There are no aerial maneuvers required for the add-on seaplane rating. But with all the extra drag created by the floats, the airplane behaves quite differently compared with a conventional airplane. Not only is the airplane significantly slower, but in order to maintain coordinated flight, I also noticed my right leg becoming increasingly fatigued as the training progressed. I had to constantly apply right rudder, even in a descending left turn. The little Tri-Pacer was equipped with a ventral fin underneath the empennage that counteracts some of the aerodynamic changes associated with the floats. Apparently without the ventral fin, there’s not enough side surface to maintain coordination even with full rudder.
After a while, the constant rudder application became second nature. Esther and I flew into eight different lakes during our training, and there were many others within a stone’s throw of Christiansen Lake. The lake that was most conducive to training was called Larson Lake. The lake is long enough to practice a few touch-and-goes without having to climb out and go around for another approach. Larson Lake is also perfect for practicing step turns on the water. While playing around with more and less power, left and right rudder pressure and increasing and decreasing pressure on the yoke, the goal is to stay balanced on the step. It is a hoot, and the experience feels more like a wild boat ride than taxiing an airplane.
The step attitude is also used during landings, which require a flatter touchdown attitude than what I am used to when doing full-stall landings on a hard surface. It became evident why Esther was so adamant about me being positioned to see over the cowl of the airplane. She explained that I needed to see a couple of inches of water between the top of the cowl and the edge of the lake during the touchdown — a similar attitude as being on the step during takeoffs and step turns. This was the most difficult part to achieve during my training. I kept wanting to continue my flare until the nose got too high, which would result in a less than desirable landing.
Esther told me to “transition smoothly to a level attitude” a few feet above the water to get in the correct position for the touchdown. And that is the perfect instruction. Then I would simply keep the airplane in that position until it touched down smoothly on the surface of the water, occasionally adding a touch of power at the last second to arrest the descent rate.
The patience required to maintain that flat attitude was tested to the nth degree during glassy-water landings. During these approaches, there is no way to tell how high the airplane is above the surface of the water, so the final approach path needs to be close to the shoreline to maintain a point of reference. Before reaching the last point of peripheral reference, we would set up the airplane in the landing attitude and hold the position steady while maintaining an approximate 150 fpm descent rate until the airplane touched down. I would inevitably want to continue to flare as we got closer and closer to the water. But once I achieved the patience to hold everything steady, the landings were silky smooth.