Helpful Hints for New and Old Lake Pilots

(or Common Mistakes)

by John Staber

Over control of the elevator (pitch) in rough water: lafc_photo_033

Pick a point in the distance to help hold the attitude the same throughout takeoff and landing, rather than adjusting pitch for each wave passing under the hull.

Attempting to “put” the airplane on the water after a skip or bounce:

Never try to “put” the aircraft on the water with forward wheel or down elevator. Hold the landing or step attitude righteously and control the rate of descent with small adjustments to the throttle if needed, and wait for it to land itself. Relax back pressure ever so slightly after touchdown. Wings must be level. Do not be in a rush to transition to a full stall landing, as you probably have excess speed and are not high enough off the water to execute a tail low landing.

Not recognizing when to transition to a full stall landing:

The general rule is when all else fails during a step landing. In most cases, if the attitude is still correct after a skip out, and very little altitude is gained, the aircraft will remain on the water at the next touchdown. The cause of the skip is several things – excess nose high attitude, excess speed, excess rate of descent, flying out of a wind gust. The common mistake is excess up elevator upon the next contact with the water, resulting in the aircraft skipping out again and again. In this case reduce power to idle and slowly apply full up elevator without ballooning. The wheel must be held full back with no power or you will continue to skip out again and again.


Not recognizing when to execute a glassy water landing:

Anytime the surface is questionable due to sun reflection, overcast sky, or mixed glassy and ripples. It is the most dangerous condition of seaplane flying.

Failure to use full control input when needed:

Getting on the step in a crosswind. Tight step turns. Crosswind land landings. Full stall landings.

Failure to look out the window during gear repositioning:

We can see all three gear, why not look out at it, not only during a landing check, but when we have asked it to come up or down. We will see immediately if there is a retraction or extension problem. It is possible to have a gear light with one gear in the wrong position. All it takes is a switch corroded or stuck in the closed position on the problem gear. Look out the window!

Failure to use rudder to control direction:

This applies whether high or low speed, in the air or on the water, on the step or in displacement. Ailerons should be used be used only to keep the wings level or to plant the inboard float firmly on the water in a step turn. Rudder should be used to change the direction of a step turn.

Entering step turns with excessive water speed:

All step activity should be done at reduced power settings so as to keep the speed under control, with the majority of the weight of the aircraft on the hull, not on the wings. One should have to add power to keep the aircraft on the step when entering a step turn.

Failure to use enough up elevator in step turns:

Just as in the air, the nose wants to go down in a turn, therefore back pressure is required. The aircraft wants to slow down in a turn, therefore power must be added, forcing the nose down, therefore more back pressure is needed. With this extra back pressure, the aircraft wants to slow down, resulting in more power which requires more back pressure until finally a happy medium is reached. The friction of the hull contact with the water adds to this slow down. Without this back pressure the center of buoyancy is ahead of the center of gravity resulting in a very unstable condition which can result in a quick 180 degree change of direction known as a water loop. Up trim is a must. In rolling out of the turn,with rudder, power must be reduced along with the extra back pressure.

Full power application close to the surface, water or land:lafc_photo_019

When executing a go-around, smoothly apply about one-half throttle, assume a level attitude and slowly increase power to full, compensating for the downward pitch of the nose. If you have a sink rate started, immediate full power will accentuate the sink rate and it is possible that the aircraft will touch down again, therefore we must be in the correct attitude which is the step landing attitude. We must regain flying speed, therefore we must be in the correct attitude which is the level or water landing attitude. If you are nose high, speed will not be gained, and of course, the wings must be kept level.

Area reconnaissance (water):

Upon approaching our water environment, visually check gear up for water. When reaching your landing area reduce the throttle to 20 inches, put the flaps down and trim for level flight. Most common mistake is to do none of the above which results in a continually descending turn over our landing area, resulting in tight turns close to the ground at slow speeds, flaps up and throttle reduced. Need I say more. A low pass does nothing more than alert the neighbors of your impending arrival and makes a lot of noise. It is much easier to scan the area from about 800 feet above the surface. We are looking for obstructions like rocks, wires, and floating debris, approach and departure paths, swells, wind direction, boats, wakes, beaching area and the like. Circle at least once as the view will change with reference to where the sun is shining from, revealing many new things, especially wires strung across the landing area. Stay close enough to the landing area, so that you do not lose sight of objects below and that should you have an engine failure at this point, you will make the landing area. Fly a downwind and base leg as you would at an airport and start your descent after turning base leg (this keeps both approaches alike). Check gear up, flaps down on downwind, base and final by looking outside at the gear.

Allowing the aircraft to leave rough water before it is ready to fly:

By rough water I mean over 12 inch waves. Generally there is an imbedded wave every 20 – 30 waves, which is higher than the rest. Any wave hitting the hull will tend to push the nose up, but this one is the worst. Care must be taken to keep the nose at the proper attitude when crossing this. A slight relaxation of back pressure may be necessary when crossing this wave to prevent being propelled skyward. Should this happen maintain the same correct attitude (the step landing attitude) righteously. If the aircraft is not ready to fly, it will descend and recontact the water at the proper attitude and fly off again when it is ready. If the attitude is not kept level, the speed will not increase for takeoff. Should you decide to abort the takeoff, reduce power very slowly and relax slightly on the back pressure to compensate for the nose up tendency when the power is reduced. More than one Lake pilot has been left hanging nose high at 20 feet of altitude with no airspeed due to yanking off the power abruptly with no elevator compensation.