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Super Cub Sweepstakes: Sea wingsSuper Cub Sweepstakes: Sea wings

Testing the waters with a seaplane rating

I felt like a drunken sailor trying to walk on a swaying balance beam while my seaplane instructor hopped around effortlessly on the amphibious PA–12 Super Cruiser’s floats. He was introducing me to preflighting an aircraft on the water. 
Photo by Tres Clinton
Photography by Tres Clinton

Tres Clinton, an instructor at ProMark Aviation Services in Burnet, Texas, just northwest of Austin, had flown to Lake Buchanan to pick me up at Canyon of the Eagles resort’s dock. We were to begin our two-day training program to prepare me for the single-engine sea add-on. ProMark is donating seaplane training to the AOPA Super Cub Sweepstakes winner.

As we walked around on the floats, my first goal—to earn the seaplane rating—was quickly eclipsed by another, more immediate goal: Don’t fall in. After checking the float attach points to the aircraft, fuel, and oil, I climbed inside the tandem two-seater while Clinton pushed us back from the dock. I felt much more at ease inside the aircraft.

“We’re going to have fun first,” Clinton had assured me, “and learn something along the way.”

During our first day of practicing glassy- and rough-water and confined-area takeoffs and landings, Clinton worked in a break to test the stick-and-rudder and aeronautical decision-making skills I had learned so far, while introducing a new task: figure out how to land on the Colorado River, taxi under a bridge, and dock so that we could eat lunch at the River City Grille overlooking the water. Multiple obstructions, including power lines, a dam, the bridge itself, and 100-foot-high cliffs on either side of the river provided a real challenge as I planned my approach and landing on the water.

Mooring, docking, beaching, and ramping proved the most difficult. Mooring is a game of timing and energy management to prepare newbies for docking. My assignment was to taxi to a buoy, shut down the aircraft, unbuckle, step out onto the float, and touch the buoy—without falling in the water. The first time, simply getting out of the seat belt and shoulder harness and stepping onto the float was hair-raising enough. After numerous attempts at mooring—many of which produced chuckles from my instructor in the rear seat—before trying docking again, I understood why Clinton commented that “the skill of a pilot isn’t judged anymore on your landing, it’s your docking.” Docking is more difficult!

At the end of my training, I touched down on Lake Buchanan a few minutes before sunset and slowly glided to the dock at Canyon of the Eagles, effortlessly getting out of the aircraft and walking along the float to the dock and pulling us to the side. Now a newly minted seaplane pilot, I’ve built up my sea legs, and I haven’t fallen in—yet.

Email alyssa.cobb@aopa.org

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Cobb

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Cobb has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.

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