Category | News and Articles

Risk-Benefit Analysis for Seaplane Pilots

Type those words into your favorite search engine. Over sixty million results will appear. This says that “risk-benefit analysis” is a common and well known term in our language and culture. We all know what it means: weighing the risk against the benefit derived from the act of taking the risk. Of course, this means if there is no possibility for benefit, there is no reason to take the risk. We all understand this and use the principle in our daily lives.

Why is it, then, that very few of us express the language or even the philosophy of risk-benefit analysis while we are flying our seaplanes? It’s there implicitly but we seldom talk about it. We have many more opportunities to use risk analysis in seaplanes than our landplane counterparts because we have the freedom of making more choices for our take-offs and landings. For example: “I want to land somewhat close to the dock so I don’t have a long taxi.” The area around the dock is loaded with boats and jet skis coming and going. The risk: possible collision with a watercraft. The benefit: save six minutes. If we begin by expressing our risk benefit analysis to ourselves, often we find the benefit is very small for some rather large risks that we are willing to take. As I read accident reports and convert pilot error accidents to risk-benefit analysis language, I can’t help but wonder if the pilot would have made a different choice if he or she would have taken a few seconds to think about possible outcomes using risk-benefit analysis.

Happy—and safe—flying!

Earning a Seaplane Rating in “Floatplane Heaven”

Willow Hetrick pictured with instructor Vern Kingsford.I wanted to learn to fly after learning about a pilot/biologist position for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). When I finished studying biology in college, I decided to finally learn. I received a private pilot rating on November 8, 2012, an instrument rating on May 8, 2014, and a commercial license on May 17, 2015. Alaska-based pilots in the Service are required to be commercially rated seaplane pilots. When I was granted the 2015 Ben Wiplinger Memorial Seaplane Scholarship to obtain a seaplane rating, I was finally able to realize this dream.

Moose Pass is often referred to as “Floatplane Heaven.” I can attest to that as my family has called Moose Pass “home” since I was four years old. There was no question that I should get my seaplane rating from Alaska Float Ratings on the shores of Upper Trail Lake. I called Vern Kingsford, owner/operator of Alaska Float Ratings, to schedule my week of training. He congratulated me on the scholarship and promptly donated extra funds to my flight training – I had come to the right place indeed! I’ve been watching Vern fly above our little town for years and it was finally my turn. From the floatplane dock on Upper Trail Lake there are at least a dozen alpine lakes within a few minutes’ flight. Every lake has different winds, shorelines, approaches, and obstacles and each one of these lakes is surrounded by 5,000 foot tall mountains, so with every flight I was also receiving mountain flying instruction and techniques.

Vern asked me “do you want to see what this little (Super) Cub can really do?” I promptly responded with an “oh yeah,”

Willow Hetrick

There were several other students that started the training on that same Monday morning. Every morning we would meet in the training room, study, fly, watch videos, study, and fly some more. Being able to fly at least two times a day helped me quickly understand any questions that arose while studying. I also wanted to get PA-18 time and the seaplane training hugely improved my stick and rudder skills. On September 5, 2015, I took my check ride with Vern. We went to his favorite lake, Bench Lake, in his favorite airplane, N917VK. After I successfully demonstrated the entire seaplane practical test standards, Vern asked me “do you want to see what this little (Super) Cub can really do?” I promptly responded with an “oh yeah,” and Vern took the controls. It’s hard to believe that I had any more capacity to learn immediately following a check ride, but I learned even more in that 15 minute flight back to the dock.

Through the seaplane rating process, I’ve become much more observant of the surrounding environment before and during my flights, and much more aware of my decision-making process—two of the ultimate keys to flying safely. For me, float flying in Alaska is the ultimate flying adventure. I can’t wait to fly more seaplanes. I’m excited for what is to come, and patiently waiting for a pilot/biologist position to become available with the Service. There are few jobs that combine raw Alaskan adventure with the challenges of flying and opportunities to study biology and manage wildlife. Thank you to the Ben Wiplinger Scholarship committee for choosing me as a 2015 recipient of the scholarship.

First Time’s the Charm – Finding the Right First Floatplane

Many of Wipaire’s customers take advantage of additional services while new Wipline floats are being installed on their airplane. However, Wipaire also has an experienced aircraft sales department that can find your dream airplane, or find one that’s not quite perfect and transform it into your ideal aircraft by taking advantage of our in-house services. While many of our features focus on customers who purchased new floats, Barnaby worked with our aircraft sales team to select the right floatplane for his mission and is now a proud partner in a Cessna 185 on Wipline 3000 floats.

