Obtaining an ASES rating

This was all done at Alaska Float Ratings in Moose Pass, Alaska from August 13th through 16th, 2009.

Lesson 1

On the first day I met my instructor, Darlene. We went over the basics of the Piper Super Cub - where the controls are, etc. The Super Cub has throttle and carb heat off on the left sidewall, mixture on the top left of the main panel, and a starter button on the right. We went over the control transfer procedure, and then moved onto actual seaplane flying!

We sailed away from the dock, letting the wind blow us away from dock obstacles. Airplanes have a tendency to weathervane into the wind; in sailing you let this happen, raise your water rudders, and then use the [air] rudder to push the tail one way or the other, and ailerons to help get the airplane turned. The keel effect of the floats on the water keeps the airplane motion generally aligned with the direction of the floats, so you want to point the rear of the airplane towards where you want to go.

After getting a sufficient distance away, we did the WFMMM checklist: water rudders down, fuel on, mixture, mags, master, then started her up. Once started, carb heat comes on right away (there is visible moisture - lots of it!) and power is at almost full idle, 500-600 RPM.

We idle taxi - also known as displacement taxi - away from the dock downwind, now controlling our direction with rudder much more intuitively and keeping the ailerons turned in such a way that the upwind wing always has a low aileron.

We then do the runup - carb heat off, stick full back, 1700 RPM, check mags and carb heat back on. Then power back to idle.

Then we did plow turns - these are turns where the power is up (not full) but we do not let the airplane get up on the step. These are used when you are going upwind (into a strong wind), want to turn downwind and need the extra rudder authority to counter the weathervaning tendency. There is no other reason to do a plowing turn. Water rudders down, stick all the way back, turn right 45 degrees, and then full left rudder and bursts of power while you turn towards the left. The intial right turn is to allow some inertia towards the left (with the wind helping at first) to help you around the turn. Ailerons positioned for the wind throughout.

Then Darlene demonstrated a takeoff. Flaps 1 notch, water rudders up, stick full back, full power, watch the aircraft pitch up.. wait... then it pitches up higher. Ease off the back stick pressure and let the nose come down - stick forces are almost neutral here. We are on the step. Then hold the takeoff attitude. For me, this was a distance between the engine cowling and water level that appeared to be about 1 inch high at cowling distance. Then just wait - when you have enough speed the plane lifts off the water. Hold the takeoff attitude in case there is a problem until you have some altitude.

We flew around, did steep turns and stalls, and then spent some time looking at the water from the air. What way is the wind blowing? Are there water currents? Are there any obstacles in the landing area? Then Darlene did a landing - it's a normal approach, but then at some point (over normal water) you pitch up into the landing attitude (It's the same as the takeoff attitude) and control descent with power only. Once on the water, chop power and hold the attitude. As the nose rises when you slow down, follow through with back stick pressure. Water rudders down.

Then we taxied back to the dock. Take seatbelt off and headset off, open the door, align the airplane with the dock at full idle - not too far away, not too close - and then cut the power 10-30 feet from the dock depending on winds. Continue to steer with water rudders. When dock approach is assured, get out of the airplane and stand on the float, then get on the dock. Get under the wing and guide the airplane to the cleats and tie it down.

Lesson 2

This lesson was all about "low water work." This means taxiing, including displacement taxi, plow taxi, and step taxi. A step taxi involves adding full power and getting up on the step (just like a takeoff) and then reducing power to about 1800-1900 RPM. You steer with the [air] rudder and add or reduce power as necessary to stay on the step without taking off. We spent a long time doing this, and then proceeded to "low power takeoffs." These start out like normal takeoffs, but then we reduce power to 2100 RPM. This is *just* enough power to get into the air, and the goal of the exercise is to have more time to play with the planing angle of the floats on the water. There is an optimal planing angle that reduces drag between the water and the floats. If you don't find this angle, the airplane will never get off the water! Once you break free from the water, add full power and climb out. We then did some more lake evaluation from the air, and came back and did some more normal water landings and low-power takeoffs.

"Normal water" means water disrupted by a 8-12 knot wind that you can clearly see the surface of from the air. It is distinct from glassy water (no wind) and rough water (more choppy).

