Sunday, June 17, 2012

Seaplane Training

After almost a month in Colombia for work, I was back in the country and eager to get back in the air!

After 4 weeks on the ground, I was a feeling a little rusty.

But I needed to get over it quickly because this weekend I had some serious new training planned.  For the longest time, I was curious about flying a seaplane and more importantly about landing on water.  I looked into it last year, but didn't get around to it till now.  Life is short... and I am trying to "get around to everything"!

From my somewhat unscientific research, I determined that there are 2 places in the US that I felt were the "best places to learn".   One was in Talkeetna, Alaska and the other was in Winter Haven, FL. I know there are many other places to learn.  But these two locations had awesome, long established schools with rave reviews from many fellow pilots.

Since Winter Haven is very close to me, I enrolled in Jack Brown's Weekend Seaplane Course. 

The idea is simple.... 2 days of intensive ground and air training, after which you should be ready for an an FAA check ride.

I started early Saturday morning by "commuting" in the Cirrus from Tampa to Winter Haven.  Since seaplane flying is all about good, manual stick and rudder flying, I decided to use the short 20 minute flight for a little practice and flew entirely with NO automation!  No flight plan, no approaches, no GPS and even minimal radio! Without GPS, I just looked out the window and followed Interstate 4 until I saw "the right lake" and "the right airport". 

When I arrived, I saw my aircraft for the weekend, which was a Maule M-7-235:

But before jumping in, I had to go through ground school and learn all of the basics, especially how to taxi, maneuver and land.  After a couple of hours in the classroom, it was time to go flying with my instructor, John.  He was a seasoned pilot, who really drilled me on "feeling" if the plane was responding correctly to my inputs.  The first flight was NOT that graceful.  (It was a definitely harder than I expected).  

After that flight, we took a lunch break and had a rather intense debrief, where John reviewed the many, many, things I did wrong :-(

But I was determined to "get it"!  So after some more time in the class, we went for a second flight, where I redeemed myself.  In the afternoon, I things really started to make sense and everything just "clicked"

I did some more studying on Saturday night and was back early on Sunday for more training and test prep.  This flight was rather smooth and my confidence was building.

In the afternoon, I met the FAA examiner and he administered the oral exam, which I passed (but only after sweating through the weight and balance interrogation).   I did the basic calculation and showed that we were legal.  However, the examiner was not satisfied with just "legal".  He emphasized how critical W&B was in a seaplane and made sure I understood the implications of being outside the envelope in EVERY direction!

Then it was time for the flight test.  It started out OK ... I did a rather graceful taxi and takeoff.  But the skies were quite crowded, I had to dodge a helicopter, a Mooney and a Piper Cub!  Not exactly the drama I was looking for during a checkride...

Then it was time for the first landing in a nearby lake.  I did a reasonable job with traffic pattern and the touchdown was pretty good... But it went downhill from there! 

Just an hour before, I performed every required maneuver perfectly (including glassy water, rough water and emergencies).  But on the checkride, I was totally behind the airplane and trying to catch up the whole time.  The instructor gave me a little latitude to repeat a maneuver.. But I was definitely NOT on my game.

I just wasn't feeling it and he certainly sensed it.  We made our way back to base, where ironically, I made a pretty nice landing, and did a more detailed debrief.

Unfortunately, I did NOT pass this checkride :-(

But the weekend was not a total bust... I still had a lot of fun and got some great training.

Now I am now even more determined than ever to get this rating.  So I plan to go back in the next couple of weeks and try again.  Hopefully, part 2 of this story will culminate in the ASES (Airplane Single Engine Sea) rating!

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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