From the time I started flying, I have always had the dream to learn how to fly a seaplane. As I learned in November, it’s actually learning to land a seaplane, and the veterans call them floatplanes.
ProMark Aviation at the Burnet Airport (KBMQ) offers a weekend float plane course that is high on fun and low on stress. The school has a Piper PA12 Super Cruiser on amphibious floats (amphibs as I was corrected at one point. I mean, if you’re going to fly a seaplane, er, floatplane, you have to know the lingo) that will land and takeoff on water, but does little else with ease and grace. At 150 HP with those big floats and all the associated rigging hanging underneath the airplane, you are lucky to get to 500 feet before you get to your destination.
We weren’t working on setting any speed records. I was learning the lay of the water. I learned about the step, the keel, pumping the floats, how to read the water, currents, ducks (yes, ducks and birds are important to know about when you are flying low on the water), buoys, docking, and ditching. Step taxiing was fun as you are basically at 3/4 throttle screaming across the top of the water just below flying speed. It’s the best way to taxi a seaplane (truly, it is. You get more air in your engine, you can see better, and you are moving. Just don’t try and turn sharp).
Floatplanes also don’t have any shock absorbers, so the higher the wave, the more you get knocked around, so wind velocity and, in turn, wave height is very important.
A very important nuance of an amphibious floatplane compared to a straight floatplane (one that doesn’t have wheels that come out of the floats), is at one point, you want to make sure your gear is down for landing (runway landing) and at another, you want to make absolutely sure your gear is up for landing (water landing). If you land wheels down in the water, you will capsize, 100% of the time. Thankfully from my good instruction, I did not capsize.
Ken Wittekiend, my instructor, and I spent the majority of the weekend landing and taking off on Lake Buchanan (I was informed by locals it is pronounced “Buk-cannon”, not “Bue-cannon”), which is more open and therefore has more waves. We did one landing on Inks Lake so my kids could see me land, which they thought was the best thing since cheese sticks.
There is a check ride at the end of the training, but, as Ken reassured me, it’s the most fun check ride you’ll ever have. I still hate check rides, but that one I think I hated least of all.
I hope someday I can put my floatplane skills to practice, but for now, I can vouch that I now speak seaplane!