Amphibious Aircraft Challenges
Written & submitted by Bryan Webster – The freedom of flying and our ability to reach favorite destinations from take off at a local airport or your own dock in the front yard is immeasurable. Once the snow has disappeared and the ice has melted, airports everywhere will be a buzz with annual maintenance requirements and the usual wheels to float change-overs.
Then once the tools are put away and the hangar floors are swept clean you realize flying has begun and you must now justify the cost per hour to cover these expenses by squeezing precious minutes out of an all too short season. Soon you will find yourself off for adventures with your aircraft high above all kinds of different terrain including flat land, mountains and often, open water.
This is a time to give thought to emergencies which you, the pilot, could encounter en-route and how to handle anything from an engine failure to a ditching. First question, do you have on board everything required for your particular trip such as life-vests and the knowledge of how to inflate such a device under the stress of real life drama?
Second, we need understand the effect of landing on water with fixed gear or possibly amphibious floats with the gear in the down and locked position. To better understand, lets think of water as the ultimate instant aircraft stopping device followed by an impact which can only be described as extremely violent. Imagine all this while enclosed in a box soon to be sinking and pulled underwater.
For a conventional wheeled aircraft such as a Cessna 172 most ditching s result in a very sudden stop of roughly the aircraft’s length no matter the speed, then followed by an inversion. Similar reaction for the tail-wheel aircraft out there due to the forward exposed gear legs making contact with the water surface first. Although there is a higher certainty of one quick flop onto the aircraft’s back. As for Amphibious aircraft that all too often land upon water with the gear down, it depends mostly on the manufacturers design and front gear leg location regarding the outcome, although high percentages of those it happens to, simply stop and flop.
Then there are the retractables who loose power after take off, out over water and pray the gear is up before landing on the liquid surface with the wheels safely stored in the wells. The reasons why aircraft enter water when least expected is not important. Important is how the occupants react in the first few seconds. Water temperature and impact velocity are by far the most dangerous variables to consider. Impact often causes the panic and disorientation leading to trouble during egress. Impact induced unconsciousness, blunt trauma, but also hypothermia and simple drowning will take the strongest down and out.
Knowing what to expect from Egress training previously will make all the difference should this ever happen to you, which is why the Military has made this course mandatory for flight crews for many decades.
Bryan Webster is a 12.000 + hour pilot actively flying on the BC coast today. In 1977 he was a passenger involved in a water crash while the pilot attempted to avoid power lines draped over the Fraser River east of Vancouver. He owns and operates Dunkyou.com & Egresstraining.ca– Aviation Egress Training Systems, headquartered in Victoria, BC, Canada. For questions or to enroll in the Aviation Egress Ditch Training Program contact – “Bry the Dunker Guy” at 1-877-GO-DITCH or per email: firstname.lastname@example.org