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Flying an amphibian ultralight

I love flying seaplane! After my flights with Cessnas and a Piper, this time I tried flying an amphibian ultralight.

What I love most is the feeling of freedom deriving from the extreme contact with nature.

When you fly a seaplane you can land and discover places that are otherwise unreachable. Small hidden bays, shallow seas are just some of the possibilities. Follow me on a flight with a beautiful ultralight amphibian plane in Lecco, Italy, with Pilota Per Sempre and tell me your thoughts.

Seaplane or amphibian? General Aviation or Ultralight?

Before taking off, let’s have a look at the different options available to own and fly seaplanes.

The main concern for those considering buying a seaplane is that your are limited to water surfaces and this may not make economic sense, unless you leave in Canada or Alaska, perhaps. Also, floatplanes are slow and heavy because of the floats and, for the same reason, they don’t fly as well as conventional planes.

In my view, flying is almost never a matter of economic utility. As a popular say goes “the only way to become millionaire with airplanes is to start as a billionaire”. However, I perfectly understand the concern: a pure seaplane constrains enormously the range of uses.

Why not buying an amphibian plane, then? Floats with retractable gears are common, indeed, but due to the limited production the higher cost comes in as an additional factor. Then again, the more features an airplane has, the higher the likelihood that something will fail. And this means hefty repair costs.

Finding a trade-off in this dilemma seems a real endeavor. But is it really so? A possible solution, at least valid for a good number of prospective owners, seems offered by ultralight planes.

Indeed, ultralight makers have been enjoying some very favourable times all over the globe. Often, ultralight machines must comply with lighter rules than general aviation planes. Also, due to their low mass, they can easily outperform the immediate peers among conventional planes.

Don’t get me wrong, lighter rules (e.g. in the maintenance requirements and in the training of flight crews) do result in more frequent incidents. Then again, as a general aviation pilot, your training complies with higher standards. And you can appreciate the importance of regular maintenance by certified mechanics.

Amphibian planes in Italy

In Europe, Italy leads by example for the very progressive regulation with regard to seaplanes and, particularly, for what concerns ultralight seaplanes. Indeed, as a general rule with few exceptions, seaplanes are allowed to be wherever a normal boat is.

Also, Italy is the place of origin of many successful plane makers, like ICP, Groppo or Tecnam, just to name a few, and the oldest seaplane school: the Aeroclub Como.

This allowed for this very special segment to flourish and grow through the years offering important technological breakthroughs. In facts, several years ago, Graziano Mazzolari, an expert seaplane pilot and instructor decided to start the production of floats for the ultralight market. Today his company, Scuola Italiana Volo, exports all over the world their floats made in composite materials (like kevlar and carbon fiber) with front-running technologies.

These floats offer some unique advantage compared to the alloy ones typically seen around. Indeed, being made of composites, they are not subject to corrosion and they are very light. For this simple reason they allow leisure pilots to conduct operations also in salty waters.

Let’s get to the flying part!

So, on a fresh sunny morning I show up to the Kong Airfield a few miles South of the city of Lecco. My plan is to get familiar with the ICP Bingo on floats. My instructor will be nothing less than Riccardo Brigliadori, founder of the school “Pilota Per Sempre” and several-times Italian gliding champion.

Riccardo Brigliadori

The “walk-around” of the plane is like any other seaplane. The only difference is that the floats offer large inspections doors and the water amount is typically minimal, unlike metal floats.

I am overly curious about the performance of the plane on ground, in the air and on the water.

The 100 HP of the 912 Rotax engine push the plane through the narrow asphalt runway of the Kong airfield and the ultralight amphibian takes off in matter of few seconds. The shiny ultralight climbs splendidly despite the floats.

We cross the Adda river, conveniently close to the airfield in case of a malfunction during take off or landing. Then we pass over Olgiate and Garlate Lakes, two smaller water basins south of Lake Como.

The plane seems prone to much more inverse yaw that other seaplanes I have tried, like the Cessna 172. The reason lies probably in the modifications made to seaplane Cessnas. Indeed, to increase stability, ventral fins or additional stabilisers on the tail are generally added.

Preparing for the water landing I also realise that I need to get used to the shape of the nose and the different perspective in order to keep the plane straight on final, but I don’t worry, I will have plenty of time to get accustomed to it.

