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Thread: Newbie Seaplane Pilot's Long Cross Country Adventure

  1. #1
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    Newbie Seaplane Pilot's Long Cross Country Adventure

    Over 2,000 miles and 39 hours of flying. Sturgeon Bay, WI to Colorado Springs, CO (to attend the annual Cirrus Owner's & Pilot's Association annual Migration (M9), then to Truckee, CA.

    Up to this point, I had a total of 10 hours in a seaplane, all in the 172 amphib I got the rating in last spring.

    Here I am shaking hands with the builder just before leaving Sturgeon Bay, WI after lunch on Wednesday. I had just finished my second one hour lesson in the plane with his CFI partner and finally decided I could fly this thing.

    It was fun navigating without all the help found in my Cirrus cockpit! Just a compass in this plane.

    Just south of Lacrosse, WI I crossed the Mississippi River. I couldn't resist and I landed in it.

    You may notice in the photo that the sun was getting low. I had overestimated my progress and shortly after this was taken, I diverted to the nearest field as I ran out of daylight, winding up at the Cresco, Iowa airport at dusk. No gas, no FBO, no nothing. I found an open hangar with a couch in it and slept there.

    No fuel totalizer or even gauges. Two little clear tubes with stickers next to them indicating 2, 5, and 10.5 gallons. Of course they bounce around in flight, making any reading a guess at best. Heading for Mason City for fuel, one of the levels disappeared below sight, then the other suddenly went from the 5 gallon mark to less than two then just bobbled barely in sight at the bottom. I skipped the normal approach and pattern and flew directly to the numbers. The fuel capacity was supposed to be 21 gallons. It took 25! Another lesson learned.

    Next I got to splash into the Missouri River as I crossed into Nebraska.

    Leaving my last fuel stop of McCook, NB, just before Cheyenne County, KS airport (which was reporting clear skies) ceilings forced me down to 300' AGL over unpopulated ranchland, with some 400' AGL radio towers nearby!

    Now it was time to see if it would climb to 8.500' so I could make it into Colorado Springs. It was slow, and required some level-outs to keep the engine cool, but eventually Three Tango Bravo crept up to 8,500'.

    After enjoying M9, then topping off in Cheyenne, WY, I again had to test the climb performance, this time to 9,000'. I took my friend's advice and thought like a glider pilot, looking for ridge lift and/or thermals. I had only taken a ride in a glider once, so I'm not very good at finding lift, but when I did, it sure was nice!

    Next up was a line of showers between me and Rock Springs that forced me to land earlier and heavier than planned, at Rawlins, Wyoming. My pulse quickened and my sphincter tightened as I listened to the AWOS tell me that the density altitude at the 6,800' field was now 9,100', and the winds were 10 gusting 18. I snugged down on the harness and focused. Well, as might be predicted, things didn't go so well. The fuel-heavy light sport amphib with the big Canadian Full Lotus floats and the little 80 hp Rotax, and the low time-in-type pilot were no match for that DA and wind shear. Just a few feet off the runway, the wind must have died. I tried to "goose" the engine to stabilize, but I'm guessing the Rotax was making less than 50 hp at that point. I held the attitude and the main gear "planted" firmly on the asphalt. Actually, student pilots land harder than that every day, I thought. But this plane has no suspension. I heard a "clunk" and waited for something bad to happen. It kept taxiing to the ramp, where I shut down and the line guy and I inspected and soon found two snapped 3/16" rigging cross cables. As we stood there and looked at it, as if on cue, a third cable let go and Three Tango Bravo tipped onto it's right wingtip.

    The beauty of experimentals is you don't need approved parts. So, after a couple of trips to the True Value hardware store, and some borrowed tools, and some improvising, I had it back together. But another half day was lost. I overnighted and launched at sunup on Monday.

    Next stop was Rock Springs at 6,750'. After topping off, the climb out of there was the toughest yet, but 3TB made it up eventually to 11,000'! The guys back in Sturgeon Bay were duly impressed. I don't think they ever flew it above 3,000' MSL. "Holy Crap" was the reply I received to my text that I had hit 11,000'.

