Saturday, April 18, 2015

Float Plane Differences from Wheeled Planes

Are you a wheeled plane pilots who says, “One of these days, I'll get rated on floats?” Or perhaps you are a traveler who watches seaplanes take off and land?  Either way, below is a primer about some differences between planes on floats vs wheels.  (Our Piper has skis, floats, and wheels). 

Sleeping under the summer midnight moon
The most distinctive aspect of a seaplane (or float plane) is obviously the undercarriage. The floats (or pontoons) look like huge, bloated, Ronald McDonald shoes compared to puffy tundra tires and dainty tarmac tires. On our little Piper PA-20, the float assembly weighs 150 pounds more than wheels – the weight of an adult, cutting down on payload and fuel efficiency, and introducing additional drag. Other, less obvious differences are that floats are mounted directly to the fuselage with no suspension system, and that float planes have no brakes. They can rely on the friction of the water to slow down and stop.

Pre-flight checks of the floats underscore the fact that they are designed to function like boats, so many of the terms and design features are similar. In fact, we secure our float plane to an angled dock with a boat winch. In this position, most of each float is elevated above the water line, so we can inspect the keel (the bottom of the float) before sliding the plane down into the water and maneuvering it with a tow rope over to the adjacent boat dock, where we conduct the other pre-flight checks. Internally, the floats' bulkheads are divided into six watertight compartments, which must be “sumped out” with a portable bilge pump to remove any accumulated water (rain from above or seepage from below). Another chore is to check the retractable water rudder at the stern of each float. Some float planes also have a fin added under their tails for extra stability.
The ducks coming out to say "good morning"
to their floating friend

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Communications Devices Can Save Your Life

Each week, Alaskans (and others around the world) read news reports of someone trapped for hours or days by bad weather, an avalanche, or an accident. The following devices could save them time, money, and possibly, lives. Many are the size of a deck of cards and not much heavier. The following recommendations come from Bryan Emerson, a member of Alaska Airmen Association, Willow CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and Civil Air Patrol (search and rescue operations).  Below the article are resource links and purchase/use recommendations.  

Communications technology transmits information either one-way or two way. Both are useful.

Weather radio: (Advertised prices range from $20 – 100.) A weather radio is the size of a portable AM/FM radio, and, in fact, many portable and installed AM/FM radios include a local weather band that relays continuous loops of repeated and updated weather information for a target area. Dedicated weather radios offer multiple weather frequencies so that a traveler in remote locations can usually tune in to one or more. (In our part of the Alaska bush, we can hear two stations). Some devices allow for an external antenna that boosts reception. With this in mind, many prudent backpackers traveling through river valleys or the back side of mountains carry a lightweight coil of copper wire that they can plug into the radio and hand up on a tree.  Travelers can see the weather station frequencies for various locations on  Consider enrolling in a free online SKYWARN Spotter class. (free) This website program enables someone to track a traveler for free, on the website, (FI for Finland) as long as the traveler carries a GPS equipped amateur radio (like a Kenwood) and has registered the radio call sign on the website. To work, the person with the transmitter needs to be within line of sight of (radio) repeater towers. (There are two in Anchorage). We have found it easy to follow the progress of a traveler on foot, car, or airplane throughout large swaths of the Mat-Su Valley, too. However, it cannot capture travel in river bottoms or the far side a mountain undetected by a repeater tower.