One of my goals since I got my Private ASEL has been to own and fly a flying boat amphibian. About two years ago, I purchased a Coot Amphibian in need of repair and currently have that airplane in my workshop. I had been looking to train for my seaplane rating in a hull-type seaplane, but the nearest location was some distance away. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find an advertisement for seaplane training at Shannon Airport (KEZF), where I keep my Cherokee 140. Mike Pearson, one of our local flight instructors, had ordered a new Searey Elite LSA for training purposes, and was planning to start training in it in the summer of 2015. I called Mike and got on the list right away!
Mike was still setting up his company, Pearson Aviation, writing the training study guide, and arranging all the logistics when I called. A few months later I had my first lesson in his new Searey LSA, N816M. It was fun to learn in and Mike is an excellent instructor. We did most of our training at nearby Potomac Creek, just 6 minutes east-northeast of Shannon in the vicinity of the Brooke VOR. Potomac Creek, and Accokeek Creek, are brackish water tributaries off of the Potomac River, and lie just outside of the Washington SFRA. It is a great area for seaplane work with multiple protected areas and landing sites.
The airplane is a fine example of the type with a turbocharged Rotax 914 UL, a ground adjustable fixed pitch prop, a glass panel, and a Garmin 696. It has all the tools you need and can use in a VFR airplane. One thing I especially liked was that the glass panel can display in the modern EFIS format or analog format just like the steam gauges in my Cherokee. I didn’t want to waste my instruction time learning the EFIS system, so I just learned how to bring up the steam gauge display and set the barometric altimeter. As time went on, I learned a little more but tried to keep things simple as I went. I was concentrating on my seaplane training without getting too deep into the EFIS system.
We had several lessons in the late summer and fall of 2015, but with our schedules we weren’t able to complete the training before winter set in. We started again in spring and completed all the requirements to schedule my ASES checkride. The Searey is an amphibian with a retractable taildragger landing gear. I don’t have a taildragger rating, so Mike arranged with the Designated Pilot Examiner to do the initial takeoff and final landing at Shannon for me. I will add the taildragger endorsement later, after I have the ASES rating complete.
The ASES checkride started with an oral examination just like the one I had to pass to get my Private Pilot. Even though I was already a Private Pilot, preparation for the oral exam had to be thorough because the examiner can ask you anything of relevance in the Practical Test Standards. It had been 11 years since my last oral exam, and I was rather rusty. Mike took the time to help me prepare for the oral and it was a tremendous advantage.
While it is true that I drew a blank for some of the questions, or parts of them, I did not refer to the manuals once during the oral discussion. That was probably a mistake, but a small one. I couldn’t think of the phrase Aeronautical Decision Making relating to ADM; I just drew a blank. The oral exam is open book – I could have simply looked in my notes and retrieved the answer, but I didn’t. When I missed that question, the examiner was good at not pressing too hard and moved on to other things. That wasn’t the only mistake I made, but there were very few, and it gave the examiner something to ding me on and review with me later. A win for us both.
Mike told me the examiner had over 40 years of flying experience in all types of airplanes, but he had less time in the Searey than I did. I had 16 hours in the type when I went for the checkride and I knew the airplane well. I just flew the airplane the way I was taught to fly it and everything went without incident. The examiner asked questions but I got the impression he was asking for his own personal knowledge rather than asking, already knowing the answer, to test me. This seemed to be the case on many questions he asked as we were flying through the maneuvers. I don’t know if it was or not but it put me at ease as we ran through the maneuvers.
After the runup, I asked when he wanted the controls and he replied he wanted me to position for takeoff on the runway before taking the controls. The NE taxiway to 24 was blocked, so we back-taxied on 24 to position for takeoff. There was other traffic using 24, so I was concerned about sitting in position on 24 with other traffic in play, and elected to do the GIFFTS check on the slow back-taxi to be sure we were ready.
GIFFTS stands for Gear, Instruments, Fuel, Flaps, and Trim. It is prominently displayed on a placard above the EFIS panel. We go through a GIFFTS check before every takeoff and every landing to be sure the Searey is configured properly every time.
Once in position, we did a positive exchange of controls and the examiner did the takeoff run. As soon as the wheels left the ground he transferred the controls back to me. Vx in the Searey is 58 mph with two notches of flaps, so I selected flaps two immediately. After clearing the tree-line, I put the gear up and configured for Vy, 63 mph and flaps one. At 500 feet I reduced power out of the high boost range and continued climbing at 5500 rpm. As we were turning crosswind, a Cherokee was coming into the pattern so I stayed low and behind, taking downwind about 300 feet low until well clear. I configured the airplane for cruise with no flaps, then began a cruise climb at 5000 rpm and called leaving the pattern from downwind. This set us up for a straight shot to Potomac Creek. I climbed up to about 1300 and traversed to the creek at 4500 rpm.
In the rest of this discussion, I make several references to locations defined by LAT/LON coordinates. If you want to follow along, simply plug them into Google maps and they will come up on your computer screen with a pointer. Switching between map view and satellite view helps also.