Lesson 3

Lesson three we work some more on step taxi and turning and low power takeoffs. The new material is glassy water landings. In these, you simply cannot see where the water is from the air. The only safe technique is to fly along the shoreline (like you should be anyway) and when you reach your last visual reference, you chop the power, pitch up into the landing attitude, then add power to hold the pitch and establish about a 100-150 FPM descent. Then you just wait until you land on the water. You really cannot see it. When you touch down, chop the power, and follow through like normal. The difference between these and normal landings are when the flare occurs - on normal water, you flare at an altitude that allows enough time to setup the appropriate landing attitude. In glassy water you flare well above this altitude - at your last visual reference - and then hold the landing attitude until you touch down.

We did a handful of these landings, and then some more step taxiing with turns. Turning in a step taxi feels really awkward - like the aircraft is going to "catch an edge" and flip over, but it doesn't. You control how tight the turns get with rudder, but always use full aileron into the direction of the turn. Of course there is some additional drag here, so about a 100RPM increase in power is needed to stay on the step.

Lesson 4

In this lesson we move onto rough water takeoffs and landings. In these takeoffs we use two notches of flaps and use a slightly higher nose up attitude (for me the cowling was just on the water line). In rough water landings, we also use this same nose-higher attitude and carry a little bit of power to the water and try to touch down as gently as possible.

After those we work on confined space takeoffs and landings. In these takeoffs, they are essentially normal, except when we hit 38-40 knots airspeed, we add full flaps. We almost right away get into the air - careful not to pitch up - and then slowly retract flaps and climb out back to Vy (75). Then for the confined space landings, they are effectively normal landings except the touchdown point must be hit as accurately as possible. I did really well on these during the training, but then during the checkride I almost missed the -0/+100 foot tolerance. Don't know what happened :)

We then worked on emergencies - engine out landings. These are normal landings too except you need to get the flare right the first time and be sure to carry enough airspeed to the water to do so.

Lesson 5

This lesson was mostly a review of everything, adding beaching to the bag of tricks. In beaching, there is leeward and windward beaching. Both methods involve sailing. Leeward (downwind) beaching you approach the beach backwards if the wind is strong enough, controlling speed with power. Windward you approach nose first. In both methods you shut down and get out of the aircraft before you gently bump into the shore. Then in either case you turn the airplane around so that the rear of the aircraft is over the shoreline and then tie down a float to something immovable on the shore.

Departing a beach is similar to departing a dock - awareness of the winds is key, and it can be a bit of a quick procedure to push away from the beach, get in and startup and get away from the shoreline before the airplane is blown back into shore, possibly at a bad angle. With good planning this shouldn't be a firedrill.

This lesson ended with a terrible job by me of docking. I kept getting too far from the dock. Third time was a charm :)

Lesson 6

This last lesson was like a practice checkride. We went through all the above maneuvers and tightened up any sloppy spots. No new content here.


The checkride consisted of about an hour oral based on a workbook of questions I had been working on for a few days during the flight training. These were almost all seaplane-specific questions, and most of them made you think. Why does the CG range change with floats vs. wheels on an airplane? Where does the center of lift move when transitioning from displacement to plow taxi? When is there the most drag during a takeoff? etc. They aren't hard if you've been doing the bookwork :)

The flight itself was pretty quick. We sailed off the dock (I got lucky with calm winds), idle taxied for a few minutes to get the engine warmed up, then did a runup, and then I asked what he wanted to do. He asked for a downwind takeoff. At first I declined (always a bad idea given a choice and all else being equal) but then he insisted. The wind was only 1-3 knots so it wasn't terrible. Executed the takeoff and we headed for another lake. The first landing was a normal landing, confined-space. This was OK, but I went a bit long before touching down. We did a rough water takeoff and then a rough water, confined space landing. Also went a bit long here. In my head I was trying to avoid "coming up short" should the engine quit, something emphasized in land-plane training. Vern described how he would do it - come in real low and then add power as needed to get the airplane to the touchdown spot. It certainly acheived the objective but if there was land before the touchdown point and the engine quit, we'd have been in trouble. But it was all OK, and you can't mitigate every risk.

We headed back to the training lake and did a glassy water approach and landing. This worked out great. We taxied back to the dock (made it the first time!) and tied her up. I had passed and now have a airplane single engine sea rating on my certificate!

The biggest thing I screwed up was the spot landings. Certainly something I will have to work on next time. :)