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Aviation Safety


Dave Fry, WVFC CFI and Aviation Safety Counselor

One Potato, Two Potato

(One Radial Engine Just Isn’t Enough)

As you may remember, a couple of episodes ago, I reported on flying a Beaver on floats – something I’d wanted to do for years.  The engine, when idling correctly during warm-up says, “potato” to the pilot.

If one potato is good, two potatoes have to be better.  And recently, I had the chance to check that out.  A charter came up to Prescott, Arizona and I drew the short straw.  Now, even for a guy raised in Kansas, Prescott (with apologies to Embry Riddle) is pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  So, just as I did when assigned the one-week trip to Winner, Nebraska, I began to cast around for alternatives.

My criterion for places to stay (in addition to staying within the cost guidelines) is that there has to be something really fun to do, and it usually involves hikes, airplanes, books, or bikes.  With a bit of research, I found a Beech Model 18 on floats not far from Laughlin, Nevada.  Rooms were not a problem as there are several casinos in Laughlin, and I got logged into Harrah’s for less than $30/night.  I’ve stayed at places that charged more than that for parking!

The Beech 18 is at Sheble, a flight school in SoCal and Arizona.  Most flying clubs and schools don’t have seaplanes, but it’s a bit of a specialty for them.  It’s a drive from Harrah’s to the Beech 18, as it’s just east of Needles, CA, but staying in Needles was exactly as attractive as staying in Prescott.  So having reserved some time on it, I drove down the day before to checkout the plane and get a chance to review the POH (they didn’t look like today’s POHs back then).  When I got there, the plane was out of the water and on removable wheels.  Let’s start with basics, here – this is a BIG airplane.  At gross weight, it comes in at nearly as heavy as a Pilatus (just under 9,000 pounds for the Beech 18).


Now, my experience with sea planes includes climbing onto floats when the plane is parked at a dock, a launching ramp, or on a couple of occasions, parked on an airport (in the case of amphibian seaplanes).  So when I arrived the day of my flight, I find the plane in the water (expected) and moored at a buoy a quarter mile away from the dock.  When you fly seaplanes you expect to get wet, so rather than being attired in my normal sartorial splendor, I had shorts, joggers, and a disreputable t-shirt, which still was a bit formal for seaplanes in 90+ degree temps.  Still, I hadn’t planned to swim to the plane.

Fortunately, Joe (my instructor, and the plane’s owner) had a “boat” to take us out to the plane.  It’s actually a barge with an engine and a seat.  I was curious, of course, about the configuration.  I mean, why not your basic motor boat?  Turns out, there is a good reason.  We approached the plane from the rear and actually drove the barge under the plane, tied them together and drove the plane over to the nearest beach for the preflight and slosh around (instead of a walk around).  Among other things, this involved pumping out the water that had accumulated in the floats – fortunately, this was done with an electric pump as several gallons of water were involved.  Also, since these are radial engines, there is a lot of oil leaking, and (proactively) Joe had a couple of 5-gallon buckets under them to collect the seepage.


Engine oil, by the way, is checked by climbing out the top of the cockpit and going out onto the wings.

The cockpit is an interesting blend of old and new, with steam gauges and a surfeit of knobs, levers, and switches and an anachronistic WAAS-enabled Gamin 430.  As I slid into the pilot seat, I tried to solve two of the great mysteries of flight: where are the headset plugs, and where is the avionics master.  Most everything else on a plane is in standard locations, but there seems to be a lot of creativity in where these are placed.  Headset plugs were main panel, lower left, but the avionics master was just a random (and unmarked) switch.

As I looked around the cockpit, I looked at the rudder pedals – they looked familiar.  Dredging into long-term memory, I was able to pull out the fact that they were exactly the same as those in a Baron, and like the early Barons, the throttle was in the middle of the power quadrant, with the prop controls to the left and mixture controls to the right.


With water rudders up (to keep them out of the sand/mud mixture that is the shoreline), we started the engines. This, in multi engine seaplanes is always interesting because of the asymmetrical thrust of starting one engine before the other – you WILL begin turning.  And it’s not like you can hold the brakes.  You can try, but it doesn’t do anything other than cramping your calves.

Fortunately for the warm-up process (it takes a long time with 5 gallons of oil) the taxi out of Pirate’s Cove onto the Colorado River takes several minutes, all the while listening to the twin “potato rhythms’.  The normal (for a seaplane) run-up follows with the wheel held full aft and the plane in “plow” mode going along the river while mags, carb heat, and prop controls are checked.

In addition to the normal takeoff checks seaplanes add FFAR, which breaks down into Fuel, Flaps, Area (it’s not like there is a runway, and the area is full of motor boats, sail boats, water skiers, and jet skis), and Rudders (in this case, water rudders, which need to be up for takeoff and landing).  Full power for the takeoff is 35 inches of Manifold Pressure and high RPM – and it WILL over boost if not watched.  Like the Beaver, the Beech 18 has a HUGE sweet spot for liftoff at around 60 MPH.  The only thing I found a bit uncomfortable was the prospect of lifting one float out of the water with ailerons (glassy water takeoff) in a low wing plane.  But it worked well, and no cartwheels were involved.

With the exception of some upper air work like steep turns, stall recoveries, and slow flight, most of the flight was spent at 1000 AGL or less, performing normal, rough water, glassy water and confined space takeoffs and landings.  Some were full stop; some were splash and dash (the aquatic equivalent of touch and go), though after the landing instead of immediately piling in full power, we went into a step taxi, stabilized everything, and then brought in more power for takeoff.

Very much like the Baron and the Bonanza, the control response is very light even though the plane isn’t.

Bottom line, I enjoyed the experience enough that I intend to go back to complete an ATP multi-engine sea rating.