How many times during an airline pre-takeoff briefing have you heard the flight attendant say, “In the event of a water landing …”
Trust me, there ain’t no such thing as a water landing in an airplane with traditional landing gear.
An airplane touching down on the water is a crash plain and simple … EXCEPT, when you’re learning to fly a seaplane like I did last week. My instructor, Tom Brady at Traverse Air near KTVC, probably thought there were a few times when my efforts were a bit crash like, but luckily I improved enough to pass the checkride a few days after we started. Not bad for an old guy.
I first became fascinated with the idea of these aircraft after visiting a seaplane mecca a few years ago in Vancouver where I spent the afternoon watching floatplanes of all sizes come and go. Then a local Jetwhine reader here in Chicago, Dave Montgomery, offered up some encouraging nudges until I knew I needed to make room for this in my schedule. Last week I did with my friend Matt Desch. We arrived in TVC for five hours of training in this PA-12 Super Cruiser. For a guy who’s become pretty comfortable with a glass cockpit, this was a pretty simple airplane to work with. A stick, a throttle and a couple of basic instruments. We never did turn on the radio.
Before the first lesson, CFI Tom Brady mentioned that Matt and I would never again look at water the same way. That turned out to be true. The preflight alone was different … especially for a guy like me who can’t swim.
We learned there’s a difference between glassy water and the surface when there’s even just a minor wind. Who would have thought taking off and landing on glassy water was actually more challenging than when there’s a breeze? Plow taxiing now makes sense, as does realizing when the airplane’s on the step. We learned how to take off from a confined space … seaplane talk for a short field. Water rudders? I thought those were a bit like water wings at first, but I learned when to use them and when to make sure I retracted them. Finally, there came the realization that when the engine quits on a seaplane, those floats add more drag than even I was prepared for at first. This is all the book learning part of course.