Hobart pilot Philip Myer details the joys he recently encountered when getting acquainted with his brand new float-equipped Foxbat A22LS.
Let me say at the outset, this story isn’t about how to fly off the water – it’s merely my personal reflections of learning to fly the Foxbat Amphibian.
For those seeking to learn water flying, the first step is finding a suitably qualified instructor to start you on your journey. I did my amphib endorsement in a Cessna 185 with Rod Gunther, CFI of Williamstown-based Melbourne Seaplanes – a very experienced gentleman, high time water pilot and patient instructor.
A newly float-rated pilot will soon discover that it is impossible to solo hire a seaplane. If you really want to advance your skills and use your endorsement as ‘a ticket to learn’, then you will have to buy your own aircraft. Having already become a sport pilot after over 2000 hours of private GA flying, after much research I purchased a Foxbat A22LS from Foxbat Australia and fitted amphibious floats from the US. Gunther test flew the aircraft, after which I did a couple of hours dual with him and then I was off to learn on my own.
The Foxbat has some wonderful attributes as a seaplane. It is very stable for an LSA, and even more so than a land Foxbat because of the pendulum effect of the floats. The speeds are low, with the stall speeds only slightly higher than the land plane, and the visibility is outstanding.
The liquid cooled Rotax engine means the temperature remains stable at 90ºC even after hours of water circuits and its simple, reliable starting is important on the water because once you push off the dock or beach you have to get the motor started quickly. The airframe is simple and easy to wash and maintain – an advantage for a seaplane, especially one that operates on salt water.
In the air the Foxbat Amphibian is similar to flying the land Foxbat. The drag of the floats does slow the cruise speeds down to 80 kts at 5200 rpm and 75 kts at 4800 rpm, which admittedly is not very fast, but who needs speed when you are water flying for the fun of it. As a novice you are a bit ‘water shy’ when it comes to operating on and off the water. The only way to cure this ailment is with lots and lots of ‘splash and go’s’.
We are lucky in Hobart in that the training area is over Ralphs Bay – a large but sheltered area of water only 10 minutes flying from Cambridge Airport. This means you don’t have to fly a complete circuit for every landing; numerous splash and go’s can be done in a sequence. Once you are in the groove you ‘land’ and remain on ‘the step’, then re-apply power to take off again to a height of only 150 feet or so before making another approach. This way you build up a lot of landings and you expand your skill base. A full stop landing is when you allow the aircraft to come off the step and settle into displacement mode.
Take-off from the water involves learning to get the aircraft on the step as quickly as possible, you learn to ease the full back pressure as the aircraft climbs up over the step. Then you learn to feel for the sweet spot as the aircraft planes on the top of the water. Once on the step at full power the aircraft accelerates to flying speed, which for the
Foxbat is 35 kts, but you do not rotate the aircraft as this will only put the back of the floats in the water and slow you down. Once airborne, you fly in the ground effect until speed builds to 55 kts for a safe climb.
When comfortable with ‘normal’ take-offs and landings, you expand into crosswind and glassy water operations. Glassy water landings are truly unique to water flying. As the name says, when there is no wind the water becomes mirror-like and you can not perceive where the surface is, making it very dangerous to flare in the normal manner. The approach is made by establishing a stabilised descent, with a fixed attitude and power setting. You fly the aircraft onto the water, not looking for the water, as this would tempt you to flare when it is not safe to do so. The Foxbat amphib has an engine-out glide speed of 60 kts clean and 55 kts with flap. I find glide approaches rewarding, requiring good energy management with the need to make a continuous flare to ensure a gentle landing.
Rougher water requires a relaxing of yoke pressure after flaring close to water to ensure that floats are in a flatter attitude to cut through the water rather than smack on to it.
The seascape is always different and challenging, requiring your full attention, to be alert for changing conditions and traffic on the water. River landings I find are the most critical as there is not much room on the water and with most rivers in a valley the area must be thoroughly checked out at a safe level with the landing, beaching, overshoot and take-off all planned before you descend down to the water.
To conclude, I have found water flying very challenging but immensely rewarding. It is visual flying at its best, needing your 100 per cent attention but giving you 200 per cent fun. As a new water pilot, the Foxbat has performed superbly, exceeding my expectations.