Flying North of
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
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
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
Use the attitude indicator as your guide back to Feature Stories.
Top of this story.
Last modified on
March 05, 2006 .
© Virtual Horizons, 1996.