A great instructor

I enjoy flying with Riccardo too. As a glider pilot, he expects very clean maneuvers and spots instantaneously any slip of the plane. I am still trying to get comfortable with the amount of rudder I must use when turning and with a plane that is much more responsive than I thought. So, at times I feel like going back to the early stage of the PPL, but it’s a great feeling because I know I am improving my technique.

After not much I tame more easily this little yellow seaplane that loves to swing and yaw.

I must admit that flying an ultralight I was also cautious about the level of the training, but Riccardo has a very structured approach to flying. Everything, from the pre-flight inspection to the procedures during the flight are very consequential.

In synthesis, if you’d like to give it a try, I can warmly recommend the school “Pilota Per Sempre” as a very professional and friendly one.

Time to answer the initial questions

Well, I started this little adventures with some questions: General Aviation or Ultralight? and Seaplane or Amphibian?

I must say I greatly enjoyed flying an amphibian ultralight. It takes off so much quicker than a Cessna, it’s responsive and feels much more lively.

Ultimately, I think I found the answers at least to my specific dilemma. Since 2020, the EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance allow you to consider hours flown in an Ultralight plane for the recency of a PPL or LAPL. This makes ultralight much more attractive. However, pilots need to be disciplined and make sure they don’t become lazy in terms of maintenance.

As per the second question, amphibian seems the natural answer. The retracting mechanism of the gear employed on the floats of Scuola Italiana Volo is fast, simple and cleverly designed. Maintenance is not complex and parts are not overly expensive.

At the same time, I’d really like to hear your views on this. If you have experience in this field write me using the contact form

Take a look at the video of the flight

Why not taking a relaxing break and let the images of the beautiful Lake talk?

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A seaplane on the Moselle

Covid-19 changed our lives and habits in many ways. Sometimes, however, change is good. This time it gave me the opportunity to discover a most amazing place where to fly seaplanes in Germany, on the Moselle river.

Indeed, I had been checking the constantly-updating travel regulations for many weeks to find a suitable date to go to Lake Como and extend the rating with Aeroclub Como, as usual (check my previous post on the topic).

Sadly, it looked like I was not going to make it to Italy before the expiry of my cherished SEP-SEA rating. So, I looked for alternatives and to my surprise I found a very good one in the beautiful city of Trier, just a few kilometers away from my base.

The school

The “Drive and Fly” flight school is a family owned business that has been around for many years. Thanks to the warm atmosphere and the very high standards it quickly became a reference point for anyone wishing to learn to fly in the region of Rhineland-Palatinate.

I walked into the hangar, on a sunny morning just after observing the take-off of a loud T6 in mimetic livery, and I immediately received a warm welcomed and a good cup of coffee.

The Seaplane PA18 D-EGOR

Drive and Fly owns a beautiful 1953 Piper Super Cub on amphibian floats. It’s a historic plane maintained in perfect operating conditions thanks to the passion and the incredibly hard work of the Klippel family.

It took me some minutes to get acquainted with the different braking system, the gear controls and the controls located on the right and left side of the cockpit. This small initial effort was anyway compensated by a very simple checklist.

Taking off

I line up on RWY 04 (asphalt 1200x30m) and apply gently full power. D-EGOR needs only a small portion of the generous runway to detach from the ground. The floats modify the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft, and I have the feeling that she prefers to banks slightly left or right, but never fully straight. The engine plays a beautiful melody and soon I find myself astonished by the surrounding landscape of hills cut through by the Moselle river.

I retract the gear into the floats with the small lever and the four blue lights light up to indicate that the plane can now safely land on water.

As soon as we reach the Moselle, Norbert cuts the power to idle to simulate a sudden failure. I calmly align to the river and make some rough calculation of where the contact point will be. A long river tanker slowly moves towards us lifting waves to the sides. I am confident we will land safely behind it.

“Gear up for water landing” repeats the gear advisory connected to the audio system.

The plane glides smoothly a few feet from the water and, at that height, the branches of the trees on the right side play a lively stroboscopic effect with the sun rays. The floats touch the water softly. I receive a strong pat on my back to congratulate me on my first water landing on the Moselle.

