the rating, the experience of obtaining it will open a new dimension in flying.