CHAPTER 4—Seaplane Operations – Preflight and Takeoffs


Porpoising is a rhythmic pitching motion caused by dynamic instability in forces along the float bottoms while on the step. An incorrect planing attitude sets off a cyclic oscillation that steadily increases in amplitude unless the proper pitch attitude is reestablished. [Figure 4-13]

A seaplane travels smoothly across the water on the step only if the floats or hull remain within a moderately tolerant range of pitch angles. If the nose is held too low during planing, water pressure in the form of a small crest or wall builds up under the bows of the floats. Eventually, the crest becomes large enough that the fronts of the floats ride up over the crest, pitching the bows upward. As the step passes over the crest, the floats tip forward abruptly, digging the bows a little deeper into the water. This builds a new crest in front of the floats, resulting in another oscillation. Each oscillation becomes increasingly severe, and if not corrected, will cause the seaplane to nose into the water, resulting in extensive damage or possible capsizing. A second type of porpoising can occur if the nose is held too high while on the step. Porpoising can also cause a premature lift-off with an extremely high angle of attack, which can result in a stall and a subsequent nose-down drop into the water. Porpoising occurs during the takeoff run if the planing angle is not properly controlled with elevator pressure just after passing through the “hump” speed. The pitching created when the seaplane encounters a swell system while on the step can also initiate porpoising. Usually, porpoising does not start until the seaplane has passed a degree or two beyond the acceptable planing angle range, and does not cease until after the seaplane has passed out of the critical range by a degree or two.

If porpoising occurs due to a nose-low planing attitude, stop it by applying timely back pressure on the elevator control to prevent the bows of the floats from digging into the water. The back pressure must be applied and maintained until porpoising stops. If porpoising does not stop by the time the second oscillation occurs, reduce the power to idle and hold the elevator control back firmly so the seaplane settles onto the water with no further instability. Never try to “chase” the oscillations, as this usually makes them worse and results in an accident.

Pilots must learn and practice the correct pitch attitudes for takeoff, planing, and landing for each type of seaplane until there is no doubt as to the proper angles for the various maneuvers. The upper and lower limits of these pitch angles are established by the design of the seaplane; however, changing the seaplane’s gross weight, wing flap position, or center of gravity location also changes these limits. Increased weight increases the displacement of the floats or hull and raises the lower limit considerably. Extending the wing flaps frequently trims the seaplane to the lower limit at lower speeds, and may lower the upper limit at high speeds. A forward center of gravity increases the possibility of high angle porpoising, especially during landing.

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