The sailboat would also serve as a perfect abort point in case the Tri-Pacer had trouble getting off the water. We visualized a runway on the surface of the water, with a climb-out path that led through an area with shorter trees in case our hoped-for climb performance didn’t pan out.
We completed our preflight checklist and run-up. It was odd doing the run-up while in motion, but with all the drag on the floats we didn’t go far.
Esther demonstrated the first takeoff. She retracted the water rudders with a small handle that looked like a punctured spoon, hung it off a small hook below the mixture, aligned the airplane with our visualized runway and applied full power.
After gaining some speed, Esther pushed the yoke forward to “get on the step.” The step is a prominent protrusion on the bottom surface of the float that ends abruptly toward its aft portion. The step reduces the amount of surface area that is in contact with the water to minimize hydrodynamic drag. Once the airplane picks up speed, it needs to stay balanced on the step. If the airplane’s center of buoyancy gets behind the step, the airplane will skip on the surface of the water. If it gets too far forward, the airplane will porpoise. Skipping and porpoising can both lead to loss of control. During my training I experienced both conditions, but they were easily cured by changing the amount of back pressure applied to the yoke.
During the takeoff, the airplane doesn’t stay on the step very long before it achieves enough speed to lift off the water, unless the water is glassy, that is. It may seem counterintuitive that the takeoff run is longer with flat water, but a smoother surface causes a greater amount of drag on the floats.
To reduce the hydrodynamic drag and shorten the takeoff run, Esther explained that I had to lift one float out of the water by applying full aileron deflection to create more lift on one wing. With only one float in the water the hydrodynamic drag is reduced by half, and soon after the airplane becomes airborne.
For rough water takeoffs, the trick is to add additional flaps, because the goal is to get away from the rough surface as soon as possible. With the Tri-Pacer, one notch of flaps is always used for takeoff. The second notch is added once the airplane has achieved enough speed to fly in ground effect. I got the sensation that I was lifting the airplane out of the water with the manual flap handle on the floor of the cockpit.