I went for my first lesson on floats today.
The first time I ever left the ground was in a float plane. My dad had a family friend who ran a fishing resort, and had a float plane – I don’t actually know what kind, but he took my brother and I flying when I was maybe six or seven. I barely remember it other than that it happened, and that the plane was yellow. I was at that age where seeing that plane, I assumed that all float planes are yellow and any that aren’t are exceptions to the rule.
The nearest place to Winnipeg that does float ratings is Interlake Aviation, based in Gimli, and their float plane, a Cessna 172 (they have a Stinson too, but it’s wings are being re-covered) is based on Norris Lake, North of the city. I’d flown over it before – I remember noting it as a landmark as I flew over on my three hundred nautical mile trip for my commercial license.
You know, after the struggle to learn to land a Cessna 152, and then the struggle the figure out the taildragger thing, I was expecting the float thing to be the same. I figured it would be this new foreign thing I’ve never touched on and that I would be a fish out of water, being a bird in water after all. Instead, it felt like the most natural transition in the world.
I showed up, and we did a check over the plane, you know, as best you can when you can’t walk all the way around it. One of the most interesting things was discovering that the floats were actually attached to what is essentially a roll cage encasing the cockpit. This is because there are no shocks for floats. I imagine whatever shocks they might add with might mess with how the plane touches down on the water. Anyway, we did the usual, checked the oil and took fuel samples. I love how in flight training, they get you to do things yourself as much as you’re comfortable with, right from the beginning. He let me get the plane turned around facing out by myself and then we hopped in.
We started with taxiing. A little bit of put-putting around, and then he demonstrated a “step taxi” – which is like in a motorboat, when you get going fast, and the craft starts skimming over the surface of the water rather than pushing through it. He had me go up and down the lake three times, and I didn’t feel like I was having any trouble. There’s a sweet spot to hold the plane at a certain angle as you’re taxiing on the step, and if you’re too low it’ll slow down, but if you’re too nose high, it will start bouncing up and down. But finding that sweet spot was easy, you can feel it.
Actually, he asked me one or twice if I’d spent a lot of time on the water. I said no, not really. I just grew up 200 feet from a lake I guess. The high school I went to had canoes and we went canoeing for gym class once or twice. Oh, wait, our family had a boat for a while…. You know, I have never considered myself a “water person” partly because I’m one of those people who can’t stop water going up their noses, but I suppose it’s possible I may have had more exposure than other people. It’s possible I take it for granted and assume other people have had as much exposure as myself.
Anyway, after three treks up and down the tiny lake, he figured I had enough practice, and he let me take off. It was a bit of an awkward take-off, but I’ve been told I have good instincts for being in ground effect, and it’s easy to tell the moment you leave the water, so as soon as I was airborne I was fine. He demonstrated a landing, and then he let me try.
My first landing I was over correcting, and he helped me. The second one I managed to do it unassisted. The third one was too nose-down, and it started to dig in – he went to yank the stick back, but I was doing the same thing at the same time to recover, so it was hard to tell if he was doing anything that I wasn’t already doing. I remember so many times on bounces, not getting the power in fast enough, and my instructor putting the power on to recover and telling me “you gotta be faster.” When I finally got the knack for recovering from a bounce by adding power, I was so pleased with myself. But today I was fast already – it seemed like my first instinct was correct. Like I said, it seemed natural. I was even dealing with a fairly noticeable cross-wind and managing perfectly fine.
Lastly was getting back to the dock. The wind had picked up, and I was already having difficulty turning in certain directions. “Lets see if you can get us into the dock,” he says.
Nailed it first time.
I dunno, maybe it was beginner’s luck, and he did give me some advice to start the approach upwind of the dock, but he said it as if there was some question as to whether or not I’d be able to do it. I dunno. It’s been half my life since I’ve been in a boat, and I was never allowed to dock one. Maybe my exposure to boating helped, I can’t tell.
Anyway, I got it up withing two feet of the dock, and climbed out to jump to the dock. The instructor seemed impressed with it. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but he commented on the fact that I’d anticipated how much the plane would move as I jumped, and I guess I seemed very sure-footed. I hadn’t thought I was unexpectedly so, but I got the distinct impression that he thought I was going to go in the drink, perhaps because others have before me.
That said, I will probably end up in the drink at some point, it’s not an if, it’s a when, and it’s not the end of the world. It’s water. I will not melt. I can swim. I’ve even established that I can tread water with clothes on.
Anyway, we were figuring out paperwork, and at some point I needed to make a stop at Gimli, so I figured since I was off, I might as well do it today. And then the funniest thing – the instructor would lead me there in his truck, but he asked me if I was okay taking my car on a gravel road.
Lulz! Okay, I grew up a beekeeper’s daughter (and grand-daughter), and this was my grandpa’s and dad’s car while they were beekeeping. They used it to check on the bees, and too me with them often. The only risk in me driving on a gravel road is me getting all nostalgic for my childhood!
Gods, I forget I’m a country girl sometimes….
End of story: I’m already in love with float flying.