Flying The Chaika “SeaBear” In Samara Russia – Part 2 Of 3
Written by Thomas Giegerich – After spending significant time on finding an aircraft and settling on a good time frame to go visit the plane and its manufacturer in Russia, you accompanied me on my trip from Germany to Russia last week. Now its time to share the flying part of the story.
On the next morning, we had breakfast in the cantina of AeroVolga, only a few buildings away. Here, a rich breakfast was waiting for us with some boiled eggs and pork sausages, which seemed typically German to me. Altogether, a good and solid breakfast for an eventful day that was about to come.
Moving In To See The Plane
After breakfast, Dmitry showed me a brand-new L-44 with glass cockpit from Dynon Avionics. The interior and the leather seats were still covered with plastic protection and the plane is scheduled to be delivered to its new owner in Siberia very soon. At the time, flight testing was still ongoing. Today, we would fly some time with it. But before, Dmitry would spend some time to fly some circuity alone for warm-up. This gave me the possibility to watch the Seagull (the English translation of ‘Chaika’) during a low pass: It really looks very elegant!
The design of the L-44 is definitely very well-thought-out and functional: One enters the plane via a ‘gangway’ from the tail through the large V-shaped tail unit. A large hatch gives access to the generous cockpit with four adjustable and electrically heated leather seats. This design allows easy access to the plane from both, land and water. Everywhere on the hull are steps and edges that allow reaching all parts of the plane not only from land but also when floating on the water. A roof hatch right above the pilot’s seat does not only guarantee a good view to the sky but also access to the engines during water operations.
I took my seat on the co-pilot’s side and felt immediately at home, though I could not read the switches and controls that are mainly labelled with Cyrillic letters. I immediately recognized the auxiliary heater control from Webasto®, typical equipment of mobile homes. Valentine told me that this is not luxury equipment when operating the plane in Siberia; it is – just like the heated seats – necessary equipment!
Dmitry started the engines and taxied in the direction of the runway. The Rotax 914 engines started immediately and behaved completely unspectacular, exactly as I was used to it, from Rotax. After going through the checklist, the switch of the MT-propeller pitch controls were turned to ‘take-off’ and the well- positioned power levers pushed forward. During the take-off run, there is nothing special: The L-44 behaves like a normal tail-dragger and after less than 300 meters we where airborne and heading towards the Volga.
We were following the Sok river for approx. 10 minutes in western direction until we reached the Volga. We were flying over scenic landscapes, small towns and a large river delta in perfect weather. Our altitude is not more than 300 feet AGL – if we went higher we would have entered the airspace of Samara Kurumotsch International Airport.
With the power levers in the 60% position, we reached a speed of 100 kts. Not bad, for a flying boat with half-full tanks and three people on board! For some minutes we followed the Volga and pass the several kilometers long beach of Samara. There are no bridges and Valentine explained to me that the area on the western side of the Volga is a protected area: Here, people from Samara are doing water sports or just relax in some of the small huts which are located side-by-side on the shore. Of course there are also some lonely beaches, like the one on the branches we have selected for landing.
Such a landing on water is quite unusual: Normally, the view during the final approach is something pilots try to avoid. The touch-down speed is approximately 35 knots. At that speed, the plane naturally jumps a bit over the waves. For me as a pilot that is used to fly land planes, this was a bit alarming: Normally this would be answered by an immediate go-around. But for the L-44, this is of course normal. After pulling on the yoke, the plane settles onto the water and slows down quickly. Using the rudders together with asymmetric power on the engines and turning them off in the right order and at the right time, Dmitry manoeuvres the boat directly to the beach with the tail ahead. The large hatch allows standing on the tail of the L-44 and using a paddle (which is located on a dedicated mount inside the plane) for landing on the beach. Once this is done, one can leave the plane via the gangway to the beach without getting wet. Two handles on the very rear part of the gangway allows pulling the plane easily onto the beach.
Some ten meters next to our mooring place, a mother was playing with her child. Some distance further, a pleasure boat could be seen anchoring. It seems that nobody here was really interested in what we were doing. This was a bit surprising as civil aviation here in Russia is still something unusual: There are only about 3000 private pilots in this large country with more than 140 million inhabitants. Also the number of civil aerodromes in Russia is very limited and most of them are in the Moscow region. It is good that the L-44 is a tail-dragger that does not require paved runways: For the use in regions like northern Russia or Siberia, far away from the airfields close to Moscow, this is a big advantage. For take-off and landing, 300 meters are under normal circumstances fully sufficient; regardless it is on runways or on the water. On water, however, the waves should not be higher than 0.4 meters. If the L-44 is operated mainly from concrete or asphalt runways, wheel pans can be installed. They increase the speed by approx. 3 knots and also the range is increased accordingly.
The plan for us was to take a bath in the warm Volga. The weather was perfect: Bright sunshine and not too hot with temperatures of 25°C. I didn’t have any swimwear with me, but that wouldn’t be a problem here. I simply took off the T-shirt and shorts and jumped in the 20°C warm water. This is how simple water flying is in Russia! After one hour it was time to go back. Another unique experience: with wet pants on the seat and barefoot on the rudder pedals our flight back to Krasnyi Jar started. A good experience was to feel the rudder without shoes.
