"Any day where you get things wet, it's a good day."
-My seaplane instructor
So I wish I hadn't waited until this late in the season, as it's chilly and the wind is messing with my scheduling. But since I need a biennial flight review anyway, and since any new training requiring an FAA checkride counts, why not learn something new? Today and tomorrow, I was scheduled to learn to fly the Aviat A-1C Husky amphibious aircraft, towards my ASES, or Airman, Single Engine Sea rating.
When I got up this morning at oh dark good god, it was calm but had just finished a chilly rain. The METAR for the area was predicting winds of 15G35 (15 knots, gusting to 35) in the area, which meant flying an aircraft with a maximum crosswind rating of 8.7 kts is a big no-can-do. When I showed up at 8am and met my instructor, we thought about it for a bit. He said "Well, it's OK right now, why don't we skip the class part and see if we can get in an hour before it gets too windy, since you're here anyway."
Learned to preflight the Husky (pump the floats, check the spreader bars and struts, check the flying wires, check the water rudders...). Pulled her out onto the apron, got in. First new thing: the Husky is a tandem seat aircraft, my first. This means I'll be sitting in front, with the instructor behind me. As he pointed out, this means one critical system is all mine - the landing gear, which now has two different ways of getting you killed. If you land on water with the gear down, you sink the airplane and probably die. If you land on land with the gear up you bend the airplane and probably don't die which means they can bill you the half million dollars or so. Plus medical bills. So now there are two sets of four lights - four blue, four green. Green is down, i.e. ready to land on land. Blue is up, ready to land on water. The point is that from the back seat, the instructor can't see this panel, which is directly in the middle of the instrument panel and slightly below it. So they have to trust you to not be lying to them in checklists.
It's a regular Lycoming IO-360, which I've flown in other aircraft, so starting up and run-up was familiar. Taxiing is weird because the front wheels are free-castering, and you're sitting seven feet or so off the tarmac due to the big-ass floats below you. And of course, that stick.
We took off, Danbury tower helpfully letting us turn right immediately and head towards Lake Candlewood. We set up for a landing, the instructor briefed it, and said "Okay, your airplane."
...what? "Don't you want to show me one?"
"Naaah. You got this."
gulp"...okay, my airplane. Checklists..." ran the lists, set up, went in, held it off, didn't balloon...
"That was perfect!"
"Holy cow that was awesome let's go again!"
"Okay, I'll show you the first takeoff because on seaplanes they're harder, so follow along. My airplane..."
So we did. We did around 8 water landings. I practiced idle taxi (water rudders down), plow taxi (don't do this except for very specific reasons), and step taxi - basically the airplane is up on the floats 'on plane' as boaters would say, with the flaps up to keep lift down, zipping along at 40-60MPH on the water. Turning is done entirely with air surfaces, carefully. Don't want to dig in a float, that's how you sink the airplane.
(What a ridiculous phrase.)
By the time the wind had gotten too high for comfort and we had to come back to the airport, we'd done the 8 landings, 8 takeoffs, I'd learned to beach the airplane with the reversing prop, we'd practiced step taxi and idle taxi, and I'd started to learn J-turns and L-turns for confined area ops. We didn't get to do actual L/J takeoffs, dock work, or glassy water work because the wind got high.
Holy cow seaplanes are fun as hell. In addition to the whole landing on water thing, in this airplane I am flatly required to do one thing I've always wanted to do but in the Cessnas have never had the opportunity or been allowed to - follow a narrow river valley 150 feet up, below the level of the surrounding ridges, making sharp turns to stay over water. It's the kind of 'boy fantasy' flying I remember from being a wee lad, pretending I'm trying to lose (or catch) a German fighter down on the deck. Well okay, I'm now flying an amiable cow of an airplane, not a fighter - but I am standing it hard over on its side to make those turns, low down, watching the trees go by on either side. SO much fun.
OH YEAH the second landing, while we were idling in the middle of the lake, a pair of Bald Eagles came and circled the airplane maybe 50 feet up. I feel like they were laughing at us, poor clumsy humans with their clunky thing. But I got to watch Bald Eagles from 50-60 feet, in a lake, with the foliage just changing, from an airplane. So very good.
I'm not going to finish training this week, the wind got bad and tomorrow is going to be worse. But I'll be back in a couple of weeks to complete. My instructor says I did really incredibly well for a 200-hr pilot - he says I have 'natural stick and rudder' instincts, and I just need to learn to smooth out and learn this airplane a little. He said if it wasn't for the fact it would be too windy tomorrow afternoon, we'd try to finish - but we'd have to schedule the checkride with the FAA examiner for that afternoon, and there's no way that's a good idea. So I'll come back.
Seaplanes, y'all. Crap airplanes and crap boats and more fun than either.