Friday, July 31, 2009

Oshkosh: Day 5: See Spot Run, Sea Plane Fly

Today was the day! My first time ever in a sea plane! My appointment for the flight was at 0900 so we made sure to get an early start on the morning commute. The weather looked perfect, but the morning temperature looked more amenable to jeans and a long sleeve T-shirt than the normal summer garb. Besides which I hoped to be flying at 100mph with the canopy open in just a few short hours. After having been caught in flagrante delicto with my pants down during a clothing change just a couple of days ago, I decided that the jeans would have to see me through the day and the sleeves could always be rolled up if it got too hot.

The Weather-out-the-Windshield(tm) forecast indicated that we would have what can only be called perfect flying weather:

We made good time up the highway, but my planning had failed to account for the increased crowd at Oshkosh brought out by the Chamber of Commerce weather and the end of the work week. The line for parking was longer and slower than that to which I had become accustomed and I soon made the first of what was ultimately be many worried glances at my watch. We got the car parked and arrived at the shuttle bus pick-up point just a couple of minutes after 0800, the scheduled departure time for the first bus. Egg took the opportunity to protect herself against the strong sun:

The bus finally arrived just before 0825 which should have left us plenty of time, but the combination of a passenger that exhibited incredible difficulty in accomplishing the complex task of counting out three dollar bills and the most timid bus driver on the surface of the planet extended the time of the trip such that we arrived with only five minutes remaining before the appointed hour. I was a nervous wreck by then.

We hustled down the trail to the seaplane base only to find the SeaRey table empty. A few minutes later a company representative arrived and told me that they were running late due to some demos of a competing company's new plane. Phew, was that a relief! That gave Egg and I a few minutes to wander around enjoying the pleasant weather and scenery:

My turn to fly came around about a half hour later and I waded out to the plane with the demo pilot, who also turns out to be the guy that designed the plane in the first place. How cool is that? I found it a lot easier to climb into the plane than I did the last time, the previous experience having taught me how not to do it. The pilot started up the Rotax engine and I quickly adjusted to the higher RPM that the Rotax turns as compared to my Lycoming. It was interesting to hear the sound of the engine coming from the back of the plane rather than the front, but that too quickly began to feel normal.

We taxied out from the beach a wee bit and then it was full steam ahead. I was again aware of the screamingly high RPM of the Rotax, but even more exotic was the incredible sensation of speed as we raced across the water accelerating to takeoff speed. You sit right down on the water in a SeaRey, almost as low as in my kayak. The only time I remember having a similar feeling of moving way too fast in the RV-6 is when I haven't flown for awhile and have lost my acclimation to the pace at which things happen. After a relatively short takeoff roll run, we briskly climbed out in a right turn around a corner of the coast. I pulled the canopy fully open to get an idea of how much breeze there would be (which was about the same as I get on the highway in the Miata with the top down) and how pictures would look without a layer of plexiglass interfering.

Canopy closed:

Canopy open:

Pretty good, I'd say. I tried to sneak a cameo of the pilot, but he caught me:

Not wanting to play the tourist for the entire ride, I set down the camera for a few minutes and asked if I could get a feel for the controls. Now, I ask that you keep in mind that my regular ride is by no means a fair basis of comparison due to its very responsive controls, but it's all I have to go on. With that in mind, I would describe the roll control to be a bit more ponderous that the RV's. It takes much more stick travel to generate much less roll, in other words. But the funny thing is that I didn't feel like that was a fault with the plane. On the contrary, it felt very solid, it stayed where I put it, and I could see where it would be quite an appropriate and welcome thing for doing aerial photography.

That said, I noticed that it seemed to require much more elevator back force to hold altitude in the turn than I would have expected. As I experimented with it some more, I developed the impression that it is not all that responsive in pitch. This opinion is based on just a handful of minutes at the stick and should only be given the credence deserved of an initial impression, but I think I would have liked just a bit more response. I also have to caveat this with the statement that I don't think we were going very fast. I think the flaps were at 10 or 20 degrees and we were loafing along at 70-ish mph. That would certainly make a difference.

