Amphibious Aircraft Challenges
Written & submitted by “Bry – The Dunker Guy”
The freedom of flying and our ability to reach favorite destinations from take off at a local airport or your own dock in the front yard is immeasurable. Once the snow has disappeared and the ice has melted, airports everywhere will be a buzz with annual maintenance requirements and the usual wheels to float change overs.
Then once the tools are put away and the hangar floors are swept clean you realize flying has begun and you must now justify the cost per hour to cover these expenses by squeezing precious minutes out of an all too short season. Soon you will find yourself off for adventure with your craft high above all kinds of different terrain including flat land, mountains and often open water.
This is a time to give thought to emergencies which you, the pilot, could encounter en route and how to handle anything from an engine failure to a ditching. First question, do you have on board everything required for your particular trip such as life vests and the knowledge of how to inflate such a device under the stress of real life drama?
Secondly do you understand the effect of landing on water with fixed gear or possibly floats witch include amphibious gear in the down and locked position. To better understand think of water as the ultimate distance stopping device followed by an impact which can only be described as extremely violent, all the while enclosed in a box soon to be held underwater. For a conventional wheeled aircraft such as a Cessna 172 most ditching s result in a very sudden stop of roughly the aircraft’s length no matter the speed, then followed by an inversion. Similar reaction for the tail draggers out there due to the forward exposed gear legs making contact with the water surface first, although there is a higher certainty of one quick flop onto the aircraft’s back. As for Amphibious aircraft that all too often land upon water with the gear down, it depends mostly on the manufacturers design and front gear leg location regarding the outcome, although high percentages simply stop and flop.
Then there are the retractable s who loose power after take off out over water and pray the gear is up before landing on the liquid surface with the wheels safely stored in the wells. The reasons aircraft enter water when least expected is not important. Important is how the occupants react in the first few seconds. Water temperature and impact velocity are by far the largest variables to consider, which often cause the panic and disorientation leading to fatalities, but also hypothermia and simple drowning.
Knowing what to expect from Egress training previously will make all the difference should this ever happen to you, which is why the Military has made this course mandatory for flight crews for many decades.
Bryan Webster is a 11,000 hour plus pilot actively flying a Beaver on the BC coast today when not Egress Training. In 1977 he was a passenger involved in a water crash while the pilot attempted to avoid power lines draped over the Fraser River east of Vancouver, BC. For more information or to enrol in the AES Egress Training Program contact: “Bry the Dunker Guy” Bryan Webster (1-250-704-6401) www.dunkyou.com
The Seaplane Pilot Network is looking for your feedback on tips and tricks to make amphibious aircraft flying safer. Bryan and many other experienced pilots are available to answer specific questions. A forgotten gear is oftentimes the culprit in upsetting amphibious aircraft, sudden gusts and sometimes even shallow waters will flip an airplane just as well, even on straight floats. Be prepared, have an egress plan and brief your passengers. Use proper shoulder harnesses.