The Importance of Training in Lakes

by Marc Rodstein
Reprinted from the May-June 2005 issue of Lake Flyer

Flying Magazine Spotlights Lake

In an article not exactly complimentary to the Lake fleet, the April 2005 edition of Flying Magazine discussed an accident in a Lake Buccaneer flown by a high time (airline) pilot with seaplane experience. The article stated that there have been three Lake accidents at the same lake and calls the Lake “demanding” to fly.

This article struck a nerve, because it highlights what we have been preaching over and over again. I know, you are tired of hearing it. But it needs to be repeated over and over again because there are some that are just not getting the message: a Lake needs to be flown by a properly trained pilot. Here was a retired airline pilot with a gazillion hours in his logbook. He was seaplane rated and a so what’s the problem?

The problem is that when you first step into a Lake, all the hours in your logbook count for very little. The skills that constitute proficiency in a 747, or even a floatplane, are not sufficient to safely fly a Lake. The important factor in Lake flying is not your total experience, but type-specific training and time in type.

Why is this? I think back to my own indoctrination to the Lake. I had an attitude, perhaps similar to the pilot involved in this accident. I had thousand of hours in many types of aircraft. I was single and multi engine rated, both VFR and IFR. I had successfully flown in all kinds of weather, to airports big and small. I felt that I was an accomplished pilot.

I started training in the Lake and after 20 hours or so with my (Lake program) instructor I felt confident. “I can do this, it’s not hard.” After I got my insurance sign-off I was up and away. Shortly thereafter I took some neighbors flying and made the mistake of landing in a very busy lake full of motorboats. One boat wake and several hard bounces later I was a lot wiser and a lot less smug about my abilities. Not to mention embarrassed.

Over and over again I hear stories of people who crashed their Lake, sometimes with injuries or even deaths. Why is this happening so often? My theory is that the Lake has a propensity to fool the uninitiated because there are two different levels of understanding in learning to fly the Lake. On the first level, there is the adjustment of getting used to the physical characteristics. The overhead mounted controls, the hydraulic trim and undercarriage, and the attitude changes with changes in power come to mind. This orientation takes place within a relatively few hours. Before long you know where to reach for the flaps, throttle or the pitch trim, and the pitch adjustment with throttle changes becomes second nature. You think to yourself, “this isn’t so hard after all”.

But the second level of understanding comes much slower. This involves understanding the effects of CG, the pitch changes resulting from wave encounters, and the subtle differences in pitch behavior under varying circumstances and airspeeds. There are a lot of combinations, and the techniques required can vary quite a lot. Some of these issues can only be fully understood through experience, but good training can prepare the new Lake pilot to recognize their potential effects before falling into a trap.

So, is the Lake demanding to fly? I think the answer is yes. It is not difficult to fly, but it demands a different skill set than required in other airplanes and a good understanding of the peculiar traits of the Lake. A skilled pilot with this training can fly a Lake safely under all types of conditions. But a skilled pilot without this Lake specific training is an accident waiting to happen, as witness the Flying article.

FLYING a Lake is not particularly demanding.

LEARNING to fly a Lake is very demanding.

Accident Statistics Prove the Case for Training

At the 2007 Lakeathon convention, representatives of the Airsure Insurance–provider of Lake-specific insurance policies–made a presentation.

During the presentation, the following statistics were shared, based on the most recent 10-year accident history:

  • # of Lakes registered in U.S.: 572
  • # in Airsure’s insurance program: 142 (24.8%)
  • Lake “incidents” in the prior 10-year period:
    • 14% of the incidents were to aircraft in the Airsure program
  • Lake “accidents” (more serious) in the prior 10-year period:
    • 8% of accidents were to aircraft in the Airsure program

Airsure’s program requires Lake-specific training, both introductory and recurrent, for both pilots and authorized Airsure Lake instructors.

Airsure maintains–with some considerable logic–that the requirement for training accounts for the vastly lower rates of incidents and accidents for those in the program.

–Steve Whitney