Getting a Seaplane Rating
It’s a beautiful, sultry morning on Lake Apopka northwest of Orlando, FL. The city I’m training out of is Tavares, FL, which is known as America’s Seaplane City. It’s a cute little town that’s on the waterfront of Lake Dora where everything is seaplane-themed. Restaurants, parks, and even benches all have a seaplane motif.
I’m struggling to get the sight picture just right for landing a Progressive Aerodyne Searey flying boat on the choppy surface of the lake. With every landing comes a splash of water into the cockpit since we have the canopy cracked to keep it cool. This airplane feels a lot different to me because it’s a pusher configuration and so I have to correct for adverse yaw and propeller torque using left rudder instead of right. I also have to accommodate for the nose going up when I pull the throttle versus going down. I go through my checklist before we take off again. Gear, Instruments, Fuel Pumps, Flaps, Trim, Situation. Check. Full throttle. The airplane plows through the water at first, then climbs onto the edge of the water (known as being “on the step”) before I rotate and take off. Up in the air, the plane flies like any other, albeit it has a lot more drag.
One of the more difficult aspects of seaplane flying is mastering the glassy water landing. You cannot tell your height above glassy water, so you find your Last Visual Reference (for me, it was a large swath of lily pads on the water) and set up for a 150 fpm descent with a slightly nose-up pitch until you touch down. Learning to land on water opens up an entirely new freedom to flying. There’s also the fun of a step-turn, which is a high speed taxiing that you use in a confined-area takeoff. I step turn in a circle until I gain the airspeed to rotate and take off into the humid Florida skies.
Up in the air again, we go find a river to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings. Landing on the water is aquatic tranquility. The river we find is a shimmering, partially glassy cerulean ribbon slicing through Florida’s swampy greenery. Touching down atop the gently rolling waves brings exquisite peace. Then we take off again with a little cross control as needed for the crosswind takeoff. Aloft, I'm struck with the versatility of the amphibious LSA I am flying. It gives the beautiful peace and release of flight combined with the freedom of being able to land anywhere. Learning the proclivities of the water proves challenging and rewarding to me in a lovely way.
The seaplane rating has sharpened my landing and situational awareness skills and has boosted my confidence. I did have to abort a landing due to an alligator being in my touch down zone, but that's Florida for you! It's made me contemplate adding some floats to my airplane... stay tuned!