Full power again! The Piper hops “on the step” in matter of seconds and detaches from the water soon after. It’s almost noon and the strong sun, the humidity from the river and the hills combine in unexpected thermals here and there.

Seaplanes in Germany

Flying over the river I understand the need to restrict the use of seaplanes to only a few spots and planes. The narrow valley does not allow for much maneuvering. In addition, there are power lines than cross the river, which are not always signaled. To make things worst, rivers in Germany are heavily used for the transport of goods and people. This elements altogether make flying in Germany with seaplanes very complicated.

A few bases exist in Germany apart from the Moselle, in Flensburg, in Boden See and in Welzow (ICAO code: EDUY), but several restrictions apply and this ends up affecting enormously the life of this segment of aviation.

Taking off from under a bridge

I taxi at different speeds on the river. A swan seems to look at us with a certain degree of disdain. We both know that nobody can compete with the grace and mastery of the beautiful bird. Without thinking to much, I line up for take-off again!

This time the take off run happens under a bridge. It’s impossible not to think of the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest, where the entry into the track used to pass right under a bridge. But of course, we are still on the water and the speed is much lower. A few feet into the air and we make first a right turn, to follow a bend of the river. Soon after we make another to the left, over the trees on the river side back to the airport of Trier.

Gear down, full flaps and the Super Cub touches down softly on the asphalt of the runway and then back to hangar.

Contact Drive & Fly

The website of the company is currently being updated, but you can reach the school per email at info@drive-and-fly.de or by phone at +49 6502 9998999.

Video of the flight

Perhaps a video is worth a million words, check here the video account of the flight and if you like it, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel.

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A conversation with two exceptional pilots

A few weeks ago, I made the lucky acquaintance of two formidable pilots. I am constantly looking to learn as much as I can from better and more experienced pilots. For this reason, I was thrilled to exchange some thoughts with Filippo Barbero, pilot of the Frecce Tricolori (the Italian Airforce Aerobatic Team) from 2010 till end of 2018 and solo pilot from 2015 , and Filippo Fontemaggi, helicopter pilot for Search-and-Rescue and expert of flight safety.

Together they started an online channel called Aviator Channel where they discuss with subscribers about aeronautical culture, airmanship and aviation safety. You can find it on Twitch and I strongly recommend you to subscribe!

The atmosphere of the channel is great! It quickly became the usual meeting point for a variety of pilots and aviation fans. After having discussed my incident with two RC planes in one of the live episodes, we decided to have a simple conversation on the channel on more general topics.

I find it truly great that two pilots of such standing spend so much of their private time for this initiative. Through the channel we all learn to make the sky safer and a more enjoyable place.

You find the full interview at the end of the article. It was done in Italian, but you can activate English subtitles.

Find here some afterthoughts about our chat:

The passion for flying

The passion for flying strikes everyone in different ways: Filippo Barbero told me that his interest in aviation started thanks to a course on aeronautical culture held by the Italian Airforce during high-school times. His contact with the world of aviation happened somehow late, but it was love at at first sight. He then followed the course to obtain the glider pilot license and this set in motion all the steps that followed and for which we all know him.

Filippo Fontemaggi had a different trigger. He admitted smiling that, like many of his generation, he was charmed by the movie Top Gun and similar Hollywood movies. At the same time, he had a genuine and deeptly-rooted passion, which his mother supported all the way.

Indeed, often parents with a different background think of aviation as a merely practical activity. They don’t consider that pilots must continuously train on a variety of topics and get tested regularly on their knowledge and skills.

Also, training as a pilot can become the way to to serve one’s country. Both pilots, indeed, trained with the Italian Airforce. After the first contact with an operative unit, they knew the Airforce was their natural environment.

The value of the military training

A few minutes into our chat, it became very clear to me to what extent the training and the professional environment are key distinctive elements. Military values revolve around the importance of the team to achieve complex goals.

Also, a constant stream of feedback characterises the environment in an operative unit. Its aim is to fine-tune the skills of each pilot to the highest standard.

As civilian and private pilots there is much we can learn from this world. Honesty, respect and transparency are simple qualities we should particularly observe and value when flying.