“This was an adventure,” Barnaby commented when describing how his aircraft search brought him to Wipaire. “I’ve been flying since I was a teenager and I always thought it would be great to fly an amphib. I watched Tales of the Golden Monkey as a kid, which featured a Grumman Goose, and I remember thinking how cool it was that you could go places that no one else could get into.”

Barnaby lives in upstate New York, and is near the heart of the spectacular Adirondack State Park. With a wealth of lakes, mountains, waterway access points, and remote places to unwind, he was looking for a floatplane to take on fishing and hunting trips. He wasn’t sure precisely what he wanted but found Wipaire’s knowledgeable staff to be key in his search.

“About a year ago, I started talking to some friends at a birthday party who had gotten into a partnership on a Cardinal. One of them knew of someone looking for a partner on an amphib, so I met Barry. We hit it off and we started looking at airplanes,” Barnaby recalled. “I knew very little about floatplanes to begin with. I started in on the Cessna 206 because of the useful load.”

“My experience with Bruce, Brittnie, and the whole Wipaire team was that they were trying to provide solutions that were going to work for me and my partner Barry,”


Barnaby continued, “I first got acquainted with Wipaire when I called about a 206 Brittnie Brink (Cessna 206 and 182 sales) was representing. The thing that struck me right off the bat was that Brittnie is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on the 206—what will work, what won’t work, capacities and so on. I learned a lot about floatplanes from her. For me as a novice, that was of tremendous value.”

Barnaby and his partner’s goals in an aircraft were to find an amphibious airplane with a useful load close to 1,000 pounds, IFR certified, with minimal modifications or upgrades required. “In our experience, 206s that met our criteria were hard to find,” Barnaby noted. “Brittnie explained the dynamics of that particular marketplace, like strong demand in South America, the necessary combination of float design and power plant to meet our needs, and so on. We even looked at importing a Canadian aircraft but the process was intimidating and possibly expensive.”

Many airplanes didn’t offer everything Barnaby and Barry wanted, so they kept looking. “One of the key things I really appreciate is when an airplane you look at is well-represented. I doubt many buyers have the time to go through everything thoroughly to know what the airplane is really like. Having someone experienced like Brittnie review the aircraft beforehand brought value. My experience with Wipaire is that you’re very meticulous in deciding what airplanes to take on and represent; not every aircraft will make the cut.” As for working with Wipaire’s sales department, Barnaby commented “It was nice to know that I was working with a division of a company that is the largest amphibious float manufacturer in the world. All of that bodes well for the buyer. It was especially valuable for me as a first-time buyer—I didn’t want to have a bad experience with an airplane, especially after I purchased it.”

As Barnaby and Barry’s floatplane search continued, Barnaby earned his seaplane rating at Jack Brown’s in Winter Haven, Florida in April of 2015. Along the way, the two expanded their considerations to a Cessna 185. Barry had significant experience in 185s on floats as he had previously owned one. As Wipaire frequently has 185s for sale, Barnaby and Barry began communicating with Bruce Thoele, Wipaire’s sales representative that handles aircraft such as the de Havilland Beaver, Cessna 180/185s, and Aviat Huskies.

“My experience with Bruce, Brittnie, and the whole Wipaire team was that they were trying to provide solutions that were going to work for me and my partner Barry,” Barnaby stated. “We were presented options within our budget, sometimes including modifications and upgrades. That’s something too—Wipaire has the ability to do a lot of modifications on an aircraft so if we found a plane that needed modifications, we could have that taken care of at one location. It turned out we had GAMI injectors installed on our aircraft after we closed on the purchase. Bruce Thoele coordinated all the work for us.”

Getting through the purchasing process—title search, escrow, and so on—we didn’t even worry about that. Working through a broker provides a tremendous sense of comfort.

When a 1983 Cessna 185 on Wipline 3000 amphibious floats became available, Barnaby and Barry paid attention. “It really looked turnkey—the paint was in really good condition, and the airplane had a number of desirable modifications as well. The panel was one of the best I’ve ever seen, plus the pairing of the Wipline 3000 float on the 185 is a really great match. It was an airplane we could just go fly instead of spending money on it.”

“We closed on the airplane in September. Getting through the purchasing process—title search, escrow, and so on—we didn’t even worry about that. Working through a broker provides a tremendous sense of comfort. You guys have done this so many times,” added Barnaby.

