CHAPTER 4—Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs


Applying power causes the center of buoyancy to shift back, due to increased hydrodynamic pressure on the bottoms of the floats. This places more of the seaplane’s weight behind the step, and because the floats are narrower toward the rear, the sterns sink farther into the water. Holding the elevator full up also helps push the tail down due to the increased airflow from the propeller. The plowing position creates high drag, requiring a relatively large amount of power for a modest gain in speed. Because of the higher r.p.m., the propeller may pick up spray even though the nose is high. The higher engine power combined with low cooling airflow creates a danger of heat buildup in the engine. Monitor engine temperature carefully to avoid overheating. Taxiing in the plowing position is not recommended. It is usually just the transitional phase between idle taxi and planing. [Figure 4-6]


In the planing position, most of the seaplane’s weight is supported by hydrodynamic lift rather than the buoyancy of the floats. (Because of the wing’s speed through the air, aerodynamic lift may also be supporting some of the weight of the seaplane.) Hydrodynamic lift depends on movement through the water, like a water ski. As the float moves faster through the water, it becomes possible to change the pitch attitude to raise the rear portions of the floats clear of the water. This greatly reduces water drag, allowing the seaplane to accelerate to lift-off speed. This position is most often called on the step. [Figure 4-7]

There is one pitch attitude that produces the minimum amount of drag when the seaplane is on the step. An experienced seaplane pilot can easily find this “sweet spot” or “slick spot” by the feel of the floats on the water, but the beginning seaplane pilot usually needs to rely on gauging the position of the nose on the horizon. If the nose is considerably high, the rear portions of the floats contact the water, drag increases, and the seaplane tends to start settling back into more of a plowing position. If the nose is held only slightly higher than the ideal planing attitude, the seaplane may remain on the step but take much longer to accelerate to rotation speed. On the other hand, if the nose is too low, more of the front portion of the float contacts the water, creating more drag. This condition is called dragging, and as the nose pulls down and the seaplane begins to slow, it can sometimes feel similar to applying the brakes in a landplane.

To continue to taxi on the step instead of taking off, reduce the power as the seaplane is eased over onto the step. More power is required to taxi with a heavy load. However, 65 to 70 percent of maximum power is a good starting point.

Taxiing on the step is a useful technique for covering long distances on the water. Carefully reducing power as the seaplane comes onto the step stops acceleration so that the seaplane maintains a high speed across the water, but remains well below flying speed. At these speeds, the water rudders must be retracted to prevent damage, but there is plenty of airflow for the air rudder. With the seaplane on the step, gentle turns can be made by using the air rudder and the ailerons, always maintaining a precise planing attitude with elevator. The ailerons are positioned into the turn, except when aileron into the wind is needed to keep the upwind wing from lifting.

Step taxiing should only be attempted in areas where the pilot is confident there is sufficient water depth, no floating debris, no hidden obstructions, and no other water traffic nearby. It can be difficult to spot floating hazards at high speeds, and an encounter with a floating log or other obstruction could tear open a float. Your seaplane is not as maneuverable as craft that were designed for the water, so avoiding other vessels is much more difficult. Besides the obvious danger of collision, other water traffic creates dangerous wakes, which are a much more frequent cause of damage. If you see that you are going to cross a wake, reduce power to idle and idle taxi across it, preferably at an angle. Never try to step taxi in shallow water. If the floats touch bottom at high speed, the sudden drag is likely to flip the seaplane.

From either the plowing or the step position, when power is reduced to idle, the seaplane decelerates quite rapidly and eventually assumes the displacement or idle position. Be careful to use proper flight control pressures during the deceleration phase because as weight is transferred toward the front of the floats and drag increases, some seaplanes have a tendency to nose over. Control this with proper use of the elevator.

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