    I shot video that morning of cars and trucks easily passing me. I was doing about 70 mph IAS, with a 22 MPH headwind, so ground speed was 45-48 MPH for quite a while. That was a long leg. Then the big mountains guarding the eastern side of Logan, Utah were under me and I knew the biggest terrain was now behind me.

    After topping off at Logan, I climbed slowly and soon was looking down on the northern end of the Great Salt Lake. That was too tempting. I picked a mirror-smooth bay that was reflecting the clouds and proudly nailed my glassy water landing. Then the trouble began.

    The mirror finish on the bay hid the fact that it was very shallow and full of mossy weeds, thick as the hair on your head, just beneath the surface. I couldn't take off. I couldn't even get her up on the step. After several tries, I wound up grounding it near a cow pasture, wading knee deep through muck and green slime, hopping a barbed wire fence, flagging down a local guy, and enlisting his help. We went to the local Ag co-op store, bought a siphon hose and some 5 gallon gas cans. I siphoned out 15 gallons of gas and tried it again. No luck.

    We phoned my old friend Mark, who lives nearby in Ogden, and he came and got me and I spent the night with him. I was hoping for some combination of being lighter, colder air, and maybe a little wind to help me off. During the night it dawned on me that the biggest problem was that the water rudders, even in the retracted position, were dragging badly in the weeds. In the pre-dawn darkness, with a headlamp, a leatherman, a screwdriver, and a small crescent wrench, and up to my knees in muck, I removed the rudders and stripped away all the attached rigging, put them in a box and handed them to my friend Mark. Just after sunup, 3TB leapt off the water! I landed at Brigham Municipal, met Mark, got my rudders and parts back, and after a lot of laughs over breakfast, I took off again.

    The rest of the trip over Nevada was long and pretty uneventful. I sure was glad to see Truckee airport and made sure I greased the landing! It was 4:30 Tuesday afternoon.

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  2. #2
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    3/16ths sounded a little small, have you thought about heavier guage X cables? Cool trip in any event.
    CFII Amphibion

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    The guys who designed and built the amphib gear for the Full Lotus, and built this plane, selected it. When I re-rigged with new cables after getting home, I thought about using heavier cables. Then I decided that I like the fact that if I ever do another hard landing, the cables will break and prevent the airframe from bending or breaking.

    What diameter and type of cables do other LSA amphibs use?

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    Quote Originally Posted by predmond View Post
    The guys who designed and built the amphib gear for the Full Lotus, and built this plane, selected it. When I re-rigged with new cables after getting home, I thought about using heavier cables. Then I decided that I like the fact that if I ever do another hard landing, the cables will break and prevent the airframe from bending or breaking.

    What diameter and type of cables do other LSA amphibs use?
    It's a matter of your aircraft's gross weight times G loading, as physics do not care what name is put on the aircraft. If you check charts of cable sizes and their rated loads and then calculate your full gross G shock loads on a hard landing, you'll be on the right track. Aircraft Spruce has handy load charts for their cables and fastening swages, turnbuckles, etc.

    Needless to say, a hefty safety margin for strength in the whole system is advisable.
    CFII Amphibion

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    SPA MEMBER rkittine's Avatar
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    I am looking at an LSA in Florida on straight floats and with only a 2 1/2 range with reserve and about an 85 MPH cruise speed. After rading about your trip - I give you a lot of credit D. - I am not sure I want to try 1,200 miles back to New York with straight floats only. Great Report
    Robert P. Kittine, Jr. - West Nyack Aviation, L.L.C. - New York

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    SPA MEMBER turbo's Avatar
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    aviators have flown across the us in much smaller aircraft. keep up the fun!!!!! we are jealous. you are doing a trip you will never forget. img0390kj.jpg
    Ed DArcy 'Turbo' RV6-A 4,300 hrs / R-44 1,100 hrs / GYRO 50 hrs
    Stuart, Fl / S Windsor, CT / Virgin Gorda,

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    SPA MEMBER Steve McCaughey's Avatar
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    Love the story... Never like to hear of people hurting their planes, and it sounds like you had more than of hair raising moments. You are safe... this time... this was surely an adventure that provided you a wealth of real world experience. I have forwarded your story to Mark Twombly the Editor of WaterFlying magazine.

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    Cool! I'd be happy to talk with him about it!

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