I also felt that a bank angle of 45 degrees made the wing want to continue into the roll and that I was having to hold some opposite aileron to keep it from doing so. I tried the same thing later when we had the flaps up and were going faster and found that that feeling went away. I suspect that it is something you would just get used to.

I also tried the rudder response in flight and found that I could control the airplane in the roll axis solely with rudder input if I wanted to.

I relinquished control back to the pilot and let him demonstrate a stall. That was a complete non-event. Again compared to the RV, it was a very benign stall that arrived at the laughably slow speed of 35-ish mph.

We then spent some time down low, often below treetop height, cruising along the banks of the lake. That was simply one of the most incredible things I've ever done in an airplane! We flew low enough that people in boats could wave at us as we zipped by. One of the closest wavers was what looked to be a rather attractive and aviation-enthused woman on a boat. I commented to the pilot that learning that SeaRey's were Babe Magnets came as a pleasant surprise, but that it wasn't necessarily a feature that would sway the Co-owner. He replied that down in Florida it's not all that uncommon for the women to remove their tops and flash him as he flew by.

That reminded me to ask him how well the plane performed in slow flight.

Quite well, as it turns out. With just a little power you can float along at 40mph to your heart's (and libido's) content.

Our half hour was regrettably coming to and end. As we headed back to base I asked a few questions about speeds and fuel burns and found them to be typical for a Rotax powered LSA, albeit with a notable speed cost due to the dragginess of the landing gear and pillar-mounted engine. All aircraft designs require trade-offs and the trade of 20mph for the opportunity to see naked boaters land on water seems reasonable.

The landing was again something new and unique to me. Sitting so low to the water while we flared for the landing presented a sight picture that is known only to seaplane pilots and those guys that forget to put their landing gear down before landing their Mooney or Bonanza. The sense of immense speed was again something only familiar to me when I'm making my first landing after a lengthy layoff from flying.

There was quite a crowd watching our return. I felt almost like Harrison Ford when he lands at Oshkosh to meet an adoring crowd:

Of course it was the plane that they came to see, but the feeling was the same. I was worried that I'd trip on the way out of the plane and make an ignominious splashdown in front of the crowd, but managed to simply make an ungainly but non-humorous exit.

I was famished after all that excitement, and because I had skipped breakfast. They're trying to sell those SeaReys, after all, and who would want to buy one if the thing was covered with someone else's breakfast?

Which reminds me. Apropos of nothing, I admit, but I'm wondering if Oshkosh can develop some kind of Port-O-Let etiquette guide. Inviolable Rule Number One: close the damn toilet lid. No one wants to see that!

Anyway, the food is much better at the Seaplane base than it is at the homogeneous corporate concessions over at the main show, so Egg got herself a hot fudge sundae and I got a black (or red, I guess) Angus shredded beef sandwich. It was fantastic:

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around with Wingman Ted and/or his lovely wife looking at the Classic planes and touring the Aeroshell square. I'll share just a handful of pictures:

We're back at the West Bend Data Center now where Co-pilot Egg is taking a much deserved nap. We're going to pack up the car tonight and hit the rode at roughly 0300 in the morning. We're both anxious to get home, and I'm holding a probably futile and naive hope that we can get through the Chicago bottleneck relatively easily at 0600 on a Saturday morning. This has been the best Oshkosh experience I've ever had, but that's not going to keep me for surpassing it next time, whenever that may be.

Oh, and did I mention that I simply must have a SeaRey?


  1. Thanks for the hands on report on the SeaRey. I live in Florida and I wouldn't mind having one of these at all. Perhaps I can snag a ride with one down here while I am building my Sonex!

    Fl_av8tr (Vince)

  2. Nearly every pilot should have a SeaRey in their aircraft collection...No question!

  3. Getting an article published in a Magazine should be well within reach!

  4. What an experience, I'd love to fly in a seaplane. Considering the relative affordability of the SeaRey it's hard not to want one!

  5. The SeaRey is a very impressive aircraft in many aspects. I yet have to discover a pilot who purchased one of these babe and feel any regrets... The only regret I heard is not to have purchased the aircraft earlier!!! I WILL have one!!