CHAPTER 4—Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs


At low speeds and in light winds, make turns using the water rudders, which move in conjunction with the air rudder. As with a landplane, the ailerons should be positioned to minimize the possibility of the wind lifting a wing. In most airplanes, left turns are somewhat easier and can be made tighter than right turns because of torque. If water rudders have the proper amount of movement, most seaplanes can be turned within a radius less than the span of the wing in calm conditions or a light breeze. Water rudders are usually more effective at slow speeds because they are acting in comparatively undisturbed water. At higher speeds, the stern of the float churns the adjacent water, causing the water rudder to become less effective. The dynamic pressure of the water at high speeds may tend to force the water rudders to swing up or retract, and the pounding can cause damage. For these reasons, water rudders should be retracted whenever the seaplane is moving at high speed.

The weathervaning tendency is more evident in seaplanes, and the taxiing seaplane pilot must be constantly aware of the wind’s effect on the ability to maneuver. In stronger winds, weathervaning forces may make it difficult to turn downwind. Often a short burst of power provides sufficient air over the rudder to overcome weathervaning. Since the elevator is held all the way up, the airflow also forces the tail down, making the water rudders more effective. Short bursts of power are preferable to a longer, continuous power application. With continuous power, the seaplane accelerates, increasing the turn radius. The churning of the water in the wake of the floats also makes the water rudders less effective. At the same time, low cooling airflow may cause the engine to heat up.

During a high speed taxiing turn, centrifugal force tends to tip the seaplane toward the outside of the turn. When turning from an upwind heading to a downwind heading, the wind force acts in opposition to centrifugal force, helping stabilize the seaplane. On the other hand, when turning from downwind to upwind, the wind force against the fuselage and the underside of the wing increases the tendency for the seaplane to lean to the outside of the turn, forcing the downwind float deeper into the water. In a tight turn or in strong winds, the combination of these two forces may be sufficient to tip the seaplane to the extent that the downwind float submerges or the outside wing drags in the water, and may even flip the seaplane onto its back. The further the seaplane tips, the greater the effect of the crosswind, as the wing presents more vertical area to the wind force. [Figure 4-8]

When making a turn into the wind from a crosswind condition, often all that is necessary to complete the turn is to neutralize the air rudder and allow the seaplane to weathervane into the wind. If taxiing directly downwind, use the air rudder momentarily to get the turn started, then let the wind complete the turn. Sometimes opposite rudder may be needed to control the rate of turn.

Stronger winds may make turns from upwind to downwind more difficult. The plow turn is one technique for turning downwind when other methods are inadequate, but this maneuver is only effective in certain seaplanes. It takes advantage of the same factor that reduces a floatplane’s yaw stability in flight: the large vertical area of the floats forward of the center of gravity. In the plowing attitude, the front portion of each float comes out of the water, presenting a large vertical surface for the wind to act upon. This tends to neutralize the weathervaning force, allowing the turn to proceed. At the same time, the center of buoyancy shifts back. Since this is the axis around which the seaplane pivots while on the water, more of the fuselage is now forward of the axis and less is behind, further decreasing the weathervaning tendency. In some seaplanes, this change is so pronounced in the plowing attitude that they experience reverse weathervaning, and tend to turn downwind rather than into the wind. Experienced seaplane pilots can sometimes use the throttle as a turning device in high wind conditions by increasing power to cause a nose-up position when turning downwind, and decreasing power to allow the seaplane to weathervane into the wind. [Figure 4-9]

To execute a plow turn, begin with a turn to the right, then use the weathervaning force combined with full left rudder to turn back to the left. As the seaplane passes its original upwind heading, add enough power to place it into the plow position, continuing the turn with the rudder. As the seaplane comes to the downwind heading, reduce power and return to an idle taxi. From above, the path of the turn looks like a question mark. [Figure 4-10]

Plow turns are useful only in very limited situations because they expose the pilot to a number of potential dangers. They should not be attempted in rough water or gusty conditions. Floatplanes are least stable when in the plowing attitude, and are very susceptible to capsizing. In spite of the nose-high attitude, the high power setting often results in spray damage to the propeller. In most windy situations, it is much safer to sail the seaplane backward (as explained in the next section) rather than attempt a plow turn.

When the seaplane is on the step, turns involve careful balancing of several competing forces. As the rate of turn increases, the floats are being forced to move somewhat sideways through the water, and they resist this sideways motion with drag, much like an airplane fuselage in a skidding turn. More power is required to overcome this drag and maintain planing speed. This skidding force also tends to roll the seaplane toward the outside of the turn, driving the outside float deeper into the water and adding more drag on that side. To prevent this, use aileron into the turn to keep the outside wing from dropping. Once full aileron into the step turn is applied, any further roll to the outside can only be stopped by reducing the rate of turn, so pay careful attention to the angle of the wings and the feel of the water drag on the floats to catch any indication that the outside float is starting to submerge. When stopping a step turn, always return to a straight path before reducing power.

At step taxi speeds, the centrifugal force in a turn is far greater than at idle taxi speed, so the forces involved in turning from downwind to upwind are proportionately more dangerous, especially in strong winds. Chances are, by the time a pilot discovers that the outside float is going under, the accident is almost inevitable. However, immediate full rudder out of the turn and power reduction may save the situation by reversing the centrifugal force and allowing the buried float to come up.

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