Seattle seaplane lesson June 2011


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In June 2011, Katt and I decided to treat ourselves to a mutual birthday present, that came in the form of a seaplane lesson at Seattle Seaplanes on Lake Union. Bob, our instructor, was very friendly and informative. He didn’t even throw me in the lake! Seriously, though, he was very thorough and gave me a great introduction to this type of flying, my first! Katt got to ride along in the backseat, and took all of the photos and video you see here.

First, check out this video Katt made of me landing, at the end of the lesson, back on Lake Union – its 100% me flying!

Okay, back to the lesson. First, we taxied out and Bob did the run-up “on the run” if you will, since you can’t exactly drop anchor! Then he demonstrated the takeoff technique – elevator full aft, full throttle, and when the front end “bounces,” release elevator back-pressure. Then, “on the step” (the floats are gliding along the surface of the water versus sitting “in” the water), you find the “sweet spot” with the elevator, the spot that offers the least drag, until the plane flies off the water. I didn’t expect the takeoff distance to be so short in such a heavy craft!
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At 500 feet, Bob announced “your airplane,” and handed over the controls. Lucky for me I’m intimately familiar with the Cessna 172, having done most of my nearly 400 flying hours in them. So, instead of learning a new airplane and seaplane procedures, I only needed to concentrate on one thing. First we flew east over to Bainbridge Island, where Bob walked me through my first water landing. Surprisingly, it is almost exactly like landing on a runway – the sight picture is nearly identical, and the round-out and flare occur at the same height. As with most stabilized approaches on the “backside of the power curve,” you use pitch for airspeed and use throttle to control descent rate. Easy as pie! After landing, you pull the throttle, upon whence you immediately sink into the water and become “a boat,” and drop the water rudder. The landing distance is extremely short. Once you pull the power, like boats, you stop almost immediately.


Before we landed, Bob had me scope out a popular site to beach the aircraft. On the water, we taxied slowly toward shore, at about a 45 degree angle. Bob had me unbuckle my seat belt, open the door, and at just the right time with just a little momentum, I cut the engine, jumped out on the float, ran to the front, and lept onto the shore, soaking only one shoe in the process! Then, I ran and grabbed the rope on the wing, ran with it down the shore, turning the plane around in the process. Then, I grabbed the horizontal stabilizer on the tail and pulled the plane, backwards, onto the beach! Bob and Katt then walked down the floats and onto the shore.

While taking photos, Bob related a story of a beaching at the same spot, where the party had a picnic. Not paying attention, the tide went out and grounded the seaplane in the mud. Yup, they had to hang out for six hours until the tide came back in! So, we got back into the plane and off to the races!

Next, I got to try my first water take-off. It was awesome! Line up, retract the water rudder, elevator aft and away we go! The hardest part is finding the “sweet spot” once you are on the step. Other than that, it was gravy. We then got the Elliot Bay transition from SEA-TAC and flew over to Lake Washington for another landing, but not before we watched a Beaver land on the lake, taxi under the highway bridge, and then take off again! I set up for another stabilized approach and another easy landing. Here’s Katt’s video of that one:

Then, another take-off and landing toward the north end of the lake, somewhat uncomfortably close I would soon think. Bob said we had plenty of room, but wanted a hard bank to the left to stay over the water immediately after take-off. As it worked out, I banked hard (and low) over Kenmore Air (wave!) and over some land before getting back over the lake. Of course, at low altitude, you want to remain over the water in case of power failure, since your glide distance will be so short. But, of course it worked out just fine.


We headed back to downtown Seattle where Lake Union sits. The lake sits in a bowl, surrounded on all sides by house-infested hills, skyscrapers, cranes, and of course, the iconic Space Needle. Of course I thought Bob would take over, but instead he called our traffic on the radio and directed me to the downwind leg of the approach. Keep in mind that there isn’t a control tower on the lake, nor do we communicate with any of the boaters on the lake, so coordination of the two separate seaplane bases and parting the boaters is a matter of timing and luck!

Downwind, over the Queen Anne neighborhood, we headed toward the Space Needle, banking left in front of it, descending over skyscrapers on the base leg, and off-setting while turning final to avoid two construction cranes. Set up on short final, Bob calls our traffic “Lake Union traffic, Cessna two-one-Tango on short final, landing to the north, Lake Union traffic.” “What about the kayakers and and boats in our way?” I worried. “They’ll move,” said Bob, and so they did! Another smooth, albeit a “skosh” fast on the touchdown landing! We taxied into the docks, where I got to get out and not fall in the water!
Katt
Afterwards, Bob tells me that I’d probably only need about 4 more lessons before he thought I could qualify for my seaplane rating! Since I already hold a private certificate, the checkride would consist nearly entirely of seaplane-only related procedures, so it is not nearly as daunting as an initial certificate checkride. However, since no one really rents seaplanes, as a non-owner, it doesn’t help, except to add another thing to the ‘ole mantle.

If you’ve never taken a seaplane lesson, may I highly recommend doing it at Seattle Seaplanes on Lake Union, Seattle, Washington! Ask for Bob. Tell him the caverpilot sent you!

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water taxiing out to the take-off point, Space needle in distance
taxi time
Bob and I start the pre-flight check
preflight
obligatory couple's shot
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scouting out my first landing area near Bainbridge Island
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how WEIRD to see water in the rear glass!
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my first beaching, I look like a 5-year-old!
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I wish this was our plane!
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Big D
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Captain D!
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Kathryn is absolutely beautiful! (the plane doesn't hurt)
Katt
first take off
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Lake Union is that little pond (where the seaplane base is)
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cruising through downtown
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turning final
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low pass over Kenmore Air seaplane base
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the Space Needle on the base leg turn
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Bob and his successful student!
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