Rocking with Shorty:

Circa 1956 
Flying North of Fifty-Three

    Excerpt out of "Bush and Arctic Pilot" by A.R. Williams.

       A week after this fright, my assignment was to fly a geologist into various northern Manitoba lakes and then wait until he was ready to move to his next location. We were introduced, but I forgot his name almost at once, due to the pressures of getting under way. As the afternoon wore on, the wind began to slacken until it had fallen to zero and the entire lake surface was glassy water.
      I had built 400 hours of flying time in total, nearly two-thirds of those hours on floats. Oh, the confidence of youth. I believed that I knew all anyone needed to know about glassy water. After all, I had obtained a seaplane endorsement. It proclaimed to the world that I had mastered all phases of seaplane flying which included glassy water takeoffs and landings. I was soon to realize that I still had a few lessons to learn.
      I taxied Cessna 170 CF-HIY out on the smooth surface and after a magneto check, I raised the water rudders and applied full takeoff power. Our load was a bit heavier than I had anticipated and I had some difficulty in getting HIY on the step. After a fairly long run while I attempted to "rock" us onto the step, the cylinder head temperature rose near the red arc on its gauge. I closed the throttle in order to allow temperatures of both oil and cylinder heads to cool down for another attempt.
      I had noticed that my passenger kept north on his map directly in front of him, instead of orienting map north to coincide with geographic north. He seemed unfamiliar with my pilot's idea of the proper use of a map; I was surprised then when he asked me if I would mind a suggestion about getting this airplane onto the step. "No," I replied, "Not at all. I think I could use all the help and advice I can get today."
      I notice that you are moving the control column pretty far forward and then back, while trying to rock her onto the step," he said and looked out the window for a moment before continuing. "I suggest you haul the column all the way back and watch your bow wave. When it stops moving, come forward with the stick, but only about one inch forward of neutral, rather than all the way to the instrument panel."
      I repeated his suggestion and he proceeded with the lesson. "Y'see, what happens when you push forward to the panel is this." He made a gesture with his hand to emphasize. "The float bottoms smack the water and bounce right off again." He went on to say that moving the control column just slightly forward of neutral would allow the float bottoms to contact the surface of the water more gently and without the bounce imparted by forcing the nose too low. It seemed perfectly reasonable; I decided to give his suggestion a try.
      While we were waiting for temperatures to stabilize, he offered more advice. He told me that if we didn't get on the step immediately, I should keep forward pressure on the control column with a gentle rocking motion. "Everything in this world has a natural resonant frequency," he said. Due to my background as a commercial radio operator and all the years of ham radio before becoming a pilot, I believed him. "Keeping that in mind," he went on, "It shouldn't take you long to find the frequency at which any airplane on floats wants to rock. All you need do is help it at the proper time. You will find her walking right up onto the step in short order, especially on glassy water."
      I sorted through this information in my mind and the more I considered it, the more reasonable it seemed.
      "Once you have gotten on the step," he continued, "You will be able to find an angle between the float bottoms and the water which will yield the best acceleration rate." I understood his point. "if your nose is too high, the heels of your floats will cause an increase in drag. On the other hand, if your nose is too low, the floats tend to plough through the water and, again, increase drag. When you locate that exact angle, you will feel increased pressure between your back and the seat cushion."
      Temperatures were back to normal and we were ready for another takeoff attempt. I raised the water rudders and increased throttle to takeoff power. Control column back, watch the bow wave move back until it could move no further; forward, about an inch beyond neutral. I was rewarded almost at once, with a rise onto the step.
      Seeking that elusive angle between float and water for best acceleration I was able, seconds later, to become airborne. We were climbing out to the east. I turned to my passenger with a comment about how well his suggestion had worked. I asked him where he had picked up the knowledge. "Well," he said, "I used to do a bit of flying myself."
      Because I had just more than 400 hours of flying in total, I was always interested in teaming the number of hours other pilots had acquired. I asked him how many hours he had. He hesitated as though he'd not heard the question. Then he said, "Well, I stopped entering it when I reached 22,000 hours."
      I was in shock. My little 400 hours, against his 22,000? "Here," I said, "You'd better fly this airplane." My passenger declined and said I was doing just fine.
      "Many bush pilots, with much more time than you have gained, still don't understand how to get a seaplane onto the step the efficient way," he told me. "Especially when it comes to glassy water. Many of them return to the dock to remove part of their load. As you can see, that is really not necessary."
      We made several more stops and each time his method proved to be better than the last, as I gained experience and built more confidence. I was amazed how much better the aircraft performed, when it was allowed to operate in accordance with natural laws.
      When we returned to Flin Flon, my passenger boarded a taxi into town. I told Parsons about my experience and asked him if he knew who my passenger was. "Oh sure, that was Shorty Holden. Shorty has probably forgotten more about flying, especially seaplane flying, than most of us will ever learn." Hank respected him highly. I never had the opportunity of thanking Shorty Holden properly for the lesson he taught me on that day so long ago, but his efforts were not wasted. Up to the day when I made my last takeoff in a seaplane, I continued to polish the technique. I was never again obliged to return to the dock for removal of part of my load, no matter the conditions of wind or water.
       I feel sure Shorty would be happy to know that I passed this knowledge along to a new crop of pilots over the rest of my years of flying.

Editor John S Goulet  You can contact Al Williams as soon as he resends his email address to me. 

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Last modified on March 05, 2006 .
Virtual Horizons, 1996.