Learn to fly on the water
Air, water and land, these are the elements that a seaplane pilot masters.
Half pilot, half seaman
For those starting from scratch
People intending to take their seaplane licence, and who don't live far from a seaplane flying school, have the magnificent opportunity to be able to learn to fly directly in a seaplane. Why magnificent? Many expert pilots think that a piloting course in a seaplane is much more complete and informative than learning to fly in a regular aircraft.
First of all, with regular aircraft, you operate out of airports. Therefore at the beginning you find yourself dropped straight into a complex environment that is in many ways incomprehensible. Adding to the problems of aircraft control, you have airport procedure and communication that cannot be tackled by students until much later in the training process.
In seaplanes you are almost always operating out of, or are not far from areas that are not controlled and have barely any traffic. Furthermore, in many cases, pilots who learn to fly in regular aircraft find themselves, after takeoff, in unfamiliar surroundings where the land appears unchanging and disorientating. On the other hand, generally, seaplanes operate out of water basins that create minimal problems of orientation or navigation. Finding the point of departure, the shore, that remains in view or in many cases is found without any problems.
KLM captain at Como seaplane base to get
the SEP SEA rating. Here with instructor
It must be said that being in airport surroundings, with its relative problems of navigation, is certainly educational at certain stages of training. But we would highlight the advantage of the seaplane, being that it allows you to choose freely the level of external distractions and the number of elements to which you want to dedicate your attention. If for example, in the more advanced stages of training the pupil needs to train in radio communications, it would be useful to carry out some training in an airport. In the initial stages, it is fine to operate in a stretch of water far from the training school and airports, without any protocol, in order to dedicate your attention wholly on the manoeuvres.
A seaplane student, in the most challenging stages of training, those in which you learn to make sea landings, has a huge advantage over regular land training students, the latter operates out of an airport and are required to perform a full circuit before landing, inserted into the regular traffic pattern of the airport. A seaplane student, on the other hand can take advantage of the unlimited space available. In this way the dozens of takeoffs and landings that a land pilot can perform in an hour, a seaplane student can complete in fifteen minutes. This allows for a much quicker and complete learning process, in which one can retry the same situation of landing after a few seconds or minutes.
Instructor Ermecini flying with his student
over Bellagio, Lake Como.
A further distinction of seaplane flying is that it offers you the chance to refine from the early stages of training, the great importance of controlling the attittude of an aircraft. With regular aircraft you can perform the rotation more or less well, and the aircraft will takeoff all the same. The technique for takeoff on water is much more refined, in which half a degree too much or too little could make takeoff impossible.
The control of the attitude is equally important for landing; it can lead to serious consequences if not done correctly. Setting the trim, and in general good co-ordination are vital parts of landing on a stretch of water. A technique of instrument flying that takes place at a speed just above stalling speed, that the student must master after fifteen or so hours from the beginning of the course.
A seaplane student has to further operate, not only in one of the elements, the air, but also on the water. A good course for seaplane flying is therefore also a course in seafaring technique and culture. Two imposing universes, that have their own technology, traditions, and endless histories. They come together in seaplane pilots and in few other professions. One of which is a pilot on aircraft carriers.
Furthermore complete water based flying, known as bush flying in the USA, is a sort of wild flying where the pilot must face the natural elements in often inhospitable surroundings, without any assistance or infrastructure. The seaplane pilot that learns this control this medium of transport in all conditions, therefore acquires a mindset that is always perfectly prepared to deal with problems and emergencies.
The list of delights that await a seaplane pilot is extensive, find pleasure in dedicating yourself to a rare activity in the world of aviation, that from one point of view is technically refined and has greatly valued traditions in a community of relatively few people, who all know each other very well, despite being scattered across many continents.
Learning to fly on water isn't for someone who wants to jump the gun, but is an activity based on skill and knowledge that must be acquired one step at a time. Experience, in flying on water, is so important that in most seaplane operational manuals, it states the only thing that should limit operation is experience.
These final considerations should not be disheartening for those who are starting out, but should if anything they should make people aware of the vast technical and professional assets that can be acquired by learning to fly on water.
For those who are already pilots
Those who are already pilots can develop their knowledge in a new and different way, but above all can experience the amazing liberty that comes with flying on water. No procedures, no waiting, no time restrictions, non or few radio communications, very little taxes if any at all, no formalities or forms to fill out and thousands of miles of coastline available.
Instructor Buscajoni preparing the flight with the student:: lines, life vests, paddle.
The same instructor and student on
an unprepared shore.
The only real problems for land-trained pilots is having the necessary patience, and accepting the idea of returning to being a student pilot again. One or two thousand hours in a regular aircraft isn't useful in judging the risk of certain areas, nor to determine the best strategy of landing on the shoreline. You could presume an areas to be safe, that's is in fact not; due to a lack of experience.
Many land-trained pilots tend to consider the qualification to be concluded after a few hours of solo or dual command flight, meaning after having completed an activity carried out in a basic seaplane, under easy conditions, the pilots, a little too carelessly, or so to speak, too excited, end up prematurely putting themselves in conditions that they are not capable of handling, hence the relatively high number of incidents which happen to land-trained pilots during their initial use of a seaplane. We advise the following, consider your qualification just as limited to the easiest conditions and continue regularly to take lessons on the water in increasing difficulties.
It is also possible to learn completely alone as a solo pilot, but it could take years and you can sometimes run the risk of pushing yourself to the limits without realising it, leading to serious consequences. As already mentioned, the essential quality of a seaplane pilot is patience. But, the longer the road, the greater the satisfaction: Via aspera meta excelsa, si diceva un tempo.
From the Book "Volare a Como"
Mariaclara Sanvito, who got her Private Pilot
licence at the school of Aero Club Como.