Editor’s note: This article is the latest in our “My Adventure” series, where everyday pilots share their memorable flights. Send your story: [email protected]
Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base
First, in the interest of full disclosure, let’s get a couple of things out of the way: 1. At no time will you be flying solo. You will start out with an instructor in the front seat, and end up with an FAA examiner in the front seat. 2. The price of the two-day course includes five hours of dual, after which you may or may not be ready for your checkride. Additional instruction is available for $185/hr. Don’t ask me how I know this! 3. You will not get a lot of use out of this rating, as there is virtually no place you can rent a seaplane.
Now on to the positives. This is the most fun I have ever had in an airplane! A Piper Cub is the essence of seat of the pants flying, with a stick, a throttle, and practically nothing else (OK, there is a tach, altimeter, magnetic compass, and airspeed indicator if you can see them through your instructor). It’s as close to being a 1920s barnstormer as I’ll ever get! Virtually all of my time was spent looking out of the cockpit. Previous graduates from all over the world seem to come back year after year to brush up on their seaplane skills. (During my visit, an ATP pilot from Holland stopped in.) Combine this with my love of water, and it’s everything I love about boating and flying put together.
On to the flying. Flying a seaplane is harder than it looks. In particular, landings are very unforgiving. There is nothing to take up the shock of a bad landing, so you will get a visceral reminder every time you don’t get it right. Worse than that, there are a couple of ways you could really get it wrong. The first involves landing in a nose down attitude, which will result in the floats catching the water and slamming you down face first. This is called “stuffing it,” and is to be avoided at all costs. The second involves flaring too high and stalling well above the water, known as “dropping in.” This too is to be avoided at all costs. On smooth water, there is no depth perception (it’s like landing on a mirror), which makes it easier than you can imagine to make either one of these mistakes (see #2 above).
During the summer, the Cubbies are flown with the door open, which gives a fantastic view of the Florida Lakes Region. Patterns are flown at a mere 500 feet and 60 mph (yes, mph, not knots). Although this isn’t fast, a lot needs to happen in the last 100 feet for everything to come together, which is a challenge for those of used to 1/2 mile finals and 1000 foot descents.
Finally, there are a couple of maneuvers not common to land-based aircraft. The most interesting is called the “confined area takeoff.” Imagine taking off in a Cessna in a light wind on a circular paved runway, about 500 feet around (as in not enough runway). If you start crosswind with the wind off your left wing, accelerate to 40 mph, use torque and P-factor to help you turn left, you will face into the wind with enough momentum to get airborne before using up the next 500 feet. Then if you stay in ground effect, continue the left turn, and get up to Vx, you can climb above treetop level before using up the next 500 feet. Repeat this procedure until clear of all obstacles. Now imagine doing this in an aircraft with a 200 fpm rate of climb. It’s guaranteed to be the longest two minutes of your life!
My instructor was excellent, the ground staff was terrific, and my examiner was more than fair. With a little extra seat time, I was able to come away with my seaplane rating. I will definitely be back, and would recommend this to any pilot wishing to try something that’s fun and completely different!