“Obviously, I didn’t have much floatplane experience since I had just gotten my rating in April,” Barnaby said. “For insurance purposes, I needed to get 10 hours of dual instruction in a 185. I worked with Brian Addis (Lake & Air Flight Instructor/Designated Pilot Examiner) for a few days and flew off the time. We went through all of the airplane’s paperwork and I was able to learn a lot about this new-to-me airplane. It was really great to have a chance to fly with Brian. Wipaire has the facilities to do modifications and training, and it makes it possible to really have a coordinated experience for the buyer. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to get the insurance requirements met.”

Soon, Barnaby was on his way home. “I was able to call Brian on the way back to New York with questions about the aircraft performance on the cross country and Brian always made himself available. It is great to know I have a partner with Wipaire in terms of supporting me after the sales transaction. It’s been a really fun experience.”

Now that the airplane is home in New York, Barnaby reports that he is very much looking forward to bringing friends to go fishing, hunting, and camping. Since fall has arrived in the region, it sounds like Barnaby has a lot of planning and daydreaming to do over the winter!

Touch-Ups to Transformations: Paint Refinishing by Wipaire

One of the reasons Wipaire is an excellent destination for aircraft services is our experienced paint refinishing department. By having top-notch facilities and expert paint technicians on staff we are able to coordinate all of our departments to provide customers with a convenient service destination.

Our paint department is equipped with both the tools and expertise to complete a wide range of projects including full refinishing projects, paint touch-ups, and float and modification paint scheme matching.

Wipaire’s world-class paint department employs state-of-the-art equipment to ensure not only an award-winning finish, but also employee and environmental safety. Our paint team employs industry best practices along with things like an EPA-compliant wastewater system to meet or exceed hazardous substance handling and disposal requirements.

The Wipaire paint department has worked on a variety of projects including government contracts, unique custom paint schemes, decal application and contracting with airbrush artists for truly remarkable customizations. A standout example of this is the amazing ocean themed Twin Otter that was completed in August of 2013.

We have recently been working to expand our paint capabilities and work force to continue to develop a stellar team. Recognizing that aircraft painting is a skilled job, we have made investments in personnel, equipment, and facilities in order to meet the changing expectations of our customers.

We hope to see your aircraft in our paint hangar some day!

Years in the Making: Ray Cook’s Grand Champion Super Cub

Ray Cook, builder and owner of an award-winning 1959 Piper PA-18 Super Cub, might actually have avgas running through his veins in place of blood. “My dad started teaching me to fly when I was 14 in his J3 Cub, and I soloed on my 16th birthday in his Cessna 175,” Ray recalls. “I still own the Cessna and taught both of my sons to fly in it. My nephews are also active pilots.”

Ray attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, and earned his Airframe & Powerplant mechanic certificate while there. He worked through all of his ratings and worked first as a flight instructor. From there, he upgraded to the right seat at a regional airline, and moved through the ranks as he gained experience and flight time. Ray currently flies internationally for a major US-based airline.

With down time between trips flying for the airline and an A&P certificate in hand, Ray began restoring aircraft in 1998. He started with a 1946 Taylorcraft which won a bronze Lindy at EAA Airventure Oshkosh in 2001. His next project was a J3 Cub like the one he learned to fly in. This Cub was purchased as a wrecked project. Ray finished the Cub in 2005 and the airplane won another bronze Lindy for Ray’s collection.

“I met Super Cub owners during the J3 rebuild process, and thought that a Super Cub project might not be that bad since I had already done a J3. I had only flown a Super Cub once before, but the project just kind of evolved,” Ray commented. “Turns out, they’re really not that similar.”

Ray was awarded the highest award the EAA gives—a gold Lindy as Grand Champion in the contemporary category (aircraft manufactured 1956-1970)

N4273S came to the Cook family as another project, which Ray found on Barnstormers and Located in Moorhead, Minnesota, the aircraft was in pieces, with the wings, gear, and engine removed. Ray rented a U-Haul truck in Moorhead and brought the airplane home knowing he wanted to put it on floats. However, floats were still a long way into the future.

“I had the intention of putting the Airframes Alaska 4” widebody fuselage on from the beginning, so I didn’t really care about the fuselage that came with the project,” Ray notes. “The project had come with new tailfeathers, but the wings were pretty rough. They had a STOL kit installed on them which I didn’t really care for. I found a set of new, never-used squared Dakota Cub wings for sale, and bought those.”

