Tips for the Amphib Pilot

Not so long ago, most seaplanes were straight float airplanes. The words “straight floats” have evolved as the result of amphibious float airplanes dominating the market. Now our descriptive language has changed to distinguish “amphibs” from “straight floats”. Adding the freedom of landing on runways and water minimizes the pilot’s requirement to plan for the future in terms of places to land and places to get fuel. It also adds the requirement for a complete understanding of the float systems and a complete appreciation for the potential for disaster. At the surface, the advantages are clear and the operation seems simple. Scratch the surface and we find a large number of pilots who have landed their amphibian airplane with the landing gear in the wrong position for the surface intended. As we review these accidents, a trend emerges. We find no new reasons for these accidents. Different people are making the same mistakes over and over again. Almost every case involves pilot error. If we realize that the human being is the weakest link in this system, we know where to go to work on the problem.

Therefore, we will proceed by:

  • Identifying the problem.
  • Understanding the problem.
  • Fixing the problem.

Identifying the Problem
Landing on a runway with the landing gear up usually results in little more than damage to the float bottom protected strip. The problems could be worse depending on the quality of the landing but, in most cases, not fatal. Conversely, landing in the water with the landing gear in the down position almost always results in an overturned airplane. Approximately 50% of these accidents are fatal with aircraft damage ranging from totally destroyed to no damage other than damage to avionics due to the insult of water.

Understanding the Problem
Most of the late model float systems come with audio warnings exclaiming landing gear position prior to landing. This system is triggered by airspeed and is adjustable by a qualified maintenance technician. This system should be used as an added safety feature but should not be used to replace good operating practice. In simple terms: DO NOT USE THE GEAR ADVISORY SYSTEM AS A SUBSTITUTE FOR CHECK PROCEDURES.

Understanding the Problem Continued–
Most of the accidents involving landing gear position problems are caused by pilot error. Most involve something that takes the pilot away from standard procedures such as:
Any distraction.
Pulled circuit breakers.
Focusing on a challenging or new landing area.
Communicating with passengers.
Some perceived or unrelated mechanical problem.
Preoccupation with weather or wind.

Fixing the Problem
During this training, your instructor will place emphasis on pre-landing check procedures. Specifically, a gear check should be accomplished 3 times prior to landing. TRIPLE-CHECK REDUNDANCY IS ESSENTIAL. The last check should be used on final approach and includes a comparison with the gear position lights and the intended landing area.
Example: “Blue lights, blue water.”
“Green lights, green grass.”

Your instructor will ask for verbal expression from you confirming these checks are, not only done, but called out loud as well. Your instructor will be kindly relentless concerning this subject. We want you to have a safe and successful experience with your floatplane. We will expect you to begin and end with these three things in mind:

Affective Domain- The pilot must first understand and believe the potential for a landing with the gear in the wrong position is a PILOT PROBLEM.

Cognitive Domain- The pilot must have a complete understanding of the landing gear systems.

Psychomotor Domain- The pilot must be able to fly the airplane skillfully while using landing gear check procedures as a habit.