Stress and fear

Filippo Barbero served with the Airforce in theatres of operations before joining the National Aerobatic Team (in Italian “PAN”). Filippo Fontemaggi performed search and rescue mission for the Airforce in high-risk environments. Because of the nature of these activities, I wanted to ask about their relationship with stress and fear, a topic that many pilots avoid talking about.

It is normal and even healthy to feel stress when performing a complex task, especially when it’s something new. The stress is a way for our brain to keep alert. However, if a pilot feels fear before a flight, this should be taken as a warning signal about the quality of their training.

For military pilots, taking-off for a specific assignment is a duty. The mindset is therefore very different from that of a leisure pilot, who can decide whether to take-off or not depending on the spur of the moment.

Also, the purpose is very distant: an Airforce pilot has a concrete task to complete. Generally a mission which is critical for the life of others. A leisure pilot generally flies for more abstract -although merit worthy- reasons, like fulfill their own sense of achievement or simply enjoy the view.

Watch the full interview

The interview was conducted in Italian. However, you can activate the subtitles pressing the ‘CC’ button and then switch to English clicking on the ‘settings’ icon.

Click here to access the full interview.

More about the channel

Many of the past episodes can be found on the Youtube channel. This way you can also benefit of the auto-translated captions.

Here some of my favourites:

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A near miss with two RC jet planes

The story I am going to tell you is still very fresh in my mind, yet so shocking that it is difficult for me to draw any conclusions. Indeed, this post is probably a way to fix some thoughts while I still struggle to make sense out of it.

A perfect morning

As I love to do in Summer, I met a friend at the airfield right at opening time (0800 CEST). I run the pre-flight checks and as usual I explain to my guest through each part and why it is critical for the safety of our flight. Over the years, I find that actually saying what you are about to do or doing, makes you less prone to forget things and make mistakes, so I like to have some audience to justify my words.

Fuel fine, all systems are working properly, so I line up RWY 26 and take off in what seemed the clearest and calmest day of the year. Even close to the hills, the air was smooth. As matter of fact, visibility was virtually unlimited. Right after passing the city of Darmstadt with a southern heading, I was able to direct the look straight to Mannheim and the Neckar river valley, where the city of Heidelberg is located.

Flying over the Rhein, the color of its waters was of an unusual blue. I was monitoring the instruments and in my heart was thinking what a blessing days like these are to clear the head from the stress of work and inject breathtaking memories.

As I passed over one of my favourite castles and then headed East to pass the valley and reduce altitude in view of the landing a few minutes later.

The encounter

I knew I had to avoid a city called Reinheim, because of a NOTAM (“notification to airmen”, a message service to warn pilots of dangers or restrictions) related to aerobatic activities, so I headed towards Ober-Ramstadt. All seemed truly fine, when it happened and it happened incredibly fast so that my brain could not really determine what was really going on.

The only useful thing that some brain cells agreed was that it was something that required an immediate reaction because I lied on on colliding trajectory with the object in front of me. I pushed the controls fully to the right, hoping for the Katana to respond as quickly as needed. While the plane rolled right, my brain finally made some sense of what was going on: a radio-controlled jet model had intersected my flying path vertically at an incredibly small distance and was now closing a loop. If I had delayed my manoeuvre, it would have crashed into the canopy of the plane.

For some instants, I could not say a word, trying instead to review mentally the images of that objects.

Then, I gave a look to the plane ad check that everything was fine and called the radio station to report the encounter.

The footage from the cameras

Thankfully, I had two GoPros recording at the time of the incident. I placed one camera inside the cockpit, while the other I had mounted and secured to the foot step on the left side of the plane, looking backwards.

Once landed I called the Deutsche Flugsicherung (the air traffic control) and reported the incident providing immediately video and GPS recordings.

Then I sat in front of my laptop watching the recordings a countless times. My GPS said I was at 1900 ft when the near miss happened. The elevation of the ground below me was around 800ft, based on data from Google Earth. This meant that I found myself in airspace Echo, well above safety altitude.

European regulations allow model planes to fly higher than 400ft only if the pilot(s) have a certificate of proficiency and a flight director looks out and warns about possible traffic.

A lot of questions

My head was flooded with questions: did I do something wrong? if the RC plane had hit me would I have sufficient control to land the plane?

