CHAPTER 7—Skiplane Operations


Landing a skiplane is easy compared to landing with wheels; however, for off-airport landings, extra precautions are necessary. Be careful in choosing a landing site. Before landing, evaluate the site to be sure a safe departure will be possible.

Upon arriving at a prospective landing site, a pass should be made over the landing area to determine landing direction, and to determine if a safe approach and landing can be completed. A trial landing should be accomplished to determine the best approach, subsequent departure path, and the quality of the surface.

To perform the trial landing, plan and configure for a soft-field landing with a stable approach. Then perform a gentle soft-field touchdown, controlled with power, while remaining near takeoff speed for approximately 600 to 800 feet, and then initiating a go-around

Atrial landing is very helpful in determining the depth and consistency of the snow, evaluating surface conditions, and looking for possible hazards. Be prepared to go around if at any time the landing does not appear normal or if a hazard appears. Do not attempt to land if the ski paths from the trial landing turn black. This indicates “overflow” water beneath the snow wetting the tracks.

When landing on a level surface, and the wind can be determined, make the landing into the wind. If landing on a slope, an uphill landing is recommended. To avoid a hard landing, fly the skiplane all the way to the surface and add some power just before touchdown. Be sure to turn the skiplane crosswise to the slope before it stops. Otherwise it may slide backward down the slope.

When using combination skis to land on solid ice without the benefit of snow, it is better to land with the wheels extended through the skis to improve the ground handling characteristics. Solid or clear ice surfaces require a much greater landing distance due to the lack of friction. The skiplane also needs more area for turns when taxiing. If the surface has little or no friction, consider the possibility of a groundloop, since the center of gravity is typically behind the main skis and the tail ski may not resist side movement. Keep the skiplane straight during the runout, and be ready to use a burst of power to provide airflow over the rudder to maintain directional control.

Under bright sun conditions and without brush or trees for contrast, glare may restrict vision and make it difficult to identify snowdrifts and hazards. Glare can also impair depth perception, so it is usually best to plan a soft-field landing when landing off airports.

After touchdown on soft snow, use additional power to keep the skiplane moving while taxiing to a suitable parking area and turning the skiplane around. Taxi slowly after landing to allow the skis to cool down prior to stopping. Even though they are moving against cold surfaces, skis warm up a few degrees from the friction and pressure against the surface. Warm skis could thaw the snow beneath them when parked, causing the skis to freeze to the surface when they eventually cool.


Skiplanes do not have any parking brakes and will slide on inclines or sloping surfaces. Park perpendicular to the incline and be prepared to block or chock the skis to prevent movement.

When parked directly on ice or snow, skis may freeze to the surface and become very difficult to free. This happens when there is liquid water under the skis that subsequently freezes. If both the surface and the skis are well below freezing, there will be no problem, but if the skis are warm when the airplane stops, they melt the surface slightly, then the surface refreezes as the heat flows into the ground. Similarly, the weight of the skiplane places pressure on the skis, and pressure generates heat. If the ambient temperature goes up to just below freezing, the heat of pressure can melt the surface under the skis. Then as the temperature drops again, the skis become stuck.

If parking for a considerable amount of time, support the skis above the snow to prevent them from sticking or freezing to the surface. Place tree boughs, wood slats, or other materials under the skis to help prevent them from becoming frozen to the surface. [Figure 7-7] Some pilots apply a coat of non-stick cooking spray or engine oil to the polypropylene ski surface to prevent ice or snow from sticking during the next takeoff.

If the skis are the retractable type and the frozen surface will support the wheels, place the skis in the UP position. Next, dig the snow out from around the skis until ready to depart. This keeps the skis away from the surface. When parking on a hill, pay attention to the position of the fuel selector valve. Typically, the uphill tank should be selected to prevent fuel from transferring to the lower wing and subsequently venting overboard.

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