Upon reaching Potomac Creek, near the western section, I looked at the water to determine the wind. There was a large area of glass on the water curve north of the peninsula, north of N38.352100, W77.336500 (see Google Maps, map & satellite), and some glass along the north west tree-line. There was also some glass just east of the western lily pads, near N38.348270, W77.356830, but it was minimal. Out in the middle and eastern sections of Potomac Creek you could see long streaks going east and west. I interpreted this as wind from the west, and set up a normal landing westward in the western section of Potomac Creek.
I performed the GIFFTS check as I flew east, south of the southern shore. As I flew downwind, I cleared the area for obstacles and noted what I thought was a dock or flat wood structure at approximately N38.347330, W77.340270. As I turned base towards Old Landing Point, N38.345200, W77.330600, a second look revealed that the dock was actually a johnboat, which had now moved closer to the shore near N38.347760, W77.339000, and appeared to be stopped there. I voiced my mistake and stated I would swing wide on base to be well clear and continued my landing to the west, displaced to the north by a few hundred feet and turning slightly south of west on final to keep in line with the long part of the water way. I flew final with flaps three at 65 MPH and crossed the Peninsula near N38.349600, W77.339000 well clear of the johnboat on my left.
The landing was good, but just before falling through the step (entering displacement mode) the right wing dropped, even though I was holding left aileron at the time. I later realized this may be an indication I may have misread the wind direction, as later work in the central body of Potomac Creek clearly showed the wind coming from the east. Anyway, the airplane at idle maintained direction and did not turn around, indicating the wind was from the west in that part of the creek at that time, or was so minimal as to not hinder operations.
The examiner had me do an idle taxi, then a plow taxi with a 360 degree left turn, then a takeoff. Towards the latter half of the 360, the right wing dropped again, even though I held left aileron (an indicator the wind was from the west) so I backed off the power to idle and completed the turn. We still held our direction with the nose pointed west, so I took off to the west. The takeoff began with a little porpoise over the step, so I quickly backed the power and settled into a step taxi, then reapplied full power after smoothing out. We took off and climbed clear then turned left, following the southern shore of the creek to the east.
One note regarding porpoising: when it starts on the first oscillation, I found it can be brought under control by quickly reducing power to enter a step taxi, thus smoothing out the ride before reapplying full power for the takeoff. I have used that technique at least three times, including once on the checkride. Each time I tried it, it worked beautifully.
The examiner asked for a glassy water landing next. There was no usable glass in the western area of Potomac Creek so I flew east over to the mouth of Accokeek Creek to survey the glass and clear the area of traffic and obstacles. The southern run of the creek was clear and glassy and the area around our Last Visual Reference at N38.357300, W77.302800 was clear of traffic and obstacles as far as I could see. There was glassy water from our LVR well out towards the mouth of Accokeek Creek and no boat traffic in sight so I flew west over the trees and performed the GIFFTS check for our approach. Final was flown very low at 65 MPH with flaps two. I powered back slightly before leaving the LVR to pitch up and set the landing attitude, then applied power as needed to arrest the sink to a slow rate. I was adding additional power as we gently touched the water, bounced slightly, and settled down. The approach and landing was executed beautifully and the examiner was pleased.
He asked for a glassy water takeoff next, so we step-taxied back towards our LVR, dropped off the step, turned around, and performed the GIFFTS check for our takeoff. The takeoff was as good as the landing and he complimented me on both.
He asked for a confined area landing next, “wherever you have been practicing it.” Since we were climbing south out of the mouth of Accokeek Creek, I turned right, flying west up Potomac Creek to set up a confined area approach over the trees near N38.352700, W77.330300 with a south-southwest final. I leveled off at 600 feet and turned right towards downwind near N38.351000, W77.340500 after crossing the peninsula. I reduced power, performed the GIFFTS check, and descended to get low over the trees with full flaps, 60 mph, and enough power to have a relatively flat final approach to the tree tops near the edge of the water. I cut power to idle as soon as I had the last trees made and maintained 60 mph all the way to the surface for a perfect landing.
The examiner asked for confined area takeoff next so we turned around 180 degrees and taxied back in the direction our approach trees we just flew over. The wind was coming from the east straight up Potomac Creek so it was a crosswind from our direction as we were moving northeast. I completed the GIFFTS check, applied power to step taxi, turned right into the wind and took off. He was pleased and directed me to head back towards Shannon at 1500 feet.
When we got to altitude, we simulated a fire and did an emergency descent to blow out the fire. We then climbed back to 1200 and headed back to Shannon. The examiner told me I had passed my checkride and all that was left was to get back, put away the airplane, and do the exit briefing.
I am quite happy with the entire process of learning to fly the Searey and learning and performing my ASES check ride. It has been a lot of work, but it has also been fun and rewarding. I would do it again tomorrow and recommend to anyone who is interested to get trained to fly seaplanes! It is FUN!