I felt quite powerless: II followed all regulations and even exercised extra care. To realise that something so independent from our conduct could cause a catastrophic end brought to my mind the pages of a famous book among pilots: “Fate is the hunter” by Ernest K. Gann

But while I could do nothing more than trying to avoid the two objects as quickly as I could, I thought that once on ground I could indeed do something to reduce the risk. So I though “what can we do to avoid similar issues from happening again?”

Perhaps 2 things which could be done easily:

  • 1. Mark model airfields on your ICAO charts
  • 2. Make compulsory for model pilots to monitor traffic, either via radio or with an ADS-B receiver and monitor

The video report

What next?

Well, I am waiting to know the outcome of the investigation of the Bundesamt für Flugsicherung, the body that took over the investigation. Once available I will share it on this website. Meanwhile, take your ICAO chart and mark additional danger areas that may not be present on it.

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A very special passenger

A few times I have offered her old to join me for a flight. She generally declined in various ways, ranging from a diplomatic “oh today is not a good day, what about tomorrow?” to a more direct “No, I don’t want to!”

Still flying with her remained a big dream for me.

A few weeks ago, a friend with whom I was supposed to fly called me in the morning to say he could not join.

“Well” I thought “perhaps this is the time”. So without inquiring or explaining too much, I told my daughter and my wife that I needed to go to the airport and whether they wanted to come with me. Once there, I asked the little one whether she would like to fly with Dad and see our house from the sky. Her excited smile mattered the world to me. I walked her to the DA40, which was waiting for us out of the hangar, did the walk around with her, answering to any question she might have and then sat her in the plane.

She loved talking through the headset. It was so funny to see how she tried to act and talk through the mic as professional as a six year-old can. The day was relatively calm, but we felt a couple of bumps here and there. I explained to her this was normal and she wasn’t scared at all. She loved to watch the town and the fields from a 1000 ft. Eventually we flew over our home. When she recognised it, she could not contain her excitement. “Papa, that is our home! Look!”

We headed back and, after landing, completing the final checklist and removing the headset, she looked at me and told me the words that every pilot and father would like to hear: “Papa it was the most beautiful thing I have ever done! I want to come with you every time you fly!”…. she waited a few more instants and then again: “Papa, can I give you a kiss?”

I wanted to share with you this very emotional moment for me. Did you fly with your kids? How was it? Feel free to drop me a line!

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An aborted flight, ADM and hazardous attitudes

The sequence of events is pretty simple: I showed up at my base airfield, walked to the plane and ran the pre-flight inspection. Everything looked good as always. My guests and I took our seats and I started the engine. The sky was clear and the wind was slightly gusty, but perfectly aligned to the runway.

During the engine run-up check, there was no indication of any malfunction, so I lined up and applied full power checking all items: “Airspeed alive, all engine instruments ‘green’, power 100%”.

After rotation, I felt a vibration for a couple of seconds. It was strong enough to draw my attention and trigger my brain to start comparing it with the memory of previous take-offs. However, it quickly disappeared, so I continued the climb, ascribing it to the gusty situation and possibly some adjustment of the propeller pitch (the plane I was controlling has a hydraulic pitch control system that works autonomously to yield the optimum power output for each situation). Another 10 seconds in the climb, the vibration showed up again. I had the clear impression it came from the engine bay. Speed, climb and engine were still in the green.

A number of questions crowded my head, such as “What to do?”, “Is it just me being overcautious?”, “How would my instructor react?”, but none of these could guide me to a proper solution of my problem, so I forced my head into a more orderly and neutral assessment: is it unusual? YES; is it affecting a vital system of the plane? YES; What is the nearest airport? Clearly the one I just left. So, I announced I was coming back. The voice on the tower acknowledged. During the other segments of the traffic circuit, the engine -now with lower power settings- continued to vibrate at intervals. The landing went fine and was possibly one of the softest I have had this year.

I taxied back and asked to have the plane checked. After 15 minutes, the technicians had downloaded the computer data, but they seemed inconclusive and more checks needed to be carried out.

So, I left the airfield with a bitter feeling. A lot of thoughts went through my head as I drove back to the city, but all basically coming down to: “Was it me or the plane that ruined my day?”. I feared that perhaps I had been overly zealous after all and maybe my reaction was the result of a loss of self-confidence. On the other hand, the possibility that the plane had indeed problems, despite all pre-flight checks going well was also leaving me a bit shaken, as I have a lot of trust in that beautiful and complex machine.

