CHAPTER 4—Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs


Glassy water makes takeoff more difficult in two ways. The smoothness of the surface has the effect of increasing drag, making acceleration and lift-off more difficult. This can feel as if there is suction between the water and the floats. A little surface roughness actually helps break the contact between the floats and the water by introducing turbulence and air bubbles between water and the float bottoms. The intermittent contact between floats and water at the moment of lift-off cuts drag and allows the seaplane to accelerate while still obtaining some hydrodynamic lift, but glassy water maintains a continuous drag force. Once airborne, the lack of visual cues to the seaplane’s height above the water can create a potentially dangerous situation unless a positive rate of climb is maintained.

The takeoff technique is identical to a normal takeoff until the seaplane is on the step and nearly at flying speed. At this point, the water drag may prevent the seaplane from accelerating the last few knots to lift-off speed. To reduce float drag and break the grip of the water, the pilot applies enough aileron pressure to lift one float just out of the water and allows the seaplane to continue to accelerate on the step of the other float until lift-off. By allowing the seaplane to turn slightly in the direction the aileron is being held rather than holding opposite rudder to maintain a straight course, considerable aerodynamic drag is eliminated, aiding acceleration and lift-off. When using this technique, be careful not to lift the wing so much that the opposite wing contacts the water. Obviously, this would have serious consequences. Once the seaplane lifts off, establish a positive rate of climb to prevent inadvertently flying back into the water.

Another technique that aids glassy water takeoffs entails roughening the surface a little. By taxiing around in a circle, the wake of the seaplane spreads and reflects from shorelines, creating a slightly rougher surface that can provide some visual depth and help the floats break free during takeoff.

Occasionally a pilot may have difficulty getting the seaplane onto the step during a glassy water takeoff, particularly if the seaplane is loaded to its maximum authorized weight. The floats support additional weight by displacing more water; they sink deeper into the water when at rest. Naturally, this wets more surface area, which equates to increased water drag when the seaplane begins moving, compared to a lightly loaded situation. Under these conditions the seaplane may assume a plowing position when full power is applied, but may not develop sufficient hydrodynamic lift to get on the step due to the additional water drag. The careful seaplane pilot always plans ahead and considers the possibility of aborting the takeoff.

Nonetheless, if these conditions are not too excessive, the takeoff often can be accomplished using the following technique.

After the nose rises to the highest point in the plowing position with full back elevator pressure, decrease back pressure somewhat. The nose will drop if the seaplane has attained enough speed to be on the verge of attaining the step position. After a few seconds, the nose will rise again. At the instant it starts to rise, reinforce the rise by again applying firm back pressure. As soon as the nose reaches its maximum height, repeat the entire routine. After several repetitions, the nose attains greater height and speed increases. If the elevator control is then pushed well forward and held there, the seaplane will slowly flatten out on the step and the controls may then be eased back to the neutral position. Once on the step, the remainder of the takeoff run follows the usual glassy water procedure.

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