Ray decided he wanted to upgrade many of the original components of the aircraft and added items like extended-range fuel tanks, a new fuel selector valve, and high-pressure brake master cylinders (when the airplane isn’t on its Wipline 2100 amphibious floats, it’s resting on 31” Alaskan Bushwheels). Additionally, Ray was planning ahead for float installation. He worked with Wipaire’s regional sales manager for the eastern United States/Canada, Dan Gutz, to take delivery of Wipaire’s 2,000 lb gross weight kit along with the hydraulic system components. This allowed Ray to do all of the installation work before the airplane was covered, making for a clean and painless install.

“I was really hustling to make Oshkosh last year,” Ray notes. “I got the airplane out of my pole barn at home and over to the hangar at the airport on July 1st. We still had to assemble the airplane, rig it, test fly it, and address any issues.”

Five days before the show, N4273S was assembled. However, it wasn’t all home free from there—the days leading up to the show were spent doing minor tweaks, investigating fuel leaks, changing the battery, and even pulling the engine. “I was really wondering if I was going to make it or not,” Ray admits. “Thankfully, everything got done in time. It was a lot of fun—it’s always fun showing up there [Oshkosh] with a new airplane.”

Ray’s efforts in the restoration did not go unnoticed. He was awarded the highest award the EAA gives—a gold Lindy as Grand Champion in the contemporary category (aircraft manufactured 1956-1970).

With a fresh Lindy in hand, Ray returned home to fly his Super Cub on wheels for the rest of the summer of 2014 and through the winter. Shod with 31” Alaskan Bushwheels, the Super Cub and Ray went exploring on frozen lakes and snowmobile trails. When spring rolled around, it was time for the airplane to come up to Wipaire’s facility in South St. Paul, Minnesota. The floats were installed and Ray took the opportunity to fly with Brian Addis, senior flight instructor for Wipaire sister company Lake & Air. “I was glad I did,” Ray adds. “I had gotten my seaplane rating back when I was in college and had seaplane experience, but I hadn’t flown Wiplines before. I had also never flown amphibs before, so I was grateful to fly with Brian.”

Ray continues, “The way the thing handles in the water is just unbelievable. The nose comes up, it kind of rolls forward on the step and flies right away. The water’s always choppy where I fly due to boat traffic and the floats handle it really well. I’m really impressed and really happy with them. Dan was great to work with throughout the process. On any issues that did come up, Dan stepped up to the plate and took care of things.”

Now that this Super Cub has its webbed feet, what are Ray’s plans?

“First off,” he says, “as soon as I get a long weekend, my wife and I are going to head north and just see where we end up.” Beyond that, Ray intends to visit friends and family in the Midwest. “At one point,” he adds, “and I don’t know when I’ll be able to fit it in, I’d like to go to Alaska with the airplane—it’s definitely in the thought process!”

“The way the thing handles in the water is just unbelievable. The nose comes up, it kind of rolls forward on the step and flies right away.”

Cleaning Up the Grease Confusion

When I was asked to write this article, I thought “everyone should know this…” but it turns out that grease incompatibility has not always been a problem. In the early days of machine lubrication there were only a few types of lubricants and most were thickened with various clays and soaps. If a lithium and calcium soap grease were mixed you would only get a change in viscosity as they were considered compatible. But if either were mixed with clay-based grease you could get separation of the lubricants from the thickener, which in turn could cause a failure of the grease but it generally was not considered incompatible, just not good practice. However, as the technology in lubricants advanced the manufacturers began experimenting with refined products and more exotic thickeners to enhance performance. This step forward was a great improvement in lubrication but could easily be compromised if the maintenance staff did not understand the properties of the new lubricants. Mixing grease quickly became a practice to avoid. Over time avoidance of mixing greases was accepted as a standard practice but it was not understood by the maintenance technician. They simply followed the rule “Do not mix greases.”

Fast forward to present day and mixing greases, while well understood, has become a near impossible task for an aviation maintenance technician to confidently do. There are too many chemical variables to consider, and, as aircraft maintenance technicians, our skills are not in the precise understanding of the chemistry with the newer complex greases. So we generally fall back on the standard motto: “Do not mix greases.”

While it is acceptable today to mix certain greases, it is generally easier and more common to simply replace or switch greases. If it becomes necessary to replace grease types there are a few precautions you should take to minimize the cross contamination that may result in a component failure.

  • When switching or replacing greases:
  • Remove all traces of original greases.
  • Clean the component thoroughly.
  • Inspect the component for signs of wear or damage.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding the use of the new grease.
  • Check the component condition after its first use to ensure the new grease is performing properly.

In summary, when in doubt about grease it’s best to make a clean switch to protect your aircraft from unpredictable chemical interactions.