I watched the video I took with the GoPro (which is posted below) and I chewed on my thoughts during the night. I woke up reinforced in the opinion that I had done the right thing: I have one life and I have one propeller, nothing justifies taking a risk.

Walking down to my morning coffee, I read a message on my phone saying they had indeed found problems with one of the components of the engine. If the flight had continued it may have later developed into a catastrophic failure.

I was happy to know that I made the right call. At the same time, I though of what made me almost go ahead with the planned flight. I found it was very likely the attitude of some macho-type instructor during my training, too quick in discarding my questions and ignoring problems as they arose, and then the attitude of some pilots around the airfield. For this reason the initial question “what would my instructor do?” was the wrong one to ask.

It’s a great lesson learnt for me in the field of Human Factor, one which I am happy to share with you. As usual, feel free to send me your comments: have you ever been in a similar situation?

If you want to learn more about hazardous attitudes for pilots check the FAA’s materials on aeronautical decision-making here.

 

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Learning to fly seaplanes in Como

Aviation is a very broad world and I am fascinated by every side of it. Among these, I have been truly curious about seaplanes for a good while.

I love to watch videos of Alaskan or Canadian seaplane pilots. The image I have in my head is that of glassy lake water rippled by the waves impressed by a plane on take off. The freedom that seaplanes bring to the people living where the planet is more impervious is also a charming side of it.

And then, one of my aviation buddies did his ‘SEP-SEA’ class rating in Como, in northern Italy, and told me all about his experience and the ‘seaplane fever’ quickly took over.

I browsed a bit to see what alternatives exist in Europe, but in no time I decided to go for the class rating in Como.

The reasons are very simple: The school is the oldest sea plane school in the world still operating, the price was reasonable, their fleet offers a good range of choice (including some old timers) and you have the opportunity to learn to fly sea planes in one of the most amazing places in the world, where famous international movies were shot and were George Clooney lives. While I know for you it won’t probably matter, I also had the reference of my good friend Onur, who is somebody I would trust blindly when it comes to flying.

I sent an email to the Aeroclub Como, they replied in matter of minutes with a list of possible dates and timetable. By end of day, it was decided, I was going to fly in Como.

***

The walk from the train station to the hangar of the club takes around 5 minutes,  passing in front of some charming hotels from the beginning of 1900 and the beautiful seat of the Yacht Club Como in its rationalist style. For my first day of training, the sun was bright and there were no clouds to be seen.

When you enter the hangar of the Aeroclub, you can only remain silent for a moment: a couple of Cessnas on floats are generally in the front row and when you look behind them you can’t miss a 1946 Seabee, a PA-18 amphibian, a Cessna ‘Bird Dog’ (305C) and then one of the most beautiful sea planes (and the oldest in its original configuration) still flying today, the 1935 Caproni Ca 100, restored by Gerolamo Gavazzi.

I was greeted by Paolo, my instructor, and we started the briefing. He explained the basic differences between land- and seaplanes, what circumstances are dangerous and how to assess the surface conditions. Then we headed to the pier where I-PVLC, a C172, was waiting for us. The pre-flight inspection is a bit different from the one I am used to: I had to learn a couple of sailing knots, spend some time to ‘read’ wind and water and consider the waves when measuring the fuel with the dip-stick. Oh… and of course, not to fall in the water when the waves lifted by some large boat reach the plane.

It is normal to find water in the floats: when landing on water, the floats are subject  to hard contact with the water surface. In order to resist, the floats need to have some degree of elasticity, which, on the other hand, allows water to penetrate. So a key part of the pre-flight is to empty residual water from the floats.

IMG_20190322_173714_324

We finally sat in Lima-Charlie. Half-way through the checklist I finally fired the engine and took a moment to enjoy the sound of the Lycoming O-320. I love the scale of sounds it produces compared to a relatively high-pitch Rotax.

Once the engine is running the sea plane is constantly in motion as there are no breaks. To steer it, small water rudders at the end of each floater are lowered and are controlled with the pedals. No matter what, when on the water the pilot must generally apply some back pressure to the elevator in order to prevent the propeller from hitting the water or to avoid flipping when taxiing at high speed.

20190322_143033

After warming up the engine, we eventually lined up for runway 01 (AD chart available here), ran through the last checks and applied full power to the Lycoming. The take off from water requires much more energy than form paved surfaces. When the plane accrues speed, it initially pitches up because of the pressure applied on the elevator and soon touches the water only with the small surface around the step at the end of the keel. At that moment it is fundamental to adopt an attitude that reduces the drag with the water as much as possible. Once adopted the right pitch angle, this must be kept till the plane lifts off. There is no rotation when taking off from water: if the tails of the floats sink back into the water they will slow down the plane and retard or make impossible to become airborne.

Lima-Charlie accelerated smoothly over the waters of the lake and after not long the noise and the vibration of the high-speed run on the water disappeared and the plane was in the air.

The floats change quite radically the distribution of weight in the plane. Compared to a normal C172 rolling seems to be much easier. However, a lot more action is required on the rudder pedals to counter the inverse yaw.

After adapting myself to these aspects, I could enjoy a bit of the breath-taking view. IMG-20190322-WA0021

Under Paolo’s instructions I prepared for the first sea landing. The first thing to assess, particularly in some narrow parts of the lake, is the wind direction. Waves, Sailboats and smoke are particularly helpful for this purpose. Then a pilot must assess the conditions of the water. Landings over glassy surfaces are very complicated because the pilot is not able to assess precisely the distance from the water. Touching the water with a nose-down attitude may have catastrophic consequences. Another risk is that of stalling while the plane is still considerably high above the surface.

In the following 8 hours (divided in 7 flights and with 3 very experienced FIs), I got to practice different techniques for take off and landing, I managed to land on a river and had fun water-taxiing at high speed to learn how the plane behaves on the water.

Adopting the right pitch angle for each phase of flight is possibly the single most important piece of advice. At one point during the training, the instructor covered with a post-it note the airspeed indicator, altimeter, VSI, RPMs indicator and made me repeat all different types of landings. I loved to fly the Cessna relying on the seat-of-the-pants. On one hand, it made me pay more attention to the machine rather than the indication and by doing so establishing a much stronger connection with the plane. On the other, the Cessna revealed itself as a pilot-friendly bird that can communicate with the pilot very effectively through the noise of the engine, the intensity of the stall warning (most sea landings happen with the stall warning horn blowing loudly) and the change in pressure perceived on the yokes when it enters into ground-effect, instants before touch-down.

After the 8 hours of training, I felt comfortable with the machine and all techniques part of the test. Needless to say, that there are many other manoeuvres that I need and want to learn during my next trips to Como.

If any of you is even remotely interested in trying a seaplane, then I can only recommend that you do so as soon as possible! I loved every minute and every mile of it, regardless whether in the air or on the water… and now seaplanes are the main component of my aviation dreams!

In addition, I had a truly great experience in Como: I found the level of the instruction genuinely high and came back with notions I can use in my normal flights with a land plane. On top of that, flying at Aeroclub Como truly brings together the beauty of this segment of aviation with the charm and the traditions of one of the finest regions in Italy.

If you have any question, feel free to send me a message. I am happy to share more about my experience.

Should you be more curious, you can find a lot at the FAA website, which made available a lot of cool materials here

As usual, no part of this post should be interpreted as an instruction, an advice or a solicitation of any type.

Cheers!

 

 

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The reason to fly

It is quite hard for me to say what it is that I love most about flying. For some pilots it is the uniqueness of the point of view that you acquire when you fly, for others it has all to do with the acceleration and the ability to manoeuvre. I don’t think all these aspects are mutually exclusive, yet the propensity towards one or the other determines what type of pilot we become.
Indeed, aviation is a mix of very different concepts. Just to mention two extremes, the strict, tested and orderly world airliners is very different from that of bush pilots, who venture into unchartered areas.
Also, aviation is not confined to planes and airports. It starts with dreaming and expands to studying, designing, writing and sharing.
I believe that all pilots share a common feeling about flying, although slightly different one from the other because of our different characters. These thoughts touch deep and intimate sides of each one of us, like fear and sense of accomplishment. For this reason, we are part of a very special and elitarian club, which I deem of the purest type as it is not formed on the basis of wealth or political sides, but on the commonality of feelings.

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