At 40% power you can perfectly float on the water like with a sport boat. As the L-44 does not have a water rudder, the direction must be controlled with asymmetric thrust and full rudder control movements. This works very well and the plane is easily controlled on the water. For take-off, it is sufficient to push the control levers to the full power position and after some time and a slight pull on the yoke, the L-44 climbs with approx. 1200 fpm. On our way back for a two hour lunch break, I realize that not much movement has happened on the fuel gauges: Each of the two wing tanks can hold up to 250 liters, enough for 12 hours flight or a range of 2000 km. Thus, during our short flight, the needles of the fuel gauges hardly moved.
After the lunch break, there was a second L-44 waiting for us in Krasnyi Jar. That machine has been owned by Dmitry for almost 10 years and is used for demonstration purposes. Very prominent is the painting: The plane looks like a flying shark (with real looking teeth!) accompanied by one jumping Delphine (the engine) and one fling fish (the float on the wing) on each side. However, in the lunch break, the shark has to be tamed first: One tire was flat and had to be exchanged. When lifting the tail, it looked as if the Shark bites into the grass; a rare and strange view.
In the afternoon, we were again following the river Sok towards the Volga. Now I knew my way home and Dmitry let me take control of the plane. I was impressed about how simple and accurate the control response of the plane is. Only the higher rudder forces are something one would need to get used to. Unfortunately there is no rudder trim installed in this plane, so the forces resulting by the torque of the engines (both in the same direction) cannot be well compensated. But Valentin explains that each plane is custom-made and, in principle, everything can be implemented: a rudder trim as well as e.g. an air-conditioning system.
Can This Be Certified In EASA Or FAA Land?
Now it became clear to me that the L-44 is a Russian experimental and it would not be easy to certify such a plane in Germany, Europe or elsewhere. This also explains why this plane, in contradiction to the plane in the morning, has a very nice overhead panel for the control of the electric system that gives a certain airliner feeling. However, our flying shark is a very nice plane: Classical chrome-bordered instruments, an instrument panel in carbon optics and brown leather everywhere and everything perfectly well crafted.
Again we are looking for a Volga branch with a lonely beach. Once found and after landing, Dmitry maneuvered the plane skillfully onto the beach. Here we started unloading the plane: folding table, chairs, a grill, one bag of charcoal and several bags with meat, drinks and vegetables. I hadn’t even noticed that we had all these things on board. But in the rear part of the plane, behind the seats and below the gangway, there is plenty of space. After one hour, the meat was ready and we could start our late lunch. As a side dish, we had fresh tomatoes and cucumbers as well as green onions that are dipped into salt and eaten raw.
Getting Left Seat Time
After finishing our meal, we packed together our things and I thought now it’s time to go back. A mistake: Dmitry told me to plant myself in the left seat; he would now show me how to fly the plane. Of course this was something he didn’t have to say twice, I jumped in the cockpit and we took off immediately. I had the chance to fly 8 touch-and-goes on the Volga and we spent approx. 45 minutes in the air.
How Does It Fly?
Flying the L-44 was not as difficult as I thought, only the landing procedure and the estimation of the right altitude was a bit unusual for me. On my last water landing, the water was very calm. When I looked down, I could only see the clouds reflecting on the water. I was lucky when I found some reed on the side of the river, so I had at least an idea of my height. In the end, the landing was successful. But I realized that it is really an advantage when there are some waves as this makes the water landing so much easier.
After picking up Valentine again, we went back to Krasnyi Jar. In the air above Samara, we could see hundreds of people lying on the beach or playing beach volleyball. In the background, we could see some of the sights of the city, like a Soyuz rocket in the center that was apparently ready for take-off, the ‘beer-factory’ (a German brewery that has been built approx. 200 years ago) and some churches with golden roofs. On the hill just beside the city, a big soccer stadium is under construction. Valentin explains that in 2018, the world championship will be held in Russia and some of the games will be carried out in Samara. This is the reason why they are building a new stadium and also why the airport is brand-new. It seems that they are renovating the whole city, what will become obvious during our trip to the city on the following day. Everything here looks really nice, only concerning the quality Valentin had some doubts…
We returned to our small airport late in the afternoon, the sun had already started to go down. We made an appointment for 10 o’clock on the next day and Dmitry and Valentin went back home. I sat down in the grass next to the runway and watched the sunset, thinking what the next day would bring. For that I would like for you to join me next Friday in my final part of this trip report.
Thomas Giegerich is 33 years old and works in the field of nuclear fusion in a large research centre in Germany. In 2016 he discovered his interest for water flying and joined the German Water Flying Association. Completing his private pilot’s license in 2017, he then joined a flying club in Speyer, Germany, where he is flying Piper PA-28 and an Evector SportStar. Interested in the SeaBear, he is now collaborating with the manufacturer to see about bringing this aircraft to the European market.
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Next